Content Jeopardy – Is your web providing answers or raising questions?

Ellen talked to yet another annoyed client on the phone. “Did you know I had to wait on the phone for 40 minutes,  listening to a stupid voice telling me I should start looking for information on your website?. If I had found the information on your website in the first place I wouldn’t have to call you at all, would I?!”

And I wouldn’t have to give the same answer over and over again, Ellen thought to herself and sighed.

–  Sometimes I wonder if we need a website at all since everyone keeps calling us anyway, she said to her colleague Nina during lunch break.
–  And why does everyone keep calling us? Nina asked.
–  Because they can’t find the answers on our web.
–  And why can’t they find the answers on our web?
–  Because the answers are hidden behind too much information.
–  Why is it hidden behind too much information?
–  Because we publish everything we produce.
–  Why do we publish everything we produce?
–  Because we don’t know what the clients are looking for and no one has time to find out anyway.
–  Why is it so? I thought we had editors working full time with the web?
–  We do. The problem is that they are busy feeding the web with new information, not answering questions.
–  Well, they don’t need to answer questions, do they? Nina said and smiled.
–  Don’t they?
–  No… you are the one helping the clients, right?
–  You bet I do. At least for those surviving the 40 minutes wait…

<em>Who is answering your clients’ questions today? Is your website taking more time than it saves? Many companies put up goals in terms of “Our new website will save time for our clients and our call center”. If you don’t know what primary answers your visitors are looking for online, you may end up wasting time for your clients, editors and call center.</em>

Are you solving problems or producing solutions?

Evan found himself surrounded by solutions. They were everywhere; on the floor, on his desk, in his briefcase. The ultimate scenario, right? Always having a solution whenever you might need one, he thought to himself and folded yet another paper plane from an old solution and threw it across the room.

Evan was the man of solutions. And he hated every second of it.

His paper plane accidently hit his colleague David on the head.
David looked up from his desk.

–  What’s your problem? he said with an irritated voice.
–  Ha ha, very funny.. Evan said. I don’t have any problems, only solutions.
–  Well, that sounds like a problem to me, David said and threw the paper plane in the bin.

Evan never liked this David guy. He clearly had problems. And why did he have to express them all the time?

–  So you think <em>I</em> have a problem, Evan said angrily. I really don’t have time for this nonsense, I am trying to solve things here and you’re disturbing me!

–  And what are you trying to solve then? David asked in a soft voice.
–  Everything! I need to find the best solution out of all these in front of me; Evan said and threw all the solution papers up in the air. Does it seem easy to you, does it?
–  So what problem are you trying to solve? David said standing in the middle of the paper rain.
–  No problem. Only solutions remember.
–  But how do you know which solution is the best one then?
–  Well… I guess I’ll find out soon. One of these has to be better than the rest. I mean I’ve really tried here to come up with as many different alternatives as I can. It’s just difficult to make the right choice.

David sat down next to Evan and whispered in his ear:
–  Don’t waste your time coming up with solutions to non existing problems. Use it to identify the real problem instead. If you only need one solution then what are all these other ones worth? David said and pointed at the papers on the floor.

Evan thought for a while. Then he gathered the papers and threw them in the paper bin.
– I guess they are best suited for feeding the paper bin.

– Well, maybe you have time to help me with a real problem then? David said.
– I’ll just bring my sol.., Evan said and glanced at his clean desk.

Nothing to bring, no back pack. Only one question:

– What is your problem?

<em>Don’t fill your desk with solutions to unidentified problems. They will only be in your way. Producing solutions that no one needs is a waste of time. Solving someone’s problem is time well spent. Until you know what problem you need to solve, the answer is never an answer. It is a question.</em>

<em></em> <em>“If I had an hour to save the world I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem</em><em> and one minute finding solutions.”</em>   Albert Einstein

What is the point?

On this page you will find information about my latest story. The story might be difficult to read due to several reasons. If you need a higher contrast on the screen I suggest you adjust contrast in your web browser. If you have an old computer with a resolution lower than 1024 px, it may be difficult for you to read this page. If you want to see other stories here you will need to use the scroll to get further down in the text. The scroll bar works differently depending on the type of device you are using. You may also click on the categories to the right of the page. On the bottom of the page you will find share buttons for Facebook, Twitter and Google +. If you want to share this in another place, I recommend you to copy the url of this page.

Get to the point god damn it!

Did you have a hard time getting here? Or did you just skip the intro since it was too long or didn’t concern you?

<em>The point is that the point itself doesn’t have to be short. The point is why your visitor is here. Don’t let them struggle to get to the point by hiding it with instructions, explanations or excuses. There is a saying that visitors can not be bothered to read a lot of text online. I believe that is only partially true. For the past 2 years now, I have been conducting user tests for a health care web site filled with extensive medical articles as well as online services and contact information to different health centers. When asking people who has been recently diagnosed with asthma if the asthma article is too long, the answer is “No, I would like to read all I can about asthma”. When testing another part of the website, for example an online service being deeply explained at the top, the same person might say: “There is too much information here. I don’t have time to read all this”.</em>

<em>When the content itself is the point, the user will notice it and engage in it even if it is long. When the content is there merely to describe factors around the point or as an informative transit page describing which content you will find if you click on a link, the user will either ignore it or get hindered by it on their way to the real content. Don’t let them get lost in the “mumbo jumbo” desert.</em>

<em>Cut the crap, not the core.

<em>PS. You don’t need to explain everything in advance. By placing the meta content below your core content it is not in the way for the “happy flow” and is still present for those in need of instructions of how to manage the task they are about to complete.</em>
<p style=”text-align: right;”><em>“Some words may hide others”</em>
<em>William Shakespeare, 16th century</em>.</p>

Search based vs. predefined navigation, 2-0

Sally was desperate to find a specific form to apply for sick leave. She had been told that she could find it on the ”Navigation is king” website.

– Hmm, I don’t know what the form is called… and I don’t have a clue of where it might be in this website, she said loudly to herself and clicked around between a few headings in the menu.

All the pages looked the same, a thick header with a navigation bar in the top. Page specific content further down, being squeezed in at the middle between the left sub navigation bar and a right column packed with links and pictures. She looked at the menu headings again: ”Do they relate it to ”At work” or ”For workers” or ”Health”?.. nope.. not there either..”

– Where is the bloody form? she shouted and indignantly closed the browser. I guess I have to call them instead, if they answer on the phone that is, she mumbled and headed for the coffee machine.

– I suggest you try looking at another website called ”Search is the only alternative”, a colleague of hers said while pouring himself a cup of coffee from the machine.

Sally sighed.
– Since I don’t even know what form I am looking for, it´s kind of difficult to search for it. At ”Navigation is King” at least I had some headings and menus to guide me.
– And look where that got you, he said ironically while they went back to their computers.

– I’ll show you how hard it is, she said and entered the web site ”Search is the only alternative”.

The start page consisted of a large search field with one question: <em>What are you looking for? </em>She typed ”<em>form</em>” and ”<em>sick</em>” in the search field and immediately got suggestions from the auto complete: ”<em>form sick leave</em>” etc.  Sally clicked on the first suggestion.

The search result list consisted of several items associated with the search suggestion ”<em>form sick leave</em>”.  Many of the results seemed interesting at a first glance.

The most relevant search result was the ”Illness Absence Application”. She felt relieved while opening the application page. It was the answer to what she was looking for.

– This is what I call navigation to the point! she said happily to her colleague.
– There you go! And it wasn’t that hard to find it, was it? Even though you didn’t know what you needed to find in the first place.

<em>Predefined navigation hierarchies are defined by people guessing how their visitors associate their content. It is impossible to define a hierarchy matching all your visitors. This leads to more guesses, this time for the visitor.</em>

<em>Predefined navigation distracts your visitors in two ways:</em>
<li><em>It forces them to try to think like you do in order to find the page </em></li>
<li><em>It diminishes the full value of the content they came for since it is squeezed in on the only spot left when all other spaces are taken up by navigation bars. </em></li>
<em>The perfect hierarchy is the one created by the user. The perfect content is the content where everything on the page is of value to the user. Everything including links to deeper understanding within the context. </em>

<em>Stop guessing and start helping your visitors find the answers to what they are looking for. </em>

<em>Related findings: </em>

<em><a href=””>A/B testing case study: Removing navigation meny increased conversions by 100 %</a> </em>

<em><a title=”Why content navigation links matter more than menus” href=””>Why content navigation links matter more than menus  </a></em>

Skistar goes social – a story of addiction

<a href=””><img class=”alignleft size-medium wp-image-255″ title=”skiing” src=”×240.jpg” alt=”” width=”300″ height=”240″ /></a>Peter was back online again. After intensive skiing in the mountains of Sälen he had a feeling he had achieved a top ranking today. At his profile page he could see that he finally set a new personal record by skiing 20 000 vertical meters in one day. Hah! And Mike who insisted it was impossible in Sälen.

He looked at the results of everyone today and found his name on number 5. There were only 4 other people on the whole mountain who had skied more meters than him. Peter could hardly wait to tell his friend Mike about it when he came back from the slopes.

He didn’t have to wait so long. The next minute he heard the door open and saw Mike standing in the hallway.

– I beat the record, he shouted to Mike.
– What record? Mike said while snapping up his boots.
– 20 000 vertical meters in one day!
– Oh really? Is it that web thing you told me about yesterday?

Mike wasn’t really into this ”web thing”. I´m here for the skiing experience, not for surfing the web” he had said yesterday.

– Exactly! It’s this web thing. All the numbers are in here; Peter said waving his ski pass in one hand and his phone in the other.
– You just log on to the service via your phone and find statistics of all the runs you´ve made, calories burned, types of slopes you have taken, other friends’ location on the mountain, etc. And do you know what?
– No, Mike said and sounded a bit tired. What?
– Today I am one of the top 5 skiers on the whole mountain! I even got a new pin for taking the steepest slope. Why don’t you get an account to see how well you scored today?

Mike removed his skiing boots and put the jacket in the drying cabinet and brought out his phone.

– Alright, what´s this thing called, he said staring at his phone. Does it work instantly?
– Mmhm, Peter nodded. If you register now all your runs since you first came here they will be visible online.

Peter was busy adding friends with the other skiers online. It felt great to get new friends sharing the same interest as he had. He refreshed the page. All of a sudden he found himself being placed as number 6 on the chart of today.

– Damn, he shouted and showed Mike his phone. Someone just took my placement in the chart.

Mike looked at him with a victorious smile.

– Guess who?

Peter sighed loudly. But of course.
Luckily there was a new day of skiing tomorrow. A new day filled with challenges on the mountain. And on the Internet.

<em>Like many ski resort providers, has booking online for accommodation and ski passes, web cams showing weather conditions in the slopes, information on current snow depth and number of lifts open. These features save time for the visitors prior to and during their ski trip. </em>

<em>As a separate layer, the new social web <a href=” ”> </a>takes the experience to a whole new level. Creating a need, highly addictive for competitive skiers, based upon the rudiments of gamification. Rewarding the skier with instant feedback of his progress compared to past achievements as well as to other skiers on the resort. Also providing Skistar with a tremendous amount of information based on skiing behavior that helps them to attract more visitors online and to the resorts.</em>

<em>PS. On a personal note, I have been to Sälen twice now in a month without making any top ranking. Yet.</em>

6 insights about sustainable web concepts

<em>Storytelling gives a deeper understanding of why things are the way they are. This article summarizes lessons learned from my experiences related to web concepts in 2011.</em>

<strong>A great solution needs a real problem</strong>

Anyone can build a web site filled with content, nice pictures and buttons to click on. A great solution however needs a real problem. Ask yourself what business need or user pain point your concept will solve. Is your solution a painkiller for real? Will people feel they got the answer they were looking for after visiting your site? Visualize the underlying need to what you are fulfilling or you might end up building <a title=”User friendly dead ends” href=””>user friendly dead-ends</a>.

<strong>Kill the darlings that steal your money</strong>

Candy is sweet but bad for your teeth. Just like misplaced content might be. Sometimes it is difficult to find a home for all your content. Instead of spending hours figuring out if the content will make the user experience better or worse, put up an A/B-test to find out which <a title=”Inform and entertain does not pay your salary” href=””>content that steals your money</a>. Maybe some of it is best placed in the trash can?

<strong>Be feature sensitive </strong>

How will new features affect the user experience of your solution? Be feature sensitive and filter new functionality through your basic concept idea and your primary target group before deciding to implement them. As for me, I remember when Facebook was easy to use with its pleasing overview of what your friends were doing. Lately, I have the impression that <a title=”The feature creep, excellent bug to kill a concept” href=””>too many features have moved in </a>without adding value to the genuine user experience.

<strong>Save time for your visitors </strong>

Many people use the web to save time. What actions can you take to shorten the visit for your user? How can you provide them with quick answers online so they can focus on doing something else the rest of their valuable time? <a title=”Attaining loyalty: the strive for shorter visits” href=””>Loyalty comes with fulfilling a need</a>. Facilitate the lives of your visitors’ and they’ll pay you back with a visit again.

<strong>Don’t overdose content out of context </strong>

Several websites seem to be flooded with news articles broadcasted to everyone and no one. When a visitor enters your website they are looking for an answer. <a title=”The news abuse – content overdosed” href=””>Don’t overdose content out of context</a><span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>.</span> It will distract your visitors where they don’t need it and make them frustrated not finding it where it should be. In the destination context your content will be meaningful to your visitors and therefore used.

<strong>No system on its own will be the answer to your prayers</strong>

<a title=”Waiting for Messiah” href=””>Don’t forget the users behind the scene</a>. It is important to anchor the building blocks of your concept with the editors and content workers early. Arrange meetups with people who have different approaches to content e.g. developers, interaction designers, editors, etc and create an iterative process of understanding, contributing ideas and giving feedback to each other with a common goal: To realize a sustainable  solution engaging as many users as possible.

<em>Merry Christmas and a Happy New 2012 to all of you excellent people making lives easier!<a href=””><img class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-192″ title=”Merry christmas and happy new 2012″ src=”” alt=”” width=”650″ height=”505″ /></a></em>

The news abuse – content overdosed

Mike headed downtown to the new library to find a particular book about dinosaurs. The task was to bring back the book to class today without any help from the elementary school teacher. When he arrived at the library he pressed the door handle, entered the huge lobby and was immediately flooded with information from the news people.

<em> “Our annual report is out. Read the full report here…” “There is a new area for marketing literature at this library…” “The new edition of “Learning by doing” is delayed!” “Our latest employee is Karen Olsen.” “Now you can borrow all your books a week longer. Go to the…”</em>

They were all over the luxurious entrance hall, trying to get his and other visitors’ attention. Mike covered his ears to be able to keep focus on the name of the book he was looking for.

In a dark corner at the end of the hall, he spotted a tiny desk with a note saying: “Fill in this form before you start asking us questions”. Most certainly he wouldn’t find the book that way.

He noticed the signs next to the stairs. There was Psychology on the first floor, Drama on the second, Biology on the third and History on the fourth floor.

He ran up the stairs to the fourth floor. In contrast to the entrance, this corridor was empty, lacking the luxurious décor of the entrance hall. He went through the shelves in order to find books about dinosaurs. After navigating through the whole floor he finally found the book he was looking for. He ran down the stairs, borrowed it and headed for class.

Back at school the teacher looked at his book.

“Hmm” she said. “I am afraid this is the wrong edition of “Dinosaurs of Our Lives”.
“I didn’t know there was a later edition”, he said disappointedly, not being able to complete the task.
“Didn’t anyone inform you about this when you borrowed it?” she asked him.
“No, no one did”.

The teacher decided to call the library to find out why they didn’t tell their clients about the various editions. In this particular case the two editions were completely different from each other.

“I am certain he was given that information”, the librarian answered when the teacher called him. “You see, we have at least ten news people in the entrance hall, announcing news all day long. And we also have a whole room filled with older news. Why didn’t he look there?”

The teacher sighed loudly.

“He didn’t know he had to pay attention to the news in the entrance hall or in the separate news room. How was he supposed to know there was a later edition when he entered the library? That information has to be given to him on the actual book shelf where the dinosaur book is.”

After the telephone call the librarian called the managing director.

“It seems we have to increase the number of news people and put them closer to the front door. It´s clear our visitors don’t notice them enough right now”.

<em>In real life, you wouldn’t broadcast all your news to every visitor in the entrance hall. That would be a waste of time since much of the information isn’t of interest to each individual visitor. On many websites though, that is exactly the case: news are presented on a central area of the start page, frequently updated by ambitious editors. Few visitors are genuinely interested in news per se unless they are visiting a news site. Specific information is more likely to be read in the context where your visitors need it; on a destination page rather than on the start page. In the destination context your content will be meaningful to your visitors and therefore used.</em>

Attaining loyalty: the strive for shorter visits

The Hanson family, a frequent buyer of food online suddenly switched their engagement from one web store to another. They ended up with exactly the same groceries, delivered the same day at a higher cost. Did they feel disappointed? Mislead? Quite the opposite actually. Finally they felt satisfied with the routine for real.

That was odd, wasn’t it?

To solve this mystery, the first web store hired a web detective who paid a visit to the Hanson family.

“Why did you change supplier for your food purchases?” the detective asked, sitting next to Mrs. Hanson in their living room.” Isn’t price important for a frequent buyer like you? I mean, even a few eurocents a week make a big difference over time.”

Mrs. Hanson nodded slowly.

“Price matters of course. But something else matters too… In fact you´ve just mentioned a clue yourself” she said with a cryptically smile and got up from her chair. “Would you care for some expensive coffee bought online?”

Without giving him a chance to answer she headed for the kitchen.

The web detective felt frustrated, anxious to get the answer from Mrs. Hanson. He hated these home visits. All this time spent sitting in someone’s living room drinking coffee while trying to find the right clues. What was the damn clue in his phrase earlier?

“I m sorry I left you in such despair all this time” Mrs. Hanson said when she finally arrived carrying a tray with coffee and Maryland cookies into the room. “Time badly spent makes you feel frustrated, doesn’t it?”

Her words made the token drop down.

“It time, isn’t it? The clue, I mean” the detective said victorious.

“You bet it is”, she answered. “You see, at the first web store you could not save a basic shopping list and reuse it. The procedure of having to write down a new list every week was time consuming. The other web store had this and other smart features to speed up the purchase.  Since we do the purchases several times a month, these features get important over time. We started buying food online for a reason, you know.”

“To save time, I guess?”

“Exactly. Saving time includes more than avoiding visits to the local store every week. By engaging in the second web store we saved time at home as well. They also presented the groceries in a much nicer way which turned online food shopping to a pleasant experience instead of a tedious one.”

The web detective felt satisfied. This turned out to be a quick visit after all.

“Thank you, Mrs. Hanson. I believe our case is closed.”

<em>People use the web for many reasons. One reason is to save time. Time not having to be spent queuing in a food store every week for example. If your customers are willing to pay for time saving, don´t waste their time online. Provide them only with content and features helping them solve their problem quicker. You will make their lifes easier and in return they will reward you by being loyal to you even if your offer is not the cheapest one out there.</em>


The Gui Challenge: why gamification works

Finding the right people has always been top priority for consultancy companies. At <a href=””>Valtech Sweden</a> one competency seemed especially difficult to recruit: the Gui developers. The recruiting ads, which ran constantly, where formulated according to common standards: “This is what you will be working with” followed by “This is what we expect from you”. Although Valtech stated they were ahead in web development with stimulating Gui projects, the interest was low. It was as if there were no Gui developers out there at all.

Clearly something had to be done to the situation. Something different in order to reach those who didn’t want to be reached. The answer came from people working with Gui issues within Valtech Sweden.

”Offer them something unexpected, challenge their creativity, knowledge and experiences. Make it easy and attractive at first. Something you know the answer to without spending too much of that precious time. Then raise the complexity. Make them feel this is for real, not just some advertising trick to get them on the hook. Make it exclusive enough so they feel a need to share their results with friends and the friends of their friends. Make them realize they are better than the rest. A selected and rare society of people.”

<a href=””>The Gui challenge </a>was born.

It consists of 9 problem based tasks with increasing complexity all the way till the final task. The rules of the game are stated in the beginning: the total number of tasks, what happens after the final task (that Valtech would like to contact those of you who succeed in the game) and so on.

The Gui challenge was spread only through social media channels as Facebook and Twitter. After the first month, 4000 people had visited the Gui Challenge. On one single day the number was 2000. All of a sudden you spotted people sitting at customer´s offices trying to solve the Gui challenge. There was even a clip on YouTube revealing the answers to the challenge.

Even though cheating wasn’t the way to go, the Gui challenge really got an impact on the target group. 130 developer succeeded in the game which made the number of leads rose from 0 to 130 in a few weeks time.

<em>Why did the Gui challenge turn out to be more successful than traditional recruiting ads? With traditional recruiting ads, the candidate engages in applying for a job whereas for the Gui challenge he or she engages in a game, not necessarily being willing to change occupation, not at least at first :-)</em><em>. Gamification is about attracting those not desperate to engage in your offer but having a hard time turning down a real challenge when they see one.</em>

<em>Recognize children’s clothing issues in the morning? When you desperately tell them to get dressed and there is no reaction at all. ”</em><em>Let´s compete about it and see who gets dressed the first!” 30 seconds later the children </em><em>are all dressed, ready for breakfast. :-)</em>

Tweet-commerce: service on demand

Two colleges of mine, <a href=”!/lifeonmarw”>Marwin</a> and <a href=”!/Joopey”>Daniel</a>, went to Austin to attend the SXSW-conference. While in Austin, Marwin wanted to find a new pair of Jefferson´s by Native shoes.
The conference was really intense and Marwin longed for some spare time in the afternoon. Spare time he´d rather spend relaxing in a bar than running around Austin trying to find the shoes.
–       Why don’t you tweet about it? Daniel suggested sitting next to him in the crowded conference hall.

Marwin (lifeonmarw) tweeted:

</strong>”Where can I buy Native shoes in Austin? <span style=”color: #808080;”>#sxsw</span> any tips? <span style=”color: #808080;”>#nativeshoes”</span>

30 seconds later someone attending the conference replied to his tweet.

<span style=”color: #808080;”>”@lifeonmarw </span>Nordstrom at barton creek square mall”

He decided to check out the store in the afternoon since it wasn´t that far to walk. One minute later Native Shoes the company replied twice to Marwins tweet.

</strong><span style=”color: #808080;”>”@lifeonmarw</span> try Complete Clothing in Austin [<span style=”color: #808080;”>link</span>]”

</strong><span style=”color: #808080;”>”@lifeonmarw</span> <span style=”color: #808080;”>@shoebacca</span> is also a texas based online retailer”

-Check this out! Marwin said. I got two answers from Native shoes themselves in less than a minute after my tweet. That´s what I call a quick response, don’t you think!
-Indeed it was, Daniel said. And all you did was to use the hash tag <span style=”color: #808080;”>#nativeshoes</span>. At least you have some leads of where to buy them now.

One minute later Marwin got another reply to his tweet. This time it was from Shoebacca, one of the stores selling the shoes in Austin.

</strong><span style=”color: #808080;”>”@nativeshoes</span> thanks for the shout out and recommendation! <span style=”color: #808080;”>@lifeonmarw</span> let us know if we can help [<span style=”color: #808080;”>link to shoebacca</span>] :-)”

-Wow, Marwin shouted to Daniel. I am about to tweet myself a new pair of shoes!

</strong><span style=”color: #808080;”>”@shoebacca</span> wow! great support! Only online? At SXSW. Thanx for the help!”

</strong><span style=”color: #808080;”>”@lifeonmarw</span> we´re online only but check out our speedy shipping options here [<span style=”color: #808080;”>link</span>]. Hope you have a blast at <span style=”color: #808080;”>#sxsw</span>!”

– It looks like I am in for a drink later on after all, he said with a smile. The supplier just solved my problem.

The hunt for new shoes was over.

<em>It is time to step out of your site and face your customer. Do not limit your service to one single place. Be responsive and offer it where your customers are. Do you have the guts to sit and wait for them to find you?</em>