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e-commerce: google keywords

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This article is part of a series about our e-commerce redesign.

Analysing your search referrals only tells you about the traffic you were successful in attracting. Even if you are getting lots of traffic for a particular keyword that might be a tiny fraction of the number of people searching for that keyword. And the referrers says nothing about what you missed out on completely.

So it helps to look at search engine traffic for keywords in the kind of space your website sits in. The free tools like Google AdWords keyword tool have generated lots of debate about how useful they are but I tend to see them as worth a look if you’re just looking for rough ideas about language and relative popularity.

With our shop research, I didn’t get much data for easy to see, easy to read, giant print, big print, canes, liquid level indicators, and (my favourite) bumpons. I couldn’t find information about Moon (the alphabet) because it was drowned by references to the satellite and all the other things called moon.

What I’ve learnt:

Generally people refer to concrete properties of the product rather than their condition. So it is ‘big button phone’ rather than ‘easy to see phone’ or ‘low vision phone’.

Singular is much more important than plural for objects like clocks and watches but the opposite is true for book formats e.g large print books. Which is kind of obvious…you only want one watch but you may want many books. This might have a bit of effect on our labelling policy, but not much as Google doesn’t seem to make a huge deal about singular verus plural.

There’s clearly a big opportunity around low vision products. The interest in products for blind people (like Braille) is less significant, which makes perfect sense when you compare the size of the audiences.

And loads of people are interested in magnifiers.

Written by Karen

January 28th, 2011 at 6:15 pm

e-commerce project: the browse structure

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This article is part of a series about our e-commerce redesign.

The browse structure of any website is always controversial within the organisation. I’m always struck by the discrepancy between how interested the organisation is in browse (as opposed to search) and how interested the users are. I’m not saying users don’t want a sensible, intuitive navigation scheme but they also want a really effective search engine. Most web design project involve huge amounts of effort invested in agreeing the navigation and very few discussions of how search will work.

Partly this is because navigation is easy for stakeholders to visualise. We can show them a sitemap and they can instantly see where their content is going to sit. And they know the project team is perfectly capable of changing it if they can twist their arm. With search on the other hand, stakeholders often aren’t sure how they want it to work (until they use it) and they’re not sure if it is possible to change anyway (search being a mysterious technical thing).

Even forgetting search, the focus on navigation is almost always about primary navigation with most stakeholders have very little interest in the cross-links or related journeys. The unspoken assumption is still that the important journey is arriving at the homepage and drilling down the hierarchy.

So I went into the e-commerce project assuming we’d need to spend alot of time consulting around the navigation structure (but knowing that I’d need to make sure I put equal energy into site search, seo and cross-linking, regardless of whether I was getting nagged about it).

A quick glance also showed that the navigation wasn’t going to be simple to put together. Some of my colleagues thought I wasn’t sufficiently worried but I’m used to the pain of categorising big diverse websites or herding cats as Martin puts it. I participated in at least three redesigns of the BBC’s category structure, which endeavours to provide a top-down view of the BBC’s several million pages on topics as diverse as Clifford the Big Red Dog, the War on Terror and Egg Fried Rice.

My new challenge was a simple, user friendly browse structure that would cover a huge book catalogue,  RNIB publications, subscriptions to various services, magazines, and a very diverse product catalogue of mobility aids, cookware, electronics and stationery. And those bumpons, of course.

Card-sorting is usually the IA’s weapon of choice in these circumstances. Now I’ve got my doubts about card-sorting anyway, particularly where you are asking users to sort a large, diverse set of content of which they are only interested in a little bit of it. Card-sorting for bbc.co.uk always came up with a very fair, balanced set of categories but one that didn’t really seem to match what the site was all about. It was too generous to the obscurer and less trafficked bits of the site and didn’t show due respect to the big guns. Users didn’t really use it, probably even the users who’d sorted it that way in the testing. My favourite card-sorting anecdote was the  guy who sorted into two piles “stuff I like” and “stuff I don’t like”. Which I think also alludes to why card-sorting isn’t always successful.

In any case, card-sorting isn’t going to half as simple and cheap when your users can’t see.

We decided to put together our best stab at a structure and create a way for users to browse on screen. Again not just any old prototyping methods is going to work here – however the browse structure was created would need to be readable with a screenreader.  So coded properly.

I wrote some principles for categories and circulated them to the stakeholders. Nothing controversial but it is helpful to agree the ground rules so you can refer back to them when disagreements occur later.

I reviewed the existing structure, which has been shaped over the years by technical constraints and the usual org structure influence.  I also looked at lots of proposed re-categorisations that various teams had worked on. I looked at which items and categories currently performed well. I reviewed the categorisation structures as part of the competitive review.

I basically gathered lots of information. And then stopped. And looked at it for a bit. And wondered what to do next.  Which is also pretty normal for this sort of problem.

(actually one of the things I did at this point was write up the bulk of this blog post – I find it really, really helpful to reset my thinking by writing up what I’m doing)

Somewhat inevitably I got the post-it notes out. I wrote out a post-it for each type of product and laid them out in groups based on similarity (close together for very similiar products and further away as the relationship gets weaker). This is inevitably my sense of similarity but remember this is a first stab to test with users.

Where obvious groups developed I labelled them with a simple word, some like books or toys. If a group needed a more complex label then I broke it up or combined it until I felt I had very simple, easily understood labels (essentially a stab at “basic categories”).

There were too many groupings and there were also a scattering of items that didn’t fit any group (the inevitable miscellaneous group). I dug out the analytics for the shop to see how my grouping compared in terms of traffic. I made sure the busiest groups were kept and the less popular sections got grouped up or subsumed.

This gave me a first draft to share with the business units. Which we argued about. A lot.

I referred everyone back to the principles we’d agreed and the analytics used to make the decisions. Everyone smiled sweetly at me and carried on with the debate.

After some advice from my eminently sensible project manager, I conceded one of the major sticking points. As I reported on Twitter at the time:

“Have given in and allowed the addition of a 13th category. Will the gates of hell open?”

Luckily at this stage we were finally able to do some usability testing with some real users. Only four mind, but they all managed to navigate the site fine and actually said some nice stuff about the categories. One tester even thought there must be more products on the new site, in spite of us cutting the categories by two-thirds.

So if someone attempts to re-open the browse debate, hopefully we can let usability tester #2 have the last word as in her opinion the new shop is…

“very, very clearly divided up”

Enough navigation, time to concentrate on search….

Related posts:
Re-branding miscellaneous

Written by Karen

May 12th, 2010 at 6:50 am

tripped up by “you might also like”

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My rabbit hutch purchasing has been an interesting vein of UX experiences. In the end I bought a hutch from JustRabbitHutches, whose website was mostly pleasant to use and whose service was great.

That said, once I’d added my hutch to the basket I noticed they’d been tripped up by recommendations. Under my basket were suggestions that I might enjoy. Unfortunately one of them was a “delivery surcharge”.

Surcharges are always so much fun

Now this isn’t as damaging as Walmart’s dodgy DVD recommendations but it’s another example of how careful you have to be.

You could also ask why JustRabbitHutches thought they needed a recommendation engine here. After all the clue is in the title. If I’m buying a rabbit hutch, how likely is it that they’ll be able to sell me another one?

Written by Karen

March 23rd, 2010 at 6:42 am

e-commerce project: competitive review

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This article is part of a (rather drawn-out)  series about our e-commerce redesign.

Competitive reviews do what they say on the tin: they review what your competitors are doing. They are particularly useful in a busy, well-developed marketplace where you can find good matches for your site/product.

With our e-commerce project, my first step was to identify what I meant by competitors. The definition is much wider than other charities for blind and partially sighted people with online shops. You are looking for sites that your audience will be familiar with, with similar product sets, with similar challenges and sites that may be interesting/innovative in general. They don’t have to be all of these things.

Some are easy to identify. If you are looking for market leading commerce facing sites that you can probably reel them off yourself.

You can also:

  • ask your colleagues
  • ask your network (Twitter is pretty good for this)
  • do some Google searches (try searching for all the sites you’ve already thought of, this often brings up other people’s lists)
  • look for market reports from Nielsen, Forrester etc…

I then bookmark the websites, using delicious. This means I have quick access to the set as I can reopen all the websites in one go (or in smaller tagged sub-sets) by selecting “open all in tabs” (I think you need the Firefox plugin to do this, I can’t see a way from the main site).

My four main sub-sets for the e-commerce project were

  • mainstream shops
  • charity shops
  • alternative format bookstores
  • disability/mobility stores

1. Mainstream shops (link to delicious tag)
These are sites that UK webusers are likely to be familiar with e.g. Amazon, Argos and John Lewis. I chose some for the breadth of their catalogue (a problem we knew we were facing) and some for specific range matches e.g. Phones4U or WHSmiths

Where these sites consistently treat functionality or layout in a particular way, I considered that to be a standard pattern and therefore something the users might well be familiar and comfortable with.

(it is worth noting that we don’t have definitive data on the extent to which RNIB shop customers also use other online shops. On one hand their motivation to use online shopping may be stronger than average UK users as they may face more challenges in physical shops, but on the other hand the accessibility of mainstream shops may discourage them)

2. Charity shops

These sites are slightly less useful as competitors that it might appear at first. They were useful when considering elements like donations but in many cases the shops were targeted at supporters not beneficiaries and they carried much narrower ranges. There are however some very high quality sites where it is clear that a lot of thought, time and effort has been invested.

3. Alternative format bookstores

This included mass market audiobook stores and some that are targetted particularly at people with sight loss. Most of these sites were dated and a little awkward to use. I reviewed them briefly but mostly didn’t return to them.

4. Disability/mobility stores

There are quite a number of these sites. They often feel like print catalogue slung on a website and weren’t very sophisticated from an IA perspective. I did look in detail at the language they used to describe products as there was likely to be a heavy overlap with our product set.

I had a number of initial questions that I wanted to research.
1. The number of categories on the homepage
2. Other elements on the homepage
3. How they handled customer login

I created a spreadsheet and when through the sites one by one, recording what I found. It took me about 2 hours to review 60 sites against this limited set of criteria.

I did the original review ages ago but I went back to the sites reasonably regularly during our design phase, usually when we couldn’t reach agreement and we needed more evidence to help make a decision. Sometimes I would just add a column to an existing spreadsheet e.g. when checking which sites had a separate business login. At other times I created whole new spreadsheets e.g. when auditing how the search function worked.

These later reviews took less time, either because I was checking for less criteria or because I dropped less relevant or low quality sites. I’m still going back to the competitive review even during testing, as various testers start finding their own favourite website and asking “why doesn’t it work like this?”.  It is always useful to know if they are right that “normal” websites do X. The competitive review  saves a lot of argument time.

Written by Karen

March 2nd, 2010 at 6:54 am

Posted in e-commerce,rnib

search forms on online shops

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I’ve been thinking about the search functionality for our online shop this week. I’ll write up our approach to search properly at a later date but for now I thought I share the variety of search forms I’ve seen on other online shops.

E-commerce search forms: simple boxes

E-commerce search forms: labelled boxes

E-commerce search forms: scope drop-downs

E-commerce search forms: guidance text

Some things of note:

  • The longer search boxes were mostly on book sites.
  • 3 sites also offered “suggestions as you type” (Amazon, Borders, Ocado)
  • Only 1 site had an obvious link to an advanced search
  • All sites handled scopes with a dropdown

(Visio stencil is from GUUUI)

Written by Karen

September 4th, 2009 at 6:34 am

Posted in e-commerce,search

conversion rates affected by CAPTCHAs

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Interesting stuff on the impact of CAPTCHAs:

“From the data you can see that with CAPTCHA on, there was an 88% reduction in SPAM but there were 159 failed conversions. Those failed conversions could be SPAM, but they could also be people who couldn’t figure out the CAPTCHA and finally just gave up. With CAPTCHA’s on, SPAM and failed conversions accounted for 7.3% of all the conversions for the 3 month period. With CAPTCHA’s off, SPAM conversions accounted for 4.1% of all the conversions for the 3 month period. That possibly means when CAPTCHA’s are on, the company could lose out on 3.2% of all their conversions!

Given the fact that many clients count on conversions to make money, not receiving 3.2% of those conversions could put a dent in sales. Personally, I would rather sort through a few SPAM conversions instead of losing out on possible income.”

via SEOmoz | CAPTCHAs’ Effect on Conversion Rates.

Written by Karen

July 23rd, 2009 at 6:05 am

e-commerce project: business requirements

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This article is part of a series about our e-commerce redesign.

The high-level goals are to re-brand, improve the user experience and improve the back-end processes. The rebrand will be to bring the site in line with the rest of the website which will relaunch in September. The user experience goal is not particularly specific but there is also a product backlog that tells a more detailed story.

The pre-existing backlog provided some of the business requirements but we didn’t know how applicable this was, what the priority of each item was and whether new requirements had come up in the interim.

Stakeholder workshops were set up and I attended the workshops covering catalogue and marketing. We’ve now got a fresh, prioritised backlog and we’ve clarified some of the language.

Some IA bits of the wishlist from the workshops:

  • more ways to browse the content, including by price and date added
  • a more flexible category structure, allowing polyhierarchy
  • search that is less divided by our various stores
  • recommendations – lots of discussion here about the various types of related products. We have accessories, variants, alternatives and ‘you might also like’.
  • a more ‘personalised’ experience, possibly based on preferred formats. I voiced words of caution here about requiring people to express preferences and about boxing them in.
  • loads of analytics were desired but everyone was realistic about how much resource there was to interpret them

We got information about volumes and value of various customer groups. And some more philosophical feedback: unlike most e-commerce projects maximising sales and profits isn’t the absolute goal here. Exactly where the line between selling and helping lies will be interesting to see.

Written by Karen

June 16th, 2009 at 6:08 am

Posted in e-commerce,rnib

e-commerce project: current state analysis

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This article is part of a series about our e-commerce redesign.

I had some quiet time over Xmas and did some current state analysis of the online shop then. I’m so glad I did this. As per usual, as soon as the project actually kicks off there is limited time to do this sort of thorough research.

One of our business analysts has done a formal “as-is” review of the back-end processes but I’ve been concentrating on the front end user experience, particularly browsing the catalogues.

For my current state analysis I identified all the existing features. To do this:

  • took lots of screenshots, of all the screen variations I found
  • made a sitemap
  • annotated the documents, identifying each separate element

Now just because we have all these features now, it doesn’t mean we want to keep them. That said, during the website redesign we missed things that are working really well on the existing site. The site looks clunky and old-fashioned but there’s some nice features in there. So I wanted to make sure I genuinely knew the site inside out.

The functionality basically breaks down into:

  • arriving on site (including via search engines)
  • finding and choosing items
  • information about purchasing
  • registering
  • adding to basket and purchasing
  • tracking/cancelling

I’m going to concentrate on the first two areas for now.

Within the main shop (i.e. not the book shop) there are

  • a store homepage
  • category pages (including sub-categories)
  • product pages

There’s also a sitemap, terms and conditions, product news, pricing information, contact forms, and help information but the other three are the main page types.

The project already has a product backlog from an earlier attempt to kick it off. After I have annotated all my screenshots, I compiled a list of features and then compared that to the product backlog.

The backlog was missing the following elements:

  • link from product page to product instructions
  • link from product page to other product guide/pages
  • link from category page to product category guide e.g. choosing a mobile phone
  • information about product size
  • offer product variations e.g. colour and size
  • product image
  • product image enlargement
  • seasonal offers and selections e.g. Xmas
  • alternative ordering information e.g. call this number
  • vat price + non-vat price
  • login as different types of shopper
  • links to t&cs
  • communicate different delivery prices (free, special + xmas)

This flagged up for me a problem with the way the backlogs were generated. Stakeholders contributed ideas for features they wanted to see but tended to assume they would automatically get all the functionality they already have. Even with this process, I almost missed out search from the list, as it is part of the main website navigation and I was ignoring the standard page “furniture”.

Some of these gaps would indeed be obvious as we built the site but a number are not standard e-commerce functionality and it is entirely possible that the project team wouldn’t have thought of them independently. So for me the current state analysis catches functionality that might otherwise have slipped through the net.

Next: business requirements

Written by Karen

June 2nd, 2009 at 6:36 am

charity e-commerce project

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This article is part of a series about our e-commerce redesign. The series includes Current state analysis and Business requirements.

When I tell my friends that I’m working on an e-commerce project they look a bit baffled. It isn’t something that people immediately think of in relation to charities.

But we make/publish and sell a lot of stuff: books (braille, large print, audio etc), magazines, watches, telephones, kitchen equipment, mobility aids, remote controls, headphones, clocks, calendars, software, board games, playing cards, lamps, and batteries.

Our resource centres are also shops, and we have a moderately sized warehouse in Peterborough.

I’ve mentioned the bump-ons before, but some other favourite products include:

The first thing you notice when you go to the RNIB shop is that this page talks about two separate “stores”.

“At present our Online Shop and Book site are separate. You will need to register in each store to buy a product or listen to  book.”

Obviously less than ideal.

Once you get into the stores it becomes obvious that the shop doesn’t feel like a normal online shop. There’s some basic patterns and conventions about how online shops look that the site isn’t consistent with. That makes the site a bit confusing, you have to actually read everything properly… you have to think about what you are doing. The product pages themselves are ok but the lack of images in the browse pages means the site doesn’t scream shop at you.

We’re just starting the project to relaunch the shop now, so I’m going to be digging a bit deeper. The goals are roughly to re-brand, improve the user experience and improve the back-end processes. At the moment it is just fun to be designing a shop.

Next: Current state analysis

Written by Karen

June 1st, 2009 at 6:30 am