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CHI-WEB  December 2000, Week 2

CHI-WEB December 2000, Week 2

Subject:

Re: Usability of URLs in Advertising

From:

Carolyn Snyder <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Carolyn Snyder <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 13 Dec 2000 13:20:49 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (92 lines)

My knee-jerk reaction to this question was that a specific URL is better
than a general one, but then I realized my reaction was based on what I know
about clicking links, not typing in URLs. Upon further thought, I recalled
that I've tested something like this for 2 clients.

(But first, a digression about clicking links... over the years, I've
noticed that most users seem to interpret links very literally. If it says
"click here to see more about the Aeron chair," then users expect the
subsequent page to be about the chair, not a higher-level page. Links that
violate the users' expectations can chip away at their trust for the site -
not something you want to do with customers. So having a link with specific
wording going to a top-level URL is definitely evil.)

But print may be a different story. It's not necessarily evil to give the
top-level URL in a print ad, as long as there's a clear "scent of
information" from the home page to the product. I noticed that on the
current HermanMiller home page, there's no mention of the Aeron chair, and
the two most likely choices are "Browse Herman Miller" or "Shop Online" -
both of which do eventually lead to the chair. But is there enough scent
here? I would guess that there isn't, but it's hard to say...

The concept of "encouraging discovery" by making people flounder around the
site is definitely misguided. If a top-level URL is used, it needs to be
obvious from the home page how to find information about the product, or
else users (in this case, let's call them "qualified leads") may simply give
up. Or worse, get annoyed.

I've tested this sort of thing for a couple of clients. In both cases, we
gave users a print ad or direct mail piece and asked them to "check it out."
We set up the browser to start out on an unrelated site like Yahoo. Both
sites were for companies that had names that were simple to spell (no
punctuation or troublesome variants), so we didn't observe any difficulties
in typing the URL. (I haven't tested typing of specific URLs, but I wonder
whether people know the difference between the forward slash and the
backslash. I have seen people pause and study the keyboard while looking for
the @ symbol.)

On one site, the top-level URL appeared in the print ad. All 6 users
(non-technical consumers) navigated to the right part of the site and found
the information without difficulty (most, by the way, ignoring an ad-like
link to that product on the home page!).

On the other site, which was a new dot com, the direct mail piece did have a
specific URL on one page - it was a fold-out piece - but the dot come name
appeared everywhere else. All 8 users (college students) typed in the
top-level URL and then had difficulty finding the service that was offered
in the direct mail piece, even though a link to it appeared on the home
page.

These two web sites (sorry to be so vague, but the details are proprietary)
had very different home page designs. On the first site, the design was
fairly sparse and portal-like, with the user's main decision being which of
3 main populations they fit into. (I've seen this self-classification
approach fail for some sites, but in this case it really was quite clear to
users from all 3 populations.) Once users got into the appropriate
sub-section of the site, they were able to find the link to the product
without too much difficulty. I was actually a bit surprised that people
didn't have more trouble, or complain about having to work to find the
information. Of course, this was a usability test - real life may be
different. But the "scent of information" appeared to be sufficient for a
motivated user to follow, so I somewhat cautiously concluded that the
top-level URL wasn't a problem.

On the other web site, the home page was filled with all kinds of links,
ads, articles, etc. - a very busy design. There was a link to the service,
but it used a brand name that users weren't familiar with yet, because it
was their first exposure to it. Even though users were interested in the
concept of the service, it took them a while to figure out how to sign up
for it - the scent of information wasn't especially strong. The designers
ended up changing the links slightly to downplay the brand name, and to
emphasize the words that carried scent - "Sign up for..."

I think the bottom line is that whether or not a specific URL is used in
print, it's important to be sure that there's clear "scent of information"
from the home page in support of whatever ad campaigns are currently in the
media. And the more campaigns a company has going on at once, the harder
this will be... but it doesn't hurt to remind Marketing to focus their
priorities.

Good luck!

Carolyn

Snyder Consulting
Focusing on the People side of Technology
(603) 890-2411
www.snyderconsulting.net

   ---------------------------------------------------------
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