If you buy a new household appliance or have something electrical or electronic fitted in your home or office, I wonder exactly how long you spend reading the instruction manual that usually accompanies it. Whether it is a folded sheet of A4 or some mighty tome of information, very few of us ever give it more than a cursory glance for diving in and having a go.
Of course, it might just be a new kettle; surely a kettle is like any other kettle? You fill it with water, plug it in and then it switches itself off; maybe it whistles to let you know what there is boiling water for tea or whatever. We all know how to use a kettle; this is partly because the basic design of a kettle has not changed in hundreds of years and an electric kettle has not changed since it was invented in 1922, the water goes in there, and this bit plugs in and here is the switch to press and off we go.
We also take his attitude to things we are not so familiar with. We try things out and often succeed – to a point – by just muddling through. No matter that we might miss features or perhaps not be aware of any easier way, we just carry on. All this time we are forming some mental model of how things work in often explaining to ourselves why something happened that we didn’t expect, usually blaming ourselves for any mistakes or malfunction.
If something is too complicated, most people would just abandon it. Either they reject it completely – by using it less often because it is just too much trouble – or, more likely, the ignore the complicated features (often in missing out the best bits) and just use the basic functions. For example, I have a juicer that makes fantastic healthy juice from fruit and vegetables. It’s a great pick me up first thing in the morning, helps with the five a day thing, and I get all my vitamins and so on. However, it takes 10 minutes to dismantle the juicer to clean it and I just don’t have the time
Hands up if you have ever successfully programmed your Sky or BT box for a TV programme that was on when you were away on holiday or business. If it worked, are you sure it wasn’t a fluke?
How things Work?
In life, we function perfectly well with that ever really understanding what is going on around us or how things work. For example, over 70% of adults in the UK hold a valid driving licence; it is logical to assume that most of them probably drive a car at some point. How many of those do you think could explain the principles and process of an internal combustion engine, unless of course, they were a car mechanic or maybe a Top Gear addict? Come to think of it, how many car mechanics could provide anything more than a basic explanation? I know car mechanics all over the country will hate me for this but in my experience, the knowledge of a car mechanic mostly consists of this bit needs to be tightly attached to that bit if this happens if you need to turn this bit until the light goes on and so on. There also just muddling through but with a little (or in some cases a lot) more knowledge and experience of cars than everyone else.
It’s the same online; hardly anyone knows how the web works; or cares for that matter. Even the last ten years, in our online marketing activities we have observed literally hundreds of people using the Internet on making the same mistakes over and over again. However clear the explanation may be, it is often no difference; they just can’t shift that mental model they have created – largely because there is no need to. It is astonishing to observe actions that so many thinks are the ‘right ways’ of doing something or the reactions of others how to think it is their fault if something doesn’t work as they expect. The classic example of this is the vast number of people I have seen who habitually type the web address, complete with wordpress-369671-1155091.cloudwaysapps.com into Google or some other search engine like Yahoo. This is not because they have been taught to do it, and they have certainly never read it in a set of instructions, but because they think this is how the Internet works. Google or Yahoo or whatever has become their home page either by default or accident and so it is always there starting point.
Conventions In Web Design
In reality, people learn to use things by experience in their day to day lives and not usually from books or training courses (user experience). If you use a specific thing often enough, it becomes normal – convention. This doesn’t mean it is the best way or the right way; it becomes the most common way, and providers, as well as users, adopt these conventions because people are familiar with them and therefore know how to use them.
Take cars for example. In virtually every car the accelerator is on the right, so it is a convention. If you were to design a car with the accelerator in a different place, it would be hard for people to learn to adapt to. It would be likely to inherit the adoption of the design and therefore sales, so no-one does it.
The same thing applies to websites and web design. To ensure that people have the best possible chance of finding your website easy to use, and therefore using it, then you must – as much as possible – stick to conventions. It is no surprise that the great website usability guru Jakob Nielsen point out that since people use other websites more than yours (as there are millions of them out there), this means that they learn what is ‘normal’ from other websites not from your website. To get the best possible result from a website we need to stick to the conventions that have developed and have been adopted as normal over the last few years, even if we think we can do it better.
It has never been a good idea to try to reinvent the wheel. However, during the relatively short history of the web, this is exactly what has happened again and again. The Internet is littered with websites that are virtually impossible to use or find. Interestingly, they often contain the same features and items that users dislike the most.
You may be one of the unfortunate on misguided who were unlucky enough to invest in something that seemed like a good idea or was the latest thing at the time, only to find you are now in possession of a big fat white elephant.
So how do you go about identifying if you are in this position with your website?
It can be a hard pill to swallow, what is statistically likely that the website that you currently have is not providing the outcomes that you expected when you commissioned and published it a few years ago (or even this year for that matter).
In particular, if you went down the economy route and commissioned a website solely because it was the cheapest option or developed it yourself using a tool or template you bought online for £35, there is a high probability that it is not really suitable as a promotional tool for your business or as beneficial as you might like to think it is.
Local SEO Edinburgh works on a daily basis in improving the online presence of small businesses. We can offer help and advice for anything from web design or web development to social media marketing and search engine optimisation.