Imagine a situation in the real world. One has researched extensively for a product one needs, compared notes with friends, searched high and low for the best price and finally has decided to buy the product. The person goes to the shop to get the product only to have a sign staring at their face that says the shop has relocated to a new place with no new address provided. The intending buyer would be sorely disappointed, and, more importantly, form an opinion about the shop that is disproportionately negative, merely because of the sense of aggrieved disappointment of the shopper.
Theoretically, this should not happen in the hyper-connected, 24X7, always on virtual world. Unfortunately, in many cases this is only theoretical. A personal anecdote that demonstrates this. In a recent transaction with the leader in eTailing, Amazon, an order I had placed had not been delivered on the appointed date. Strangely, the tracking code said ‘Cancellation Requested’, when I had done no such thing. On reaching out to the support personnel, I was told, “I will consider this order as mine own one and will monitor now and then, will make sure of this same.” But, lo behold, even after a week the product did not reach me and I decided to cancel the order and have the money refunded. The response to this was the usual bureaucratic folderol, viz, “… once the tracking is updated as returning to seller we will help you in issuing complete refund to your original payment method.” (sic).
The foregoing is an example of how the digital world is not aligned with the physical world. And, such examples, where the joy of discovery is left unfulfilled, means the difference between digital success and failure. Fortunately, for the large part, in mature digital organisations, such issues are rare. However, it is the rare event that is widely publicised and has the potential to damage reputations.
In less mature organisations, though, such occurrences are rife. And they stand to lose more, because very often, their digital presence is the basis of their business. Some of the most common issues that consumers face are:
- Browser incompatibility ie, the website is designed to perform well only in one or two of the more popular browsers, but does not perform well in other browsers.
- Incorrect or inappropriate error messages that leave the user bewildered. For example, an error message like, “Wrong telephone number”, that leaves the user befuddled, because the user can see the number entered in the field is correct, and the response is nonsensical.
- Missing links, or the dreaded 401 – Page not found error
There are other errors that are legion, however, the common skeins that are the roots of these errors, are:
Focus on visual design that is not rooted in user experience: Website owners spend significant amounts of time in getting the visual design of the site right. However, such design does not take into account how users would use the website. For example a user visiting a website to collect information would behave differently from another user who wants to buy a specific product. A website’s home page should cater to both types of users, so that the user’s time is not wasted. Yet, websites are notorious for catering to neither type of users, but more focused on winning design competitions.
Good user design is an amalgam of visual aesthetics, logic progression of information and interaction and quick completion of tasks. This has elements of how the human eyes process information and their thresholds of tolerance to repetitive action. For example, humans read from right to left, so it stands to reason that the sequence of actions from beginning to end are presented from left to right . A profound myth in website design is that a user should be able to complete a transaction in three clicks. Hence, web designers often limit interactions, however, illogical they are. On the other hand, some experiments have shown this to be untrue, and users continue to stay engaged as long as they can see the logic of the interaction. A useful discussion of this topic can be found at https://articles.uie.com/three_click_rule/.
Website design focussed only the front-end: Website creation has two parts to it – the human part which is defining the user experience and the visual design and the technological part, which is actually programming the website. Most website owners focus on the former and have limited or no interaction with the latter. This results in the programmers making their own decisions about processes, consequences of which can range from the sublime to the disastrous. This situation is analogous to a car designer fussing about how the car looks and not how it performs.
For example, the current buzzword in website design is ‘responsive’, ie a website design that renders gracefully in any device regardless of the screen size. While the technology is capable of this, it is important that the speed of download to a device and its canvas are factored when designing a website. Thus, some elements of design that are appropriate to a desktop, such as heavy video files, may not be relevant to a smart phone, both, because the download on mobile networks would be slower than high-speed broadband connections as well as the fact that the smaller screen of a smart phone will not aid the content.
Keeping pace with technology: Internet and web technology is constantly being churned throughout the eco-system of devices, transmission, programming languages, analytics, etc. These changes can degrade the performance of the website, not because of anything the website owner has done, but, merely because support for some feature or other has been withdrawn because the technology has moved on. It is essential for any website owner to keep abreast of these and renew and refresh the website at least once in two years (for eCommerce players, an annual refresh would be highly appropriate given the low entry barriers for competitors entering the fray).
Analytics and Testing: Nearly anything on the Internet can be measured. To extract the best out of a website it is extremely important that a website owner constantly look at performance metrics and make changes to optimise performance. For example, if a website owner observes that there are traffic surges to the website which are not being serviced, then the website owner should be improving their website hosting infrastructure, so that the traffic is catered to.
The plumbing of the Internet eco-system comprises operating systems, browsers, devices, etc. A website owner should have a periodic programme, to ensure that the website performance is optimal across the entire plumbing. After all, a leaky website will neither serve the website owner or the website user!