Sitegeist Blog - Beitrags-Archiv für die Kategory 'Being bad'

FAQs: A Content Strategy Smackdown

Friday, 29. October 2010 11:54

At a rate of around once a fortnight, I find myself trying to convince clients, friends or people I’ve just met on a bus that FAQs (frequently asked questions) on websites are BAD and WRONG.

I’m not alone in thinking this. Earlier this year, R. Stephen Gracey wrote a great piece about FAQs for A List Apart. And he was following on from stalwart Jakob Nielsen who talked about “infrequently asked questions” in an end-of-year summary of web mistakes on useit.com.

Both Nielsen and Gracey reflect on big problems with FAQs, but both also concede that they’re sometimes necessary. I’m not convinced. I think they’re a scourge.

So why are FAQs bad?
As a content strategist, a hefty part of my day is spent thinking about content. Not content floating on its own in the ether in a writerly, poetical kinda way. Content in situ.

Good website content (and, indeed, good content anywhere) is best when it fits (space, tone, context) and when it’s found (i.e. it is where you either expect it or need it to be).

Sitemaps, page structure, design and words…all of these things should combine online to create an intuitive, comprehensible experience for website visitors. Content should be structured (and labelled) in a way that enables visitors to see it, and to click with confidence. This is the fundamental job of content strategy and user experience folks.

FAQs = fail. They’re a generic spot where businesses and site writers lump stuff, out of context. Any stat you have that shows a user moving from any other page of your site into your FAQs is a mark of failure.

Content should be clear and in context. No room for it on the page where a user might expect to see it? Make room!

Questions are OK….sometimes
I’m not saying that question-and-answer sections are, in themselves, bad. Usually they are, but sometimes they’re the best way to communicate information, and have the advantage of forcing site writers to actually try to think like a site visitor.

If I’m selling t-shirts, it makes great sense to have a “Questions about our t-shirts” area, where I might pre-empt queries such as:

  • How do I choose the right size?
  • Are there special washing instructions?
  • Where are the t-shirts made?
  • What if my t-shirt doesn’t fit?

If I’m feeling radical, I might even keep track of questions people actually do ask, and use these on the site. Crazy, sure. But it might be just crazy enough to work.

I could link to these questions from every specific t-shirt product page (actually, I’d probably recommend listing the questions on each of these pages and linking to answers or showing them in hover windows).

I might also have a section containing info about shipping and returns. And I’d call it “Shipping and returns”. If I wanted, I could present these as a Q&A. But what’s the benefit? Might as well present my information clearly under friendly, easy-to-scan headings such as:

  • Shipping options and costs
  • Tracking and delivery times
  • Customs
  • Multiple items
  • T-shirt returns

…and anything else I needed to tell people about the fine art of mailing a t-shirt to someone.

In both of these examples, it would be a mistake – a terrible, lazy mistake – to put this important info into a generic FAQ.

Why?

When did you last look at FAQs? Was it up-front when you first arrived on a new site? Did you load the site thinking, “Oh golly, I just can’t wait to feast my eyes on them FAQs!”?

Probably not.

Most likely, you were looking for information that you couldn’t find elsewhere. Your search around the site probably wasn’t exhaustive, but you figured, well, there’s the FAQs in the navigation. Maybe I’ll take a look there.

And did you find what you needed?

Probably not.

Terrible.

(As others have pointed out, FAQs are rarely actually questions people ask frequently. They’re more likely to be details the site owners want to tell people, but they couldn’t think of a better place to put them.)

Or maybe you landed in the FAQs from a search of the site. Good news – you probably got the information you needed. Shame it wasn’t placed in its logical site context, where you probably would have found it without needing to search.

Lazy.

Content strategy is about putting the right content in the right place at the right time. It’s about creating positive experiences for users. It’s about making sure the content is there when and where they need it.

FAQs fail every one of these objectives. Site designers, UX practitioners and lovers of content need to work harder. FAQs must die!

Thema: Being bad, User focus, Web dev | Kommentare (158) | Author:

Content before design? Tear down the wall!

Friday, 10. September 2010 10:29

A client called me yesterday, asking me to check through some web copy. She wanted to make sure it’ll work effectively on her new site.

I agreed, of course, and asked her if she had designs or wireframes I could see, so I could understand where the content was meant to sit, and where the opportunities were for related content, calls to action, contextual links, etc.

Gotcha!

I’m the guy who bangs on and on about how the best way to develop your website is to create the content first (or at least at the same time as your designs). And here I was asking for the designs. Why?

I’m glad you asked. A couple of reasons:

History: In most cases, the designs or wireframes would have already been done. It’s not right; it’s just how people work. It’s a bad habit. But it is extremely common. For a reminder of why it’s not the best way to develop your next web project, read my first ever blog post about how lorem ipsem (placeholder content) leads to bad websites.

Teamwork: While I’m sometimes the person who actually develops the wireframes in addition to my content strategy role, this isn’t always the case. And for this project, a digital agency is doing the design work.

But this doesn’t mean I’m hopeful that they’ll wait to see the content before commencing wireframe work. The client is controlling the project, and – understandably – wants to see everything happen at once. So this means that the page design is happening in parallel with content development (good…), but the content strategist isn’t working directly with the designers (bad).

With this Chinese Wall between content strategy and design, it would actually be best if I could see the designs up-front, for the best outcome in the circumstances.

For the best outcome full stop, though, we need to tear down the wall.

Thema: Being bad, Being good, Uncategorized, Web dev | Kommentare (86) | Author:

Social networking is publishing

Friday, 28. May 2010 8:51

Everybody’s doing it, doing it, doing it…
Suddenly – and presumably because Baby Boomers are now tweeting – the broadsheets and ‘serious’ news outlets are all in a lather about social networking. And for them, this means Twitter and Facebook. Don’t ask them about Foursquare.

What’s becoming apparent in recent media flare-ups is the extent to which users of these sites are still operating with old-fashioned concepts of online communication:

  • Anonymity: some users think that, even though it’s plain to everyone who they actually are, they remain somehow hidden in this online world
  • Alternate persona: it seems that some users – even celebrities – think that they can operate using a different persona or voice to the one they maintain in real life.

Be who you are
One of the key messages I deliver to clients is that when you’re online, everything you do is ‘publishing’. And, as any comms professional knows, to communicate effectively (online or off), you need to know who your audience is and – importantly here – who you are:

  • Are you just you?
  • Are you a representative of an organisation?
  • Are you a fictional or exaggerated character?

Deciding this and then being it consistently is vital. Otherwise, your message can be too easily misunderstood.

The sad tale of Catherine Deveny
Look at poor Catherine Deveny. She was until recently a writer of intentionally-controversial opinion pieces in the Age, Melbourne’s apparently more-reputable newspaper. While watching the local TV awards, she tweeted a few things that were – depending on your perspective – funny, stupid or just plain mean and inappropriate.

The next day she was told by the Age that her column was cancelled. She had crossed a line and her public ‘voice’ was not deemed approriate for the Age or its readers, apparently.

Two things here:

1) “Sacked”: Catherine Deveny then spent some days in the media descibing how she was “sacked and heartbroken”. Deveny decried the Age for “dragging my corpse through their paper for hits and circulation while I am on the phone cancelling the trip to Wet’n’Wild I’d promised the kids”. It’s pretty sad. I really liked her columns.

But she wasn’t sacked. She was never employed. She had no contract. She is a freelance writer, and publications have a right to publish what they want. She lives all the time with the threat of unemployment. All freelancers do.

Deveny has the right to say what she wants too. I hope she finds a new outlet better suited to her forthright style. But the Age did nothing wrong. Perhaps Deveny was the one at fault, selling her wares to them in the first place?

I wrote for the first 99 editions of Australia’s Big Issue magazine, with about 400 articles published. My submissions for issue 100 went unpublished, and I never had anything in that magazine again. Sure, I was a bit disappointed. But I never complained about being sacked. It’s up to the editor. That’s as it should be. I got another job.

2) Who was she? Catherine Deveny needed to decide who she was. Was she a freelance controversialist (a personal brand)? Was she an Age columnist? With a clear public identity, publishing decisions (including tweets) become more obvious. And they have predictable outcomes too. A freelance controversialist would have ‘tweeted and be damned’. A high-profile Age columnist wouldn’t have tweeted in the first place. Or, if they had, wouldn’t have been surprised by the fallout.

Kyle and consistency
While Kyle Sandilands might actually be a good bloke (his friends say he is) it doesn’t really matter. The fact it that all of his public behaviours demonstrate a consistent, nasty, boorish personality.

So props to Kyle: at least he’s consistent. He knows who his audience is. And he knows who he is, as far as his public persona goes. A Sandilands tweet from last September: “having trouble paying attention perhaps I need to go to a concentration camp?”. Just terrific Kyle.

Sadly, Sandilands has joined the ranks of celebrity Twitter quitters (Helen Razer, Ricky Gervais, Miley Cyris, that hilarious fake Stephen Conroy guy and more…). Why, I wonder? No self control? Or the result of misunderstanding its purpose, power and reach?

Tellingly, and thankfully, Catherine Deveny still tweets regularly.

Thema: Being bad, Trends, Uncategorized | Comments Off | Author:

Game changers: links and economics

Friday, 26. February 2010 8:08

In the space of a decade, the thinking around how to attain (and measure) success online has changed.

We used to count ‘hits’. But a hit was defined as a file download – a file request on you server (not a visit) – and so image-heavy web pages – containing 10 or 20 or more image files – racked up the stats. The measure was meaningless.

It’s all about unique visitors now.

We used to talk about time on site. It’s still an interesting measure, but not always in the way we might imagine. Time on some pages is good. Time on other pages might be bad.

If your page is the ‘verify your purchase’ page within your shopping cart, a user glancing over everything and moving on is ideal. 5 seconds. Maybe 10. If that page is taking up 30 seconds or 1 minute of your customers’ time, it might be an alarm bell masquerading as a compelling page.

But here’s proof positive that the game has really changed. I recently stumbled across an article called The Economics of Surfing (PDF 45kb), written by Adar and Huberman in 2000 for (I love this journal title) the Quarterly Journal of Electronic Commerce (Vol 1, No 3).

The basic argument in the article is that if your site has multiple pathways to the same end point (which it should), then users are putting different values on getting to that point. If I click once, that’s ok. But if I click 3 times, I’ve paid a higher price (where cost=time) for the information or content or sale or whatever.

So the thing the user wants varies in value, and actually becomes more valuable (to the user) the longer the user traverses your site to reach it.

Check this:

“One can construct a web site that changes its link structure to lengthen the path traversed by a given user, thereby making him visit many more pages. For example, if there is a short route (in the number of clicks) to a given page, one may wish to turn that off if the user is likely to visit more pages in between.”

The Economics of Surfing, p 5

Make a user visit ‘many more pages’ and they’ll value your site more highly. Ha!

At the heart of web use is the demand for speed. Don’t waste our time is the online mantra (unless I want my time wasted, of course…).

I recently posted about possible moves by Google to change their algorithm to reward faster web pages. People want stuff…fast! And while a web page’s load time is not the same as a site-wide search for information, Adar and Huberman’s thesis remains astonishing for its lack of insight into what web users demand: Speed and precision.

Or am I being too harsh. Is this criticism just 20-20 hindsight? Were we different? Did we want to click and surf and play and browse more in 2000 than we do now, a decade later? If so, why?

Has the game really changed, or is it us?

Thema: Being bad, Trends, User focus | Kommentare (29) | Author:

Fast websites, Flash intros and Google

Friday, 18. December 2009 9:25

Speed. When we’re online, there’s nothing like it. Click and load; fast and easy.

And then we arrive at a site with…wait for it…wait….still waiting…a Flash intro. And faster than you can say ‘skip’, momentum has been lost and we’re annoyed. A waste of our time. And there’s nothing that makes a user hit the close box or the back arrow faster than having their time wasted.

I’ve been trying to think of a legitimate use for a Flash intro. And I can’t. How about a funky designer showing off what they can do? No – not if ‘what they can do’ is encouraging their clients to build sites that waste our time.

Here it is again, in case you missed it: There is no excuse for a Flash intro.

And it looks like Google agrees. In a December 2009 interview on WebProNews, Google software engineer guru Matt Cutts hinted that Google search results might take a site’s speed into account:

“Historically, we haven’t had to use it in our search rankings, but a lot of people within Google think that the web should be fast,” says Cutts. “It should be a good experience, and so it’s sort of fair to say that if you’re a fast site, maybe you should get a little bit of a bonus. If you really have an awfully slow site, then maybe users don’t want that as much.”

At Sitegeist, we believe that the content on the page is of paramount importance. If the words are right, then we’re happy to wait an extra second or two for the page to load. But the problem is that we don’t know the content is good until the page loads. And we hate waiting for a slow site with bad (or not relevant) content.

So we approve of Google’s move to reward faster sites. Content and reputation are still the reigning monarchs at Google, but a dose of speed can’t hurt either.

For developers, Google has some speed tools and tips. For the rest of us, expect things to get just a bit quicker online in the next year…

Thema: Being bad, Being good, Trends, User focus, Web dev | Kommentare (4) | Author:

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