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Usability Studies 101: Tourists & Locals

Usability Studies 101: Tourists & Locals Joseph Carrabis

In my last column, we looked at how to turn a typical FAQs page into a series of not-so-obvious conversion tools. We're going to continue creating some not-so-obvious conversion tools, this time by figuring out if your site visitors are Tourists or Locals and designing for each.

Tourists ask for directions, locals give directions

I've written previously about the notion of a website Tourist. We're going to expand that definition to delineate it from a website Local.

Most people have been tourists at some point in their life. Being a tourist can be great fun or a great bore, depending on expectations, the tour guide, where you're staying, how knowledgeable the concierge is, et cetera. Most people using the internet have learned to deal with lowered expectations, "where you're staying" translates into how easy a site is to navigate and how well it helps the visitor achieve his or her goals. The tour guide is the website's taxonomy (layout), and, for most people, the concierge is Google or some other search engine.

Tourists don't know a lot about you or your site when they first visit, which means you have a limited amount of time in which to capture, retain and brand them before they go back to the concierge and ask for another recommendation. They may have asked for "vacations" when they really wanted "Walking Tours of Dublin, Ireland." You may be able to help them, but not until you know more.

They can be gone before you can learn enough to bring them in.

Locals, though, already know you'll fulfill their expectations, don't need a tour guide, know your website's taxonomy, and therefore can navigate it easily in order to achieve their goals quickly. Locals don't bother with the concierge because they know you can help them, so why go elsewhere?

Both Tourists and Locals can be vocal, but the real separator between Tourists and Locals is that Locals will tell you what they want and how to make things easier for them. Tourists have nothing vested in your making things easier, so if you hear from them it'll be when they close the door on their way out.

Here's an example: a pet supply company with a print catalogue started an online store. One of NextStage's usability wizards has been a catalogue customer for several years (she owns dogs, cats and horses) and was willing to make the switch to the company's website.

Until she browsed it.

She called them and finally got in touch with their senior web person, introduced herself, gave her background and credentials, and suggested two changes that would make the transition from print buyer to web buyer a snap. The company instituted the changes and sent her a wonderful thank you note... and bags of dog treats, kitty towers, catnip, chew toys, braiding combs, sweat scrapers and hoof picks.

This woman was a Local. She knew the company had good products at good prices. She also knew their website wasn't optimal. She was vocal. She told them how to fix it. They can't wait for her next call.

Designing for Tourists

Most companies already have Tourist-Friendly sites. Tourist-Friendly sites are designed to get information from the user quickly. Tourist-Friendly sites focus on qualifying, nurturing and closing visitors. The design belies the fact that the visitor might be on the site only once and that the visitor has to be placed in the sales cycle quickly in order to justify the site's existence. Typically, these sites require high traffic volume because the conversions numbers are low.

Designing for Locals

Local-Friendly websites aren't concerned with closing, nurturing or qualifying in the traditional sense. They want to help. Specifically, they want to help or offer more to visitors who have already provided value by purchasing, providing contact information, et cetera. Sales people will recognize this as a chance to create a continuous revenue stream. CSRs will recognize this as CRM and providing a channel with which to touch the visitor. All businesses that want to touch their website customers repeatedly can benefit from providing a Local-Friendly site.

Secrets of Local-Friendly Design

Local-Friendly site designs follow some simple rules in order to meet the goals of all parties concerned. First, they are generally smaller than their Tourist-Friendly cousins and are simpler to both navigate and create because they're designed to provide information rather than flash.

Keep in mind that a properly designed Local-Friendly site is a good offline conversion tool, too. Many companies' CSR staffs and offline sales people are told to direct potential customers to the corporate website before, during and after the sale. However, offline or telephoning customers are usually directed to a Tourist-Friendly site. Imagine giving a potential customer, especially one experiencing buyer remorse, access to a "backdoor" site that's A) easy to navigate and B) explains easy-to-implement, non-obvious and real benefits to using your products or services. Now you have a double-use marketing tool that goes well beyond its original purpose.

How to do Local-Friendly Design

  1. Write down to or three bullets that describe what you do or offer in very high-level terms. We both know you offer more than two or three things, and you need to make this short and to the point.

  2. Remember what it was like the first time you gained entry to an exclusive club? How about the first time you went out to dinner with your parents and you paid the bill? Put that feeling into words and pictures that are aligned with what you do or offer. This becomes your intro page for first-time locals. Your goal is to be Local-Friendly, which means expert, non-technical (save technical stuff for whitepapers) and both highly and quickly informative.

  3. Design the site to be very horizontal. A good rule is five pages across by one page deep after the welcome page. This means the Local-Friendly site is going to have at most 11 pages.

  4. Each page answers a question and offers a solution. The solutions are not your products or services. Instead, the solutions are what people can do with your products or services. They've already bought your product or service; now suggest uses that you know increase your value. For example, NextStage offers a real-time report detailing why people are abandoning client sites. One of our Local-Friendly website pages describes how to take that information and combine it with another report to stop abandonment. Nobody ever asked for that, hence it's not a FAQ. However, we often explain to clients how to use this report to implement these changes. Putting this information on a Local-Friendly page increases our value to the client while decreasing our support overhead.

  5. Keep a counter for each Local's return visit and reward them for their loyalty. The reward can be as simple as a personalized email that asks them their thoughts. Don't offer them yours, and don't use this to plug anything new or interesting on your site. This email has to emphasize their importance to you, not your importance to them. Include a two or three question survey that they can email back to you (no more than two or three questions, please). The next time they log into the Local-Friendly site, thank them and let them know their thoughts were heard, accepted, understood and acted upon. This allows you to rebrand them even when they're not on your site. The goal is to get mindshare and touch them 24/7/365.

Small businesses probably already have a semi-Local-Friendly site due to development costs of a traditional Tourist-Friendly site, and this is fine. Small businesses build their businesses one client at a time. Until they reach that critical mass of clients when they can advertise broadly, there's no need for a Tourist-Friendly site. After all, when you're a Local everybody knows your name, right?

Joseph Carrabis has been everything from butcher to truckdriver to Senior Knowledge Architect to Chief Research Scientist. His 22 books and 225 articles have ranged among cultural anthropology, mathematics, information mechanics, language acquisition, neurolinguistics, psychodynamics and psychosocial modeling -- and other eclectic topics. His knowledge and data designs have been used by Caltech, Citibank, DOD, IBM, NASA, Owens-Corning and Smith-Barney among others. Carrabis is CRO and Founder of NextStage Evolution and NextStage Global, and founder of KnowledgeNH and NH Business Development Network. He's inventor and developer of Evolution Technology. You can download sections of Carrabis' next book, "Reading Virtual Minds," at  www.hungrypeasant.com.

1. Communications Protocols
Odds are that your day-to-day dealings with your client are based on a communications protocol that you're both pretty happy with. If the client is in the habit of regularly checking email, you might conduct a lot of business that way. If the client is more of a phone person, conference calls might be the norm. More than likely, you conduct business through a variety of communications channels ranging from phone to fax to email to in-person meetings. Maybe you even make major decisions after an IM conversation with your client.

Different clients need face time at different intervals and times of the day. You might talk with one brand manager once a month on a face-to-face basis, while someone in marketing might require your presence at meetings a few times a week. In general, you feel this out over time and do your best to conform to whatever expectations your client has of your account management protocols.

Then, all of a sudden, you need to collaborate on a project with another agency.  This has the potential to throw off the frequency of your communications with the client and the channels you use to funnel information back and forth.

For instance, I once worked with an interactive-based client whose marketing director rarely picked up the telephone. By and large, he made more calls than he actually took and preferred to return messages than take phone calls as they came in. If we needed a quick answer on something, the best way to get in touch with the client was through IM.

Meanwhile, another agency that came aboard to work on creative quickly found itself held up by a lack of timely answers to questions. The account manager relied on the phone too much and wasn't big on IM. Even though the client told the new agency that the best way to get quick answers was with IM, which would cut through the flurry of daytime phone calls, the new agency continued with the phone follow-up and its work suffered as a result.

Most communications snafus can be avoided if all the agencies and clients involved set protocols at the start of a project. Included should be a contact list of everyone involved in the project, their backups and various methods by which everyone can be contacted, including emergency numbers and such.

We've also managed to dodge communications problems by setting up email lists for clients who like email as a communications channel. We place everyone on a given project team on a mailing list named after the project. It seems to be easy for the client and the other agencies involved to remember to copy the list on project updates and vital bits of information that go out via email. It's also a great option if you rotate people from project to project from time to time. Simply take the old person off the email list and put the new person on; no one needs to remember new email addresses.

2. Workflow Process
Almost every agency has a different process for delivering on the same piece of work. Processes may even change from client to client, depending on need. For instance, when we traffic online ad campaigns, certain clients rely on us to issue unique click URLs. Others rely on us for a URL convention. Others don't even have a convention at all. Our process has to be flexible enough to accommodate turnaround times on requests for click URLs from clients.

Now, add another agency to the mix. If that agency is the lead agency, you may not have direct client contact and might need to route requests through their account managers. Now the process needs to accommodate even longer lead times, based on how quickly the lead agency can shepherd URL requests through the client's process.

It's important to realize that when a new agency gets involved, its processes might not be compatible with yours. Walkthroughs at the beginning of a project are a helpful solution, with deliverables, timeframes and dependencies clearly mapped out.

A common "chicken and egg" problem with respect to workflow occurs because of a difference in expectations between a media agency and a creative agency. Many creative agencies don't expect to do concept work until they receive a list of creative specs and sizes. Many media agencies don't issue specs until they have an approved media plan. If expectations aren't adjusted, a creative agency won't start working on creative until after the media plan is approved. 

In today's world of shortened deadlines and timing expectations, these two processes should be kicked off in parallel in order to make sure a campaign launches in a timely manner.

If you map out the timing of the project and discuss any perceived dependencies (work that can't be delivered until something else is delivered earlier in the process), then you'll spot bottlenecks and you'll be able to address them up front, saving yourself time and headache in the long run.

3. Stewardship of Ideas
One of my very favorite pieces of writing about the advertising industry comes from Mark Fenske, who developed a list of anti-laws  I've become fond of.

Among them is this gem:

"Do not learn to compromise. Every time somebody has an idea, a Nincompoop Forest grows up around that idea. It is made up of people who become trees. Clients, marketing researchers, creative directors, account people, anybody who can get in the way of an idea (intentionally or not) is a tree in the Nincompoop Forest. And since new ideas are fragile, collisions with these trees can easily kill them."

I've found this to be especially true when a number of agencies are contributing to a project. When there is more than one agency involved, then there is more than one agenda involved. This means that it's more than likely that a good idea will be repurposed to serve an end it was never intended to address. A good brand advertising campaign can be easily compromised into ineffectiveness through input from DR-oriented folks, who might insist that branding ads pull double-duty and generate sweepstakes registrations or email list signups in addition to moving the needle on brand metrics.

Stick to your guns. Don't be afraid to insist that your good idea not be repurposed to serve another goal, even if it means shooting down the notion of repurposing it during one of those "no negativity: all ideas are good" multi-agency brainstorming sessions. You'll thank yourself later when you have clear strategies and tactics that address specific objectives.

4. Timeline Expectations
One agency's "reasonable timeframe" might not synch up with another agency's expectation of a timely delivery. Some creative agencies that we work with can implement banner resizings within 24 hours of approval, while others need two weeks or more.

I've found that one also can't judge a book by its cover. Some larger agencies that you might expect to be slow and lumbering are quicker than their boutiquey counterparts. The point is, you should never assume that a new agency working with you on a project is any faster or slower than another agency you've worked with. Project schedules are a big part of making sure expectations are managed. Lay them out at the outset and stick to them.

Over the years, I've also found it's both useful and prudent to specify times of the day by which deliverables are received. If you've ever worked with my agency, "before you go home" might mean the final deliverable comes in at 2 a.m. Clearly, this might not be in line with the expectations of a client or partner agency where people leave for the day at 5:30 p.m. Always specify "by 9 a.m." and such, since leaving it ambiguous can leave schedules open to interpretation. And we all know that project schedules aren't meant to be subjective.

5. Specs
If you've ever teamed up with a creative agency to deliver a set of Flash banners, you've probably had this happen to you: You receive the banners within an email or pull them off an FTP site and find that the URLs are hard-coded into the .SWF files, even though you asked the agency to follow the getURL method so that the ads would work with your ad server. Moreover, you find that the agency failed to produce GIF backups in the same size.

You now have a bunch of banners that can't be trafficked.

This happens often enough that even though a partner agency might swear up and down that it's familiar with the spec, we send it documentation anyway.

A thorough understanding of specs is often one of the casualties of bringing in more than one agency on a project. Always build in some time on projects to gather specs from websites and ad servers. Also, build in some time to walk agency partners through them. Otherwise, chances are greater than not that you'll end up getting something other than what you're expecting.

Personally, I've spent many a night waiting with bated breath in front of an open Atlas or DART interface, waiting for banners that eventually showed up at midnight with the wrong clicktags. Reviewing the spec at the start of the project keeps this from happening.

Hopefully, I've identified a few seams for you and for your organization that ought to be watched carefully. Especially in this new climate of teaming up and collaborating with other organizations (including competitors), we should be on our toes to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

Tom Hespos is the president of Underscore Marketing and blogs at Hespos.com. Read full bio.

Joseph Carrabis is Founder and CRO of The NextStage Companies, NextStage Global and NextStage Analytics, companies that specialize in helping clients improve their marketing efforts and understand customer behavior. He's also applied neuroscience,...

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