Now when people talk about websites and usability, a lot of stuff gets mentioned. Web 2.0, ajax, usability guidelines, designs etc.. etc.. What I however almost never hear is about the text. Sure people talk about content, user generated content, tagging, searching, etc..
But what about the little things? What about the buttons, the links, the subject lines of the e-mail someone receives? Those are the most read elements on your website, yet get the least amount of love.
So today I’m going to share some of my ideas on these texts, because I think they are important and should be treated as such. It all hit me about a year ago, at the DPC08, in the closing keynote by Terry Chay. He mentioned that when they added a smiley face to the subject line of some sort of mail they sent they saw a 20% increase in clickrate. That is nothing to scoff about. This got me thinking about how important these small texts are.
Over the year I’ve found a few key ideas about these texts that I think are important to keep in mind when creating them.
When a user comes on a site he or she will have a lot of actions to take. Design and content placement determines a large part of what a user will do. But what about texts? Now lets say our goal is to get as many users to register. We could have a “register” link. The link is placed prominent and the design helps the user focus on it so that we are almost certain that the user will read it. So what can we now do to actually let the user click the link?
Your average register link, contains basically the word “register”. Hmmm. Now I don’t know about you, but registering is annoying. I have to fill in all kinds of info about myself and give them my e-mail address, which I don’t actually want to do.
It all sounds a bit too much like a command. What we want to do is create a short text that reminds us of the fun things about having an account. “Join the community”, “share your pictures”, “create your account” All much better then “register”, the text should be inviting and friendly.
Leading the User
When users visit sites we want to be able to guide them trough the site. We can effectively do this by emphasising what we want them to do via text. A good example of this is to be found on flickr. If you are not logged in, and you are viewing a photo, the site asks you “Would you like to comment?” instead of the often seen “To comment you have to be logged in”. If you think about it, the difference is miles apart. The flickr one makes me think, ‘do I want to comment?’ the other one doesn’t. I just think ‘oh ok’.
The bit under both those texts is of course the same “sign up or login”. The difference however, is that after I’ve read the “Would you like to comment?” I actually either have decided I want to comment, or not. While with the other, I have no incentive at all to sign up or login. Or at least not if I wasn’t already planning to comment. Basically the flickr one reminds me that I can comment, and I even might want to comment.
It is however important not to lie. Every time a users gets confronted with something they did not expect, a percentage of them will quit. So for instance, in the positive association part I wrote “share your pictures” as text example for a button to sign up. But that’s of course not what the user expects. We promised the user they could share their pictures when they clicked that link.
So to take that as an example, we should make sure that after the user clicks that link we present the user with more text that reinforces that they will be able to share their pictures, just after filling in a few details.
That way we have given the user a clear incentive to register. This however often gets abused, I should make very clear that the page the user gets to see should not be a registration page, but a picture sharing page where you register. The actual sharing of pictures could of course be a step two of a wizard type structure.