Quit snapping at your customers

venus fly trap

Making websites simple to use has always been one of the objectives high on the list of any project brief I’ve ever seen. You want your users to feel comfortable and safe and have a smooth path from landing on your website right through to whatever constitutes a desirable outcome for a visit. Usually that involves filling in a form. There are some great examples out there of how to do forms right – ones with subtle hints and cues along the way, forms that are a delight to fill in.

Then there are the ones that seem to hurl barriers in your way, giving you cryptic or harshly worded error dialog boxes. Here’s one from Tesco.com’s online shopping signup page:

I entered a phone number with spaces in it. That’s how we remember phone numbers – in blocks of numbers, not the whole 11 at a time. I entered it with a preceding zero, but the generic ‘There is an error’ script that checks the phone number submitted on this page gives me this incorrectly spelt error message as both a javascript dialog box and in text by the form objects. All I did wrong was enter spaces. If you don’t want spaces in there, a simple bit of string replace code, server or client side, will take them out.

Maybe Tesco’s people responsible for web usability don’t create new accounts very often, maybe they don’t track how many error messages get shown, and figure that they ought to be working to minimise that.

Optimising a site for search gets a lot of attention, but the real improvements can be made by optimising the traffic you already get. Converting 2% of 100 visitors is better than converting 1% of 150. There are free and paid for solutions to usability testing – with real users.

If you know what you’re doing with Google Analytics’ more advanced functions (events) then you can track how far into a form people get before they give up, for example. If you don’t have that much faith in your coding skills, use a service like ClickTale to find out the same thing (and more besides).

If both of those seems too much like hard work, then it’s time to go read a Web Usability book and find some religion. There’s even a No Dashes or Spaces Hall of Shame, chock full of examples of customer hostile web forms. Amazing how many big names have web developers that like to snap at their end users!

Image Credit: Andycpuk via Creative Commons on Flickr.

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