Monthly Archives: April 2009

Counter arguments to homepage advertising

It is a commercial reality that online advertising is a necessity for many organisations. As any digital marketeer will tell you, the click-through rate on online advertising is staggeringly low (think of a low number, add a decimal place and a few 00’s kind of low). To counter the low click-through rates in most situations marketeers play the numbers game and place dominant advertising on pages which attract the biggest number of visitors, typically the website homepage. The result is yet more visual clutter on a page that is typically fairly cluttered to begin with.


All fine and good eh, the organisation derives maximum profit from advertising?

I am convinced that there is a compelling commercial argument to not having advertising on pages, such as the homepage, where people need to be able to navigate clearly. Here are a couple of counter arguments…

What is the impact of advertising on the 99.99% of us that don’t click on the ad?

Homepage drop-out rates are a big issue on many websites. Now I don’t want to blame this entirely on advertising, but certainly dominant advertising doesn’t help people complete the task that brought them to the site in the first place.

Adverts frequently employ highly distracting tactics, such as animation, which make it very difficult for a person to focus on the rest of the site for a sufficient time to click on the best link to help them nearer towards their task. During usability testing I have frequently heard people say that they’d click on something quickly just to get off a page with overwhelming adverting.

The upshot of this is that people end up at the wrong parts of the website where they can’t complete their task. This results in people either turning to alternate service channels that are more expensive for the organisation, such as call centres, or worse still, people giving up and seeking out a competitors site to satisfy their needs.

What is the cost of this to the organisation? It is a complicated calculation, but my feeling is that it certainly cuts into a significant slice of whatever revenue is derived from homepage advertising.

Wouldn’t click-through %’s be higher with more targeted advertising?

Why not place adverts in places where you know more about why a person is visiting your site, i.e. anywhere other than the homepage? Better still, place the advertising on pages after the person has completed their reason for visiting the site. This is when people are more susceptible to distractions.

Sites with sophisticed approaches to monitoring web metrics, such as Amazon, target these seducible moments to great effect. For example, on Amazon directly after adding an item to my shopping basket I am taken to a page that provides me with recommendations based on the item I’ve just added to my shopping basket.

Applying the principle of seducible moments to a site such as would mean uncluttering the homepage with take-over advertising and instead placing adverts for things such as credit cards in the Money area of the site, or alongside news articles about financial related topics.

Wield a razor not an axe

Phil Barrett recommends Occam’s Razor to help keep complexity under control.

“Two interfaces – choose the simpler one.” A no-brainer, right? Simple designs are easier to implement and maintain, and quicker for everyone to learn and use. But choosing a simple design when you see it is actually surprisingly hard. Organisations with lots of people, objectives and agendas will generate complexity faster than you can say “knife” (or indeed “razor”).

The article is well worth a read.

10 tips to help foster innovation

The need to be right all the time is the biggest bar there is to new ideas. It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong than to be always right by having no ideas at all.

Normally one is only taught to think about things until one gets an adequate answer. One goes on exploring while things are unsatisfactory but as soon as they become satisfactory one stops. And yet there may be an answer or an arrangement of information that is far better than an adequate one.

Both quotes from Edward De Bono‘s Lateral Thinking which I have been re-reading for the first time in many years.

The book, originally published in 1970, echoes the kinds of issues and concerns I still hear from clients today. For example, over the last few weeks I’ve heard many organisations lament the difficulty of creating green field, genuinely innovative products and services. They have talked about “being trapped within existing paradigms” and “unable to escape the way things are currently done”.

What is worse is that they express difficulty in finding people capable of helping them think differently about their particular situation. Is it because so many UX practitioners spend so much time using convergent thinking approaches to help optimise solutions? Is it because of a dearth of UX practitioners with a background steeped in design theory? Is it because organisations aren’t willing to create the time to explore alternate approaches or commit the resources to do so? Or is it some other reason entirely?

Whatever the real reason, experienced UX practitioners need to know when to use divergent thinking tactics and when to use a convergent approach.

The following are ten tips how to encourage divergent thinking within a workshop environment.

1o tips to help run a successful innovation workshop

  1. Set rules and roles. Providing a constructive environment for creativity requires a few rules and roles. There is only really one rule; 1. no critiquing of ideas until a follow-up evaluation session. There are only three roles; 1. a facilitator to guide the session and pre-prepare topics and stimulus materials, 2. a note-taker to capture the ideas that are generated during the meeting, and 3. a number of participants.
  2. Don’t make creative sessions too long. Around 30 minutes, and certainly no more than an hour, is enough to generate a range of ideas that can then be analysed, evaluated and turned into concepts.
  3. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can do it on your own. Although genius design does happen, a collaborate process involving a small group is far more likely to consistently produce fresh ideas in a timely manner. Anywhere between 5 and 15 people is a good number. Less experienced facilitators may prefer to start with smaller groups.
  4. Don’t expect magic to happen quickly. Many teams, especially those within usually traditional, formal, “always right” organsations, require time to warm up to divergent thinking. Quick warm up exercises may be required to get the group out of the business-as-usual convergent thinking mentally and into a useful headspace.
  5. Don’t stop when you encounter the first acceptable idea. Although it may end up being the best idea. Continue thinking, exploring and sketching alternate solutions. At the very least these will validate that the acceptable idea is in fact the best idea, and by continuing you may actually identify a better idea that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.
  6. Don’t critique or criticise ideas before others are given the chance to consider them. By focusing on the interesting aspects of an idea can spark other more practical thoughts, but if you focus on the impracticalities you may kill an idea before it has chance to breath.
  7. Don’t fear failure. To have one great idea you’ll have to have many not so great ideas. The trick, as Scott Jenson puts it in The Simplicity Shift, is to “fail fast”.
  8. Trust the process even when all around you are in doubt. Chances are you’ll have people who think what you’re doing is “fluffy”. You might even have people who storm out of a workshop because they don’t see the value in what you’re doing (I certainly have!), but even in the darkest hours you need to believe that good will come by encouraging people to think different about their products and services. The very worst that can happen is that a company realises that there is no better way than the way they currently do things. Validation of the status quo is a valid output from the activity provided the group has spend time exploring truly divergent alternatives.
  9. Focus on quantity of ideas not quality. You have forever to evaluate which ideas are good and bad. Don’t run the risk of stymieing radically different approaches by focussing on refining a single idea even if it does initially appear to be the most viable.
  10. When all else fails… consider the existing patterns, models and processes within your product or service. Focussing on and remodelling sub-components can help break down the existing norms and enable free-er thinking about the bigger picture.\

Perhaps personalisation works

Talk about great experience, my cousin is an illustrator (Jilly P – well worth a look) and she created a cool card for my son Mackenzie’s first birthday.


I have always been skeptical of the amount of time and money organisations spend on personalisation, maybe I need a rethink!

The price of overselling expectations

Reading Nick Bowmast’s post, The price of cookies when booking your flight, got me thinking about the difficulties organisations face when they lead their customers to expect a “better than the rest” type of service.

Having set high standards we expect organisations to consistently meet these levels of customer experience in all our dealings, and we are more likely to talk about it when they don’t. I had a similar experience myself with Singapore Airlines (see Disjointed brand experience). Like Nick’s post, mine also received a prompt response from a representative of the airline.

What this highlights for me is the importance for organisations to take a holistic view of customer experience. It isn’t enough to just consider one channel or product, organisations must take a strategic view and consider the impact of every customer interaction with the organisation. Only then will they be delivering a great customer experience.

Air New Zealand’s eCommerce Manager’s response is understandable from a technology perspective (certainly from someone who has done as much work with booking engines as I have over the years), but not acceptable from a customer experience perspective.

If your advertising is “our low fares have nothing to hide”, the customer expectation is that “I will get this price”. If the marketing department is setting high expectation levels, the fulfillment teams must meet these or else customers will talk, and may soon become ex-customers!

Silverback – where’s the catch?

I finally got around to installing and testing out Silverback tonight. Silverback is a nifty Mac gadget that does picture-in-picture screen capture, i.e. exactly the application you want for your guerilla usability testing lab.

What I don’t understand is why I haven’t heard people raving about this. There is the obvious drawback that it only works on a Mac with built in iSight, but we’re not too small a percentage of the broader design community. Is it just that people don’t know about this product, or is there some catch I haven’t yet experienced?