10 Sure-Fire Ways To Confuse Your Site Visitors

Good website navigation is so intuitive you never even think about it. Bad navigation you certainly notice, because it makes you work hard to get where you want to go. The trouble is, intuitive design takes careful thought. You’ve really got to predict your site’s visitors’ movements, and be ready for any effort they’ll make.

Not all website designers do, of course. Many – quite innocently, I must add – think not a bit about how people use websites. They don’t read reports, they don’t think critically about what confuses them whey they visit sites or they get a little too creative in their efforts.

I’ll be addressing usability in an upcoming e-seminar (there’s still time to register if you hurry – click here to do so) , but I wanted to share some common mistakes, in no particular order, in case you feel like frustrating your site visitors and driving traffic away:

  1. Use inconsistent navigation. Vary it from page to page. Sometimes put it on the top, sometimes put it on the side, and forget to add menu items here and there.
  2. Get cutesy with navigation. Rather than saying “Home,” “About Us” and “Services,” say “The Homestead,” “Meet the Gang” and “What Makes Us Tick.” It also helps if your audience is mostly English-speaking and you write your navigation in a foreign language with foreign characters – like Hebrew (you know who you are …).
  3. Don’t add a home link and assume everyone knows to click your logo to go back to the homepage.
  4. Put your navigation links in alphabetical order or order or length – anything but order of importance.
  5. Make pages open in new windows, thereby risking pop-up blocking software won’t allow that page to open and disabling your site visitor’s back button.
  6. Forget sub-navigation – put every single link on every single page.
  7. Put navigation at the bottom of the page or somewhere else “below the fold.”
  8. Give users multiple choices to perform one action. For instance, if you’re selling something, list three different places they can buy it.
  9. Use too many menus. At least three. In different places. With redundant choices.
  10. Don’t even use navigation – just put some links around the page.

A Rabbi Meets YouTube

I’m always looking for ways to demonstrate how technology is relevant for our clients. So when I happened across this detailed explanation of how Rabbi D. Nimchinsky brought along his digital camera to snag some videos and upload them to YouTube during an 8th grade field trip to Washington DC, I was delighted.

The good rabbi says:

The results were very gratifying. Each day we received numerous emails from parents, teachers and other students commenting on the trip, the video bloggers, and the students in general. It built up a good deal of enthusiasm and excitement about the trip which the kids were thrilled about when they called their parents or friends in the school.

Look at this detailed how-to on the AVI CHAI Educational Technology blog.

Gadget Monday: Wireless Pen

GPEN200N
A pen, you may say, is by default wireless. That’s why it’s called a pen and not a keyboard. But the Mobile Digital Scribe GPEN200N from Iogear looks like a pen but is effectively a portable computer.

This device captures 50 pages of your handwriting or drawings – using normal ink – and it transfers them to your computer as a digital document. You can sign checks with this thing, but it has enough digital juice to grab a whole day’s worth of meeting notes. When you’re done jotting, upload to any computer you want – without need of a digital notepad or special paper. The handwriting recognition software (OCR software) converts your notes into digital text.

This has a real benefit for anyone giving a presentation, because you can connect the pen to a digital projector to show your writing in near real time. Forget overhead projectors.

Pretty cheap too. You can buy it for $129 from the manufacturer or pick it up for less than $100 online.

Print to PDF with Ease

Here’s a trick we use when we have a collaborative online whiteboard project that we want to lose when we log out of our web meeting software. We simply print to PDF.

This is handy too for documenting online receipts, itineraries and sending low-resource proposals and other documents that you don’t want in easily-editable Word format.

Here’s how:

  • If you have a PC with Adobe Acrobat installed, you can simply go to Print and then choose Adobe PDF from the Printer Name drop-down box.
  • You can also download and install CutePDF Writer. This free program does the same thing as Acrobat.
  • If you’re using a Mac, PDF print software is already installed. Go to the File menu, choose Print and click the PDF button in the lower left-hand corner of the new window.

Nonprofit Website ROI

Most of my co-workers are a little freaked by the economy, but one of my nonprofit clients said something troubling to me the other day. He said many of his colleagues are reluctant to spend money on technology because they fear the recession.

I don’t always believe you have to spend money to make money, but in this case it’s really true. Some nonprofits have such horrendous websites that they pretend they don’t even exist rather than face the task of fixing them. They don’t understand that by having an ugly public face they’re actually hampering the advancement of their goals and sustainability. (NB: We’re hosting a presentation on usability on Sept. 2, 2008 at 2 Eastern – you can register for free.)

You don’t have to believe me. Jakob Nielson, the widely respected king of usability, wrote a wonderful article called “Do Government Agencies and Non-Profits Get ROI from Usability?” He says:

Although the gains don’t fall into traditional profit columns, there are clear arguments for improving usability of non-commercial websites and intranets. In one example, a state agency could get an ROI of 22,000% by fixing a basic usability problem.

Did you see that number? It really is 22,000 percent. Staggering. I don’t know a single funder that wouldn’t gasp at that kind of return and justify the funds to improve a website. Yes, people might read something about you in The Chronicle of Philanthropy or The Nonprofit Times, but people learn about your organization by going to your website. And they won’t learn anything if it’s not usable.

New websites don’t come free, but to have an unusable website and do nothing with it is a complete waste of money.

So today’s friendly Web tool is actually a whitepaper from ZD Net that will help you calculate the ROI (return on investment). It’s for a CRM system, but it can be applied to a website as well. Read it and get to cleaning up your website!

Gadget Monday: Better Podcasting

A podcast might be the perfect tool for broadcasting your sermon or special event, but while they’re fairly easy to put together, getting good quality sound takes some thought. The standard microphone that comes with most computers – or heaven forbid the built-in version in your laptop – creates a tinny far-away sound that instantly cheapens your broadcast. If you’re doing any kind of recording on your computer, having decent equipment is a must.

If you’re serious about podcasting, you might want to set aside several hundred dollars to invest in a microphone and a compressor/limiter. But many of our clients are simply using whatever equipment they can get their hands on. if you’re unable to part with much money, you can try the Plantronics DSP-500 headset for around $50. (You might remember Plantronics from an earlier Gadget Monday where we told you how to get set up for using Skype – this headset will do double-duty.)

Plantronics DSP-500 headset

Plantronics DSP-500 headset

No matter which mic you’re using for your podcast, you can get better results with a few low-tech techniques. This posting from the O’Reilly Digital Media Blog has some useful demonstrations on how to get better results with your recordings, including how to tweak your mic position (hint: talk past your microphone rather than into it).

Also, see this article on how to make a pop-filter out of some old pantyhose.

Helpful Way To Clean Up HTML E-mails

Sending text-based e-mails is easy, but making them fancy with colors, background, tables or other HTML tricks is another story altogether. Not all e-mail programs will accept all HTML-generated messages.

Some of our clients sidestep some requirements by subscribing to services that do this for them by providing templates. While some of these can help you create fancy e-mails, they’re not perfect. Spam catchers often restrict messages that are sent from Constant Contact, for instance.

But you can still send custom, fancy HTML e-mails without using someone else’s template with Premailer. This service cleans up your existing HTML file and puts it into a format that most e-mail programs can use, or at least alerts you to red flags so you can clean up your files yourself.

Give it a shot; this site has a sample set up so you can see how it works.

Gadget Monday Presents: Braille Karaoke

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[Image: Flickr user gregoryperez]

Here’s a gadget that anyone who works with the visually impaired will love: karaoke in Braille.

It’s from a Japanese company called Nippon Telesoft, actually two companies that have teamed up to build the special machine. A PC plugged into the karaoke machine translates lyrics into Braille and sends them to a special display. The characters appear on the display slightly ahead of the music so singers can follow along in time with the tunes.

Now it’s not just your sighted friends who can get drunk and sing off-key to old Genesis songs.

See the machine in action.

Simple Technique for Better SEO

We just hosted a webinar with some friends of ours at Dinkum Interactive about search engine optimization. It was great and we’ve received a lot of positive feedback so far.

One of the biggest lessons we addressed during the presentation was the importance of looking beyond just the technology and just the marketing when it comes to coaxing people to find you on the Internet. It’s much more than having the right tools or writing the right copy. So-called search engine optimization is a full-on effort that ensures that you’re always promoting your company and making sure that people are always learning about you.

But there are a few things you can do to help coax search engines to move you up their web pages. One is clean URLs.

Every page on your website has its own address, or URL. Search engines, as do people, like to see these addresses when they make sense. So they’ll avoid cataloging those pages with such addresses as

http://www.talance.com/aspweb/ur123/do/results?firsttime=y&
set=search&referer=&edition=&sortResultsBy=TopicRelevance
=9644205E04CF9DBF1B850C0219204572_1188832070933&
urn=urn%3Abigchalk%3AUS%3BBCLib%3Bdocument%3B112707510

And prefer addresses that give a clear indication of the information on the page, such as:

This can be done automatically if your CMS (content management system) has clean URLs installed. Then it will read the page’s title and make that the URL, rather than a mechanical string.
Try it out, and see if suddenly more people are able to find you online.

Protect Your Laptop from Border Control

Some scary news: US border control now has the authority to swipe your laptop, cell phone or other electronic device. Bad news no matter which way you look at it, but you could be utterly lost if you’re traveling and US agents decide to retain your laptop indefinitely.

My best advice is to travel with a stripped-down piece of equipment that contains only contact names and travel details and download information from an online storage space when you arrive at your destination.

But you might also give a shot at TrueCrypt, free open-source software that locks down the information on your laptop so that only you can get at it. Not only does TrueCrypt encrypt your files, but it hides them so snoops don’t even know they exist, a practice called steganography.

It’s worth learning a bit about how this works if you travel and can’t live without your laptop. Of course, border control can still take your iPod, so there’s a good reason to travel with a cheapy MP3/4 player.