Sunday, 27 September 2009

Screenreader users - guidelines to improve their experience online

Findings from a usability study with 16 visually impaired people, usefully presented as a set of guidelines. Worth a read to get an insight into how people using screenreaders typically interact with websites and the problems they face.

Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites: Observing Users Who Work With Screen Readers - by Mary Frances Theofanos and Ginny Redish

PDF version of Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites

Screenreader videos

If you've never seen a screenreader in action, here are some examples from You Tube.

Sighted person demonstrating how a screenreader works on a well structured web page

Blind person using her computer with a screenreader (she begins surfing the web at 4:15). Notice how much faster her screenreader reads, compared to when a sighted person is demonstrating. I've done usability testing with visually impaired users in the past and found it almost impossible to take in the information at the speed they listen.

Differences between advanced and novice blind users surfing the web. No two people are the same. Believe it or not, the same goes for those of us with a disability.

Breaking up large documents for the web

A great article taken from the best book on writing for the web, by Ginny Redish.

Most people come to the web for information, not for a complete document. They don’t want the user manual; they want instructions for the task they are doing. They don’t want the handbook; they want the answer to specific questions. They want usable, manageable pieces.

Breaking up large documents for the web - article by Ginny Redish

Letting Go of the Words - Writing Web Content that Works - book by Ginny Redish

Monday, 21 September 2009

10 harsh truths about university websites

Paul Boag speaks at the 2009 CASE conference about the problems faced by all universities in the management of their websites. It's an excellent presentation (the related articles are worth reading too).

If you've not encountered at least some of these either you're very lucky or you have your head in the sand.

My quick summary of his 10 points:
  1. Politics is killing your site
  2. Course finders suck
    • You sell courses
    • Stop copying and pasting the prospectus
  3. A lack of direction and focus
  4. Great content needs central control
  5. Too many techies and marketers
    • Techies driven by tech solutions, users want transparency and honesty, not broadcast marketese
    • Techies and marketers rarely work in harmony
  6. Your site is bloated and out of date
  7. If you try to appeal to everybody, you appeal to nobody
  8. Users don’t care about your organisational structure
  9. Social media is hard
    • Twitter, Facebook, YouTube are just tools for engagement – not the goal in themselves
  10. A CMS is not a silver bullet
    • Everybody hates their CMS. Why?
Full presentation audio and slides:

10 harsh truths about institututional websites - presentation by Paul Boag

Harsh truths in articles
And a couple of articles by Paul which were probably the basis for his presentation:

10 harsh truths about corporate websites - article by Paul Boag for Smashing Magazine
10 ways to battle site bureaucracy - article by Paul Boag

If you haven't got time for the presentation, read the first one on corporate websites.

Most of the clients I work with are large organizations: universities, large charities, public sector institutions and large companies. Over the last 7 years, I have noticed certain recurring misconceptions among these organizations. This post aims to dispel these illusions and encourage people to face the harsh reality.

Centralised or decentralised authoring?

A look at the advantages and disadvantages of two website content management models. Makes a strong case for changing the way we look at university website management.

Centralised or decentralised authoring? - by James Robertson, Step Two Designs

Step Two Designs - free resources and blog on content management

McGovern on university web publishing

A couple of articles by Gerry McGovern on devolved web publishing, one specifically about universities. And a great quote:

"I once stood in front of a group of university staff and asked the following question: What is an organization if it is not organized? "A university," someone replied."

Less is more for university websites by Gerry McGovern (Article no longer available)

How many webpages can one person manage? by Gerry McGovern

University enquiry forms study: it's all about context

Interesting article about some research done around the impact of graphic design and marketing text on two university websites.

Omniture looked at the universities' request for information pages, changing various elements in the design and copy to see what, if anything, affected enquiry rates.

The upshot is, it depends. Depressingly vague, but nevertheless highlighting the limitations of marketing guidelines - there is no magic formula. You need to engage with your own users to find out what will work for you.

In this study, it appeared that the more sophisticated design - "hero shots", marketing copy etc - had a positive effect on visitors arriving on the page from search engines, and a negative effect those navigating to the page. Those navigating preferred the simple, functional approach.

The question is, I suppose, who would you prefer to receive enquiries from?

Context matters - article by Omniture Industry Insights

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Plain English - free guides

No one writing web content should be without these free guides from the Plain English Campaign:

Plain English Campaign website

McGovern on web writing

It's much the same stuff that you'll read in many places, but I like Gerry McGovern's style and approach to online communication. Worth a look...

Excerpts from "The Web Content Style Guide" by Gerry McGovern

I'm a fan of "Content Critical" in particular - probably the book that focused me on content management and away from web design.

All books by Gerry McGovern

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Biggest ROI from a usability fix? $300M for Jared Spool

A great story - how changing a button increased a site's annual revenues by $300 million.

The $300 Million Button - Jared Spool article

Market research seminar in Edinburgh - 15 September

This month's session at the Scottish Usability Professionals Association sounds interesting, although it's not really usability this time.

A market research focus this month:

Online Qualitative Research – New ways to find out what consumers really think

It's being held at the Microsoft offices on George Street. Cost: £10/£5/free .

Usability testing - avoid leading your participants

Jakob Nielsen writes about avoiding telling your usability testing volunteers what to do, providing a few tips along the way.

Despite the article's title, he talks about accompanied surfing too.

I usually say user testing is easy: basically, you get some real customers and watch them use your site or app. But this article touches on one of the difficulties of running great studies: minimizing bias...

The beauty of usability is that the methods are so robust that they generate useful findings even if you use them wrong. This is particularly true for user testing: any time you watch customers, you'll learn something...

Card Sorting: Pushing Users Beyond Terminology Matches - Jakob Nielsen article

10 top tips for web and email copy that gets results

Worth a quick read to refresh your memory. It's always reassuring when other professional's advice corresponds with what I've produced for the University's web writing training :o)

10 top tips for web and email copy that gets results

Web content consultants

Just stumbled across the website of CDA (Content Delivery and Analysis) through an article by Gerry McGovern. From their 'About Us' page:
We bring focus to the content aspects of websites, emails, social media and other digital messaging platforms and properties.
I'm just in the process of exploring their free research papers, case studies and content management blog.

CDA website
Content management blog

Increased website visits does not equal success

Gerry McGovern asks "Could growth in your page views in fact be a negative trend?"

In short, "Measuring success based on volume encourages bad practice" [in content management]

Volume is the wrong way to measure web success - Gerry McGovern article

Search terms and website content

The words we use when we search are not always the words we like to read when we arrive at a website.
We know it's important to get key words and phrases that our audiences search for into our web copy. Gerry McGovern comments on some research done by CDA, a digital communications consultancy which examined the relationship between the language we use as we express a desire, the words we type into the search engine, and then our expectations about what we read on the destination pages.

Search words versus carewords - Gerry McGovern article

CDA themselves summarise their findings:

We found that the language that engages people on web pages is different to the language that forms the pathways to a site. Rather, people change or adapt language terms as they refine their search...

Free search language research report from CDA - "Online language pathways: two kinds of language online"