Kelly Browning

Director of Strategy

Getting Started with User Research

How do we know if our website is actually working the way we want it to?  Web analytics data can tell us part of the story, but we need user feedback to help us understand the full picture. Otherwise, we know what people clicked on, but when we don’t know why.

Fortunately, getting user feedback doesn’t have to be expensive. There are “do it yourself” methods that you can use right now.

Surveys

You can set up a quick survey (just a few general questions) on your website to get a sense of your user’s feelings, likes and dislikes, and pain points.  It’s a great starting point to get a broad view from many different perspectives.

Here are the questions I would suggest as a starting point:

  1. What brought you to our website today?
  2. Were you able to do what you hoped to do?
  3. What did you enjoy about your experience?
  4. What can we do to make the website better?

Note that this type of survey doesn’t make a lot of sense as a pop-up on your homepage.  Not only are homepage pop-ups annoying to most people, the users haven’t had a chance to interact with the site yet (since they haven’t even loaded the homepage).  An interview like this makes much more sense as an exit interview, or possibly a subtle call to action on 2nd or 3rd page into the visit.

Interviews

A user interview is a conversation with a user so you can hear about their experience with your website.   If you’re new to user interviews, here are some quick tips for getting started:

  1. Practice with a couple of co-workers and friends so you can get your style and approach smoothed out a bit, before you start working with real users.
  2. Keep it conversational and natural.   I find that the best interview style for me is what folks in the industry call “semi-structured.”   It’s a hybrid between just going through a list of questions, and just having an open-ended conversation.  So, do you have a list of questions?  Yes.  Do you read down the list like a drill sergeant?  No.  Keep  it natural.  The interviewee is doing most of the talking of course, but your goal is to keep them talking, and to listen, and to probe to really understand what they’re trying to say.
  3. See if you can get the user to talk about a specific thing that happened in the past.  When a user generalizes and says “it’s hard to find things,” that’s interesting and you can explore those experiences and feelings with them.   But when somebody tells you “last week I tried to search for the conference agenda, and I typed in “xyz” and the only result I got was “abc,”  that can be especially useful because it’s so specific and real.
  4. Have the website available for you and the participant.  Whether you’re conducting the interview in-person or over the phone, make sure the website is available for both of you to reference as you talk.   Trying to  discuss the website based on memory alone won’t get you very far at all.  If you’re doing the interview over the phone, have a Webex or GoTo Meeting set up so you can both look at the website together.

Usability Testing

This is the single most important thing you can do. Surveys and interviews give you useful information, sure. But actually sitting down with a user while they try and navigate your website?  It’s the motherlode of user feedback.  It’s pure gold. The more you do it the better your website will be and the more knowledgeable you will become about the different ways that people interact with websites. It is truly mind-expanding!

Like interviewing, it takes a little practice to get good at usability testing – but it’s not rocket science. There are DIY approaches that can be invaluable.

Here are some tips for getting started:

  1. Narrow your focus. Chances are your website is way too big and complex to usability test all of it (that’s a big part of why the surveys and interviews are valuable, they fill in some of those gaps).  Usability testing is an investment of time and effort, even on a small, DIY scale. Decide what questions you need to answer.    Orient everything you do around that.
  2. Think of one important user goal or activity that you’d like to understand better.  Good candidates are e-commerce checkout, event registration, and other conversions that are critical to the success of your website.
  3. Set up a time with a friend or a co-worker to sit down with you and do this task.  When you ask them to do the task, frame it in terms of the goal: for instance, “register for the annual conference.”
  4. Before the user gets started, ask them to talk to you and explain their thought process. This is called the “think aloud” technique.
  5. Watch and learn! 

Once you’ve gone through this little experiment, you may just catch the usability testing bug.   If so, your next steps might be….

  1. Think about ways you can expand and apply this type of research to your website.  Other tasks? Who should you test with?
  2. Keep learning. Refine your techniques and your approach to the level where you are most comfortable.

If you are just going for a basic, DIY approach, Steve Krug, who wrote the usability classic, Don’t Make Me Think, also has a great book on guerrilla usability testing and it’s a relatively quick read.

rocketsurgerycover Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug

If you decide that you want to take your usability testing skills to the “next level,” here is another great book that can introduce you to more formal techniques and advanced theories around usability testing.

handbook of usability testing cover Handbook of Usability Testing by Jeffrey Rubin, Dana Chisnell, and Jared Spool

Final Thoughts

User research can range from guerrilla methods to formally trained PhDs working in labs and running statistical analysis. Good news: even the most basic, informal methods are better than nothing. Astronomically better!  I hope that some of these ideas encourage you to give user research a shot.

Sherrie Bakshi

Director of Marketing and Social Media

What We Love About MailChimp

Clients regularly ask us to recommend a broadcast email platform. Our answer is almost always MailChimp, the popular email provider.  Here at Matrix Group, we’ve been using MailChimp for more than two years. We even designed and implemented a responsive email template that dynamically responds based on the device recipients are using to view emails — thanks to the functionality of the email provider. MailChimp logo

Here are a few reasons why we prefer MailChimp over other providers:

  •  It’s easy to use. MailChimp offers multiple templates for you to use to create newsletters, emails, etc.   MailChimp also makes it easy to add your own templates. Once implemented, it makes it easy for staff who are not as familiar with HTML to create, edit and send out emails.
  • Updating and managing lists is easy.  You can update lists on an ongoing basis and MailChimp will automatically remove unsubscribes. You can also pull lists of emails that bounced back.
  • The reports are fantastic. MailChimp’s reports provide some great insight on your campaigns. You can view overall open and click-through rates, recipients who have opened your emails and links that were clicked on the most.

MailChimp is a great marketing tool for organizations. It makes sending emails easy and looking good!

Do you use MailChimp?  What features do you like about it?

Helena Stamper

Project Manager

Get your Web Content Ready in Time for Launch

You’re planning your timeline for the new website and you’re excited. But, you know you need to update content and write new content. What do you need to do to accomplish this? Silver pen

Planning

When should this content development plan start?  This needs to start as soon as your website design project kicks off.

One of the continued challenges for an organization that is having their website re-designed or even designed for the first time is generating content for the site.  Taking the time to create a content development plan is key to any web site re-design or initial design.  Your development plan should include conducting a content audit of your website, determining which content is going to be re-used, revised, or deleted, identify which content can be done through an automated content migration vs. manual content migration, and producing a content writing schedule.  Breaking down these tasks into manageable project milestones will alleviate much of the challenges that are felt with a newly designed web site launch date that is quickly approaching.

The content development plan needs to start with doing a content audit of your existing website.  This can be a spreadsheet that lists out each page of the website with the page title so that you have an idea of what content exists.  The next step is to have a content audit review meeting with all parties involved with editing the website content.  During this meeting, it is determined which content stays, goes, or needs to be revised.  It would also be at this time that people are assigned writing assignments with deliverable dates (building the content writing schedule).  When reviewing the content, you should also start identifying which content could be migrated manually vs. automated.

Recommended Milestones

Below are recommended project milestones that will assist in your content development plan.

  • Content Audit
  • Review Content Audit for content that is staying, going, or being revised
  • Create Content Writing Schedule
  • Weekly Content Update Meetings

Remember that keeping up with the content writing schedule is key.  The time frame for having all content written/updated should coincide with build out of the new website.  As the developers are building out the pages, they will be able to add the content saving you both time and money in getting this task done at the same time.

Have you got any tips or tricks you’d like to share?

Sherrie Bakshi

Director of Marketing and Social Media

The Battle of the Blogging Platforms: Sitefinity vs. WordPress

When it comes to deciding on the right platform for blogging, many of us go with WordPress. It’s simple and easy to manage, among other advantages. Matrix Group, has built a number of blogs and websites using this platform. feet and arrows

Recently, we’ve also launched a few blogs in Sitefinity for clients whose main websites were built using that content management system, instead of automatically choosing to go with WordPress.

If we were to choose one blogging platform, which would we consider the better one…or would we?

In the battle of the blogging platforms, we asked two of our experts at Matrix Group, Craig Odar, Senior Developer and Sitefinity Product Manager, and Roger Vandawalker, Senior Front End Developer, about the pros and cons of both CMSs

Pros and Cons of Sitefinity

If your current website is in Sitefinity, there are some clear advantages of having your blog also in the CMS.  “Sitefinity has a lot going for it – it supports a rich taxonomy and an out-of-the box workflow and it has other compelling not blog specific features like responsive templates and a flexible layout system,” says Craig.

Other pros include:

  • Blog posts will share the same taxonomy as the rest of your content and it gives you opportunities to blend blog posts with other content for taxonomy driven pages
  • And, content providers don’t have to learn two systems.

“Setting up a new blog also requires very little setup and there are no new interfaces to learn,” says Roger.

Of course, like any other product, there are a few disadvantages to having your blog in Sitefinity.  The CMS has limited functionality for an out-of-the-box blog, and anything beyond a title, body copy, tags and categories will require the assistance of a developer—so keep that in mind when determining the elements for your blog.

Pros and Cons of WordPress

WordPress was built as a blogging platform originally and because of this, it does blogging very well.

“It’s insanely easy to extend with plugins and can be pretty customizable by just tinkering with a few configurations,” says Roger.

Plus, WordPress has an active community that the plugins and the platform are updated frequently, making it great for security purposes.  Unfortunately, this does pose a bit of a maintenance challenge.  Those using WordPress will have to update to the latest version on a monthly basis. Plugins need to be updated more often.

Who’s the Winner

In the battle of the blogging platforms, there are both advantages and disadvantages of each platform.  Many people are familiar with WordPress and are fairly comfortable with adding new content, plugins, etc based on their needs.

While Sitefinity has some limitations, the blog’s content shares the same taxonomy as the rest of the website, providing rich content for your users.  So, if you’re setting up a blog as part of a larger site hosted in Sitefinity, then it makes sense to keep the blog with the rest of the content.

So, at the end of it all, both platforms are great blogging, but when it comes to deciding which platform is best for you, you need to think about which elements you want to include on the blog itself. With this in mind, you’ll be able to make a decision.

Kevin VanEvery

Project Manager

New WordPress Themes are More Than Beautiful

WordPress calls its 2014 theme a “beautiful magazine theme” and here at Matrix Group, we have to agree. We implement WordPress for many clients, not just for blogs, but also for microsites, campaign sites and publication sites. Here’s our review of the latest and greatest from WordPress.

The best way to look at this is side by side and WordPress keeps demo sites available for their default themes, so let’s take a look.

 

WordPress 2013

 
Twenty Fourteen Home page viewTwenty Fourteen Phone View
The very first thing you’ll notice is pictures!  The 2013 theme looks positively old fashioned, with what has become a very stale image header and then a very plain text over white background content area.  Now look at 2014.  The first thing you see is pictures.  Beautiful, large pictures in high contrast against the black background.  This is what a modern theme looks like.  Audiences react better to images and images really do sell your content.  
 
Where the display really separates itself is when you load it up on your phone.  You can simulate a phone display by shrinking the width of your browser window, or just load up the above link on your phone.  
 
Now, both themes have responsive designs, but you see some immediate differences.  The 2013 theme is just a clean display of the desktop display, but the 2014 theme uses the featured highlight images as big buttons that are easy to see and, more importantly, easy to click.  Using the whole image as the link to the post improves usability for people trying to click small links on small phones.  
 
These changes make the theme more modern, but when you look at it, what really ties this theme together is all the little details.  It’s hard to put your finger on what exactly makes this theme so much nicer and that’s because it’s not one thing, it’s a bunch of little things.
  • Navigation – the new theme puts all the navigation options on the left side, stacking them vertically to allow for as much room as is necessary to add  categories, and links to archives and popular content.  At the same time, it still supports additional utility navigation for pages across the top right of the header.
  • Right rail widgets – widgets have always been a popular part of the WordPress software, allowing a user to put dynamic content anywhere on the page, but the new theme adds a level of polish and emphasis to those elements with helpful iconography and stylized display
  • Footer – the footer adds a lot of utility, expanding out the navigation, tags, and any other widgets you want to add in the available space.
This theme is a huge upgrade over a series of relatively uninspired annual offerings from 2010 – 2013 and I hope people take notice of the updates to the most popular blog software available today.
 
What do you think of the new WP theme?  What theme do you use on your blog?