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To Hear Visitor Feedback, Remove Your Hands From Your Ears  

:: Wednesday, February 16, 2005 ::

I was an equestrian during my growing up years. First, I had to learn how to ride a horse. Then, as I became an experienced rider and entered horseshows, I learned to train my horses how to jump and listen to my subtle body commands. I knew they could "hear" me because they would perform the task I'd just requested or I could watch their ears twitch forward and backwards, on the alert for feedback or encouragement from me.

Web design reminds me of the long road I had as a horseback rider. In the beginning, when I was still small, it seemed everyone rode better than I could. I wasn't aware of my horse as much. It was enough of a challenge to keep my heels down and learn what a "lead" was when a horse cantored.

Web sites, when built by someone new to design, aren't as focused on their visitors and search engines. They're at the stage where they're learning how to use their software, maybe trying CSS, or wondering how to make that hover effect for links. They're not listening to feedback and in many cases, they're turning a blind ear to that and the fact that they should be seeking feedback at all.

Someone once came to me asking for free advice for his web site, in the form of a review. I know that to do my job fairly and accurately, I need a lot more information to perform a usability review, but I offered a few basic clues on navigation and helping the visitor understand the purpose of the web site, at no charge.

What I received back was thanks, but they didn't need my help after all. What the person told me was, in essence, the site is doing well and the owner knows what its about, and that's all that matters. So, I wondered, why was I asked to review it if it's doing so well? In addition, since I had trouble understanding the navigation, I guess I didn't count.

There was a poster that used to hang in a barn at one of the horse stables where I worked for my riding lessons (I always worked in return for my lessons.) It was of three monkeys with their hands over their ears, mouth and eyes and below that it said, "See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil. Have no fun."

I saw that poster often, for years. It eventually came to mean, "If you want to do what you want and have fun with it, you better listen up."

Why is it that usability seems to be in the forefront of any discussion about web design and search engine marketing? Is it because in general, we're past the early education stage in our lessons and now into the advanced stages, where we're more aware of our surroundings? Have we just realized that not everyone uses our web site the way we do?

Can You Read Me Now?

I love studies in human factors, user experience, usability and search engine usage. I can never know enough about how people will react to a web site, no matter where they found it, or what it looks like. Some studies are very surprising.

One of them is the Reading Online Text with a Poor Layout: Is Performance Worse?. It seems as though people are willing tolerate more than I gave them credit for when it comes to reading content online.

The study concludes, "Results from this study showed that, interestingly, reading performance or comprehension was not influenced by the quality of the page layout, despite the fact that participants often had to sometimes read around a photograph in the poor layout passages."

It also points out, "Higher satisfaction and preference of the better layout, should not be discounted, however, since such variables influence whether a user continues interacting with a website or simply moves on to one with better visual appeal."

Which brings me to the point I like to make over and over about why we should test our sites or seek suggestions for improvements. You didn't build it for you, and you alone, to use.

PS - Thank you to the Cre8asiteForums member who told me about the grammatical error I had on my UE site. I fixed it. I appreciate the time you took to notify me.

Related articles

1.) Seen in today's SearchEngineGuide - Why Search Engine Marketing Has A Passion for Web Site Usability

2.) Seen in today's SiteProNews - Do Not Drop Your Web Site Off the Search Engine Cliff

3.) Seen in today's blog post by Diane Vigil at Developed Traffic Human-Computer Interaction is, uh . Where Diane says:

"Me, I'm a fan of plain-speak (you know, that stuff that normal people can understand). Unfortunately, one often has to translate depending upon the audience. And since the Web Design industry, done right, includes a whole raft of other disciplines and industries, one finds a whole lot of translating quite necessary if one intends, you know, to communicate."

:: posted by Kim Krause Berg on 2/16/2005 01:53:00 PM

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