MSN Ranking Update

After checking clients’ rankings yesterday, I noticed significant drops in rankings on MSN Live Search. After investigating this further, it appears that MSN Live Search has had a major update in the last week or two which it describes as the “biggest update since our debut in January 2005

The features of this update include enhanced speed, word handling, auto spell correction, layout and usability of the interface and yes… enhanced ranking algorithms

In fact the Live Search update has seen their index quadruple to 4 times the size it previously was. This has no doubt impacted search engine rankings and will introduce new competition to climb up MSN’s search results.

I would be interested to see if anyone has seen a similar drop in rankings on MSN Live Search?

Checkout Usability

A checkout process on an e-commerce site is key to the site’s success in converting visitors into online sales. Your site may be attracting targeted visitors that want to buy online but your complicated or frustrating checkout means that they give up (and in many cases, are unlikely to return.) This indicates how important it is to get your checkout right

I tend to come across many more sites that have frustrating and long winded checkout processes than I do checkout’s that are usable, simple and safe. And this is exactly how people want to buy online, with simplicity and security.

So I thought I would brainstorm what I think should be included in your checkout and where it should be included in order to make the process as stress free for everyone.

Firstly, make it obvious that your checkout procedure is secure and that any extra costs (e.g. delivery costs) are made obvious early on in the process. Potential customers will want to want to feel secure and informed, and any extra processes or ‘noise’ within this process is likely to affect your conversion rate of visitor into sale. It may also be an idea to have a clear link on every page of the site that allows customers to “view basket” and “view delivery info”.

Product
·
Price – make the cost of items and products clearly visible
· Options – make sure that users can choose colours/ sizes of products here so that the desired final product is added to the basket
· Availability – If the product is not available, it should say so at this stage. It would be irritating for a customer to go through the checkout process only to find that the product they want is not available
· Call to action – place a call to action to prompt people to “Buy online now!”

Basket
· Add to basket – Take the customer to the basket when a customer clicks “add to basket”. This means that customers can clearly seethe contents of the basket. Remember to place an obvious link back to the product page that the customer came from.
· Editing the basket – Make editing the shopping basket simple and easy. For example, make it possible for customers to delete individual items from their basket. (I have recently come across a site that only allowed me to empty the whole basket.) It should be here that customers have the option to either “continue shopping” or “proceed to checkout”

Checkout
· Security – once customers proceed through the checkout, be sure your isolate again that your checkout is secure.
· Review – allow customers to review what they are paying for. All delivery or shipping costs should have been mentioned by this step.
· Login or register? – I personally find it annoying having to register with a site in order to complete an online sale. However should you require that customers register, you should do so here.
· Payment – customers should then add their payment and shipping details.
· Thank you – a thank you page should summarise the order, summarise the payment, provide reference numbers and include information about how to print the confirmation page etc.

Image: http://www.wakefield.gov.uk/CultureAndLeisure/Museums/ToysAndGames/till.htm?wbc_purpose=…default.htmdefault.htm

Does the hype to brace web 2.0 neglect the basics of good web design?

There have been many articles of late discussing Jacob Neilson’s thoughts on Web 2.0. Neilson has stated that the hype of Web 2.0 is making web firms neglect the basics of good design believing Web 2.0 is in danger of becoming “glossy, but useless”. The good practices Neilson advocates so highly include making a site “easy to use, having good search tools, the use of text free of jargon, usability testing and the consideration of design even before the first line of code is written.”

Neilson is a well known name in web design and is often referred to as a usability ‘guru’ making his commentary on any web issue quite highly considered. Neilson’s statement is an interesting one which has naturally attracted many comments of support as well as argument.

On one hand, making your site usable, intuitive and user friendly is essential to website success. Usability goes hand in hand with search engine optimisation. There is no point in your website gaining exposure on the search engines if the traffic it brings cannot easily navigate around the site and complete the desired action. Website visitors live very much by the ‘time is precious’ rule so if information is not easily accessible, they will not convert for you and are unlikely to return.

On the other hand, Web 2.0 has been a huge movement in websites design and many think that Web 2.0 goes above and beyond many design methods when it comes to interactivity. Web 2.0 is expanding the way people participate and interact online making it impossible to ignore Web 2.0 and concentrate purely on design basics.

So, where are we left now then?

I think it all depends on the site.

If your site depends on social participation from users, like digg.com, flickr.com and Youtube, then a Web 2.0 site is essential as the structure of the site relies on collaborative participation to be successful. However I think that Neilson is also right – for websites other than social networking sites. You absolutely need to ensure your website is usable, focussed and well written in order for your visitors have a good user experience as well as guiding them to carry out the desired action on your site.

What I do find interesting is that Neilson’s basics of good design are based fundamentally on human behaviour. Web 2.0 sites, without question, generate different user behaviour than more ‘conventionally designed’ sites. Does this mean that there may be scope for definitive usability guidelines for Web 2.0 websites? (I feel Neilson may not get involved.)

Articles:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6653119.stm
http://www.usabilitynews.com/news/article3903.asp