Tag Archives: jacob nielsen

If your site does any of these things, make a mobile version

Web usability expert Jakob Nielsen is admittedly “bullish” on the mobile web. But his recent post bemoans how lacking most web sites are when viewed on mobile devices. For most sites, his prescription isn’t a web design overhaul. Instead, he recommends creating a separate version specifically for the lowest common denominator mobile browser.

To be more precise, he recommends that only if your site is frequented by cell phones and smart phones should you make this investment. “Not all sites need mobile versions,” says Nielsen. “According to a diary study we conducted with users in 6 countries, people use their phones for a fairly narrow range of activities.

“So, because many mainstream websites won’t see a lot of mobile users, they should just adapt their basic design to avoid the worst pitfalls for those few mobile users they’ll get.”

Narrow Range of Activities

So, you may wonder: What is this “narrow range” of activities? The following list is a good summary. These happen to be the “behaviors users engage in when using mobile devices,” as described in the upcoming Usability Week 2009 Conference(s), presented by the Nielsen Norman Group and presented by Raluca Budiu in full-day tutorials.

The course description lists these activities. If your site has users doing any of these 11 activities, seriously consider designing or upgrading a mobile version for your site:

  1. Navigation to websites on mobile devices
    • Search
    • Portals
    • Bookmarks
    • Direct access
  2. Browsing for news, entertainment, sports
  3. Finding specific information (weather, movie times, etc.)
  4. Transactions (such as online banking and other financial operations)
  5. Using maps and location information
  6. Integrating e-mail and contact information with browsing and fact-finding
  7. Content management (ringtones, photos, etc.)
  8. Monitoring and communication
    • E-mail
    • Instant messaging
    • Online communities
    • Social networks
    • Discussion groups
    • And more
  9. Shopping
    • Finding information about a product
    • Comparing online and in-store costs
    • Purchasing
    • M-commerce
  10. Killing time
    • Video, music, and games
    • Accessing, choosing, and downloading content
  11. Accessing nutrition and health information

Far from a narrow range, that seems like a lot of functionality! In Nielen’s Utopia, we’d all be doing most of our work and online recreation from our phones. It seems more like science fiction than a glimpse of things to come.

So why exactly is Nielen so bullish on mobile? Here’s an excerpt of his reasoning in today’s post:

Mobile is the trend of the year in application design. While trends can be wrong, lots of interesting things are happening.

We’re turning a corner in mobile Web usability. Just as Apple’s Macintosh heralded a breakthrough in personal computer usability 25 years ago, its iPhone is pioneering a similar breakthrough in mobile usability today.

The iPhone is certainly not perfect, and competitors could easily make better mobile devices. By “easily” I don’t mean over a weekend. I simply mean that it’s possible to do it given a strong focus on user experience and user-centered design [UCD]; iPhone leaves a lot of ground for improvement. So far, however, iPhone competitors have been disappointing because they haven’t been created with UCD.

He goes on to write that, whereas mobile browsers may improve over time, it is the user experience designed into mobile web sites that will lead the way in the short-term. He explains, “There is immense potential for advances in mobile usability as more website, intranet, and enterprise software designers build mobile versions and revamp their current designs for usability.

“The mainstream Web’s state in 1998 actually provides a hopeful precedent: just a year later, in 1999, interest in Web usability began to explode as Internet managers realized how chasing ‘cool’ rather than usable design yielded poor business results.”

Nielsen concludes by stating that he hope history repeats itself. As we marketing technologists struggle to deliver more value with every customer contact (in today’s economy more than ever!), I see this being likely to happen.

Is “click here” the web equivilent of an ugly red sticker?

A background in direct response can warp a person for life. Just ask a typical ad agency creative director. In a past agency, where I started out as the lone voice in all things direct marketing, I seriously think the creatives wanted to have me committed. I was reminded of that time in my career when I read this post in Copyblogger:

Many years ago, an advertising agency in my neighborhood hired me to consult on a direct mail project for one of the biggest nonprofit organizations in the country. One glance at the client’s test results revealed that the successful mail pieces featured big red stickers, the kind you often see on magazine subscription offers.

So one of my recommendations was to use a sticker in the new direct mail piece. From the expression on the designer’s face, you would have thought I had just relieved myself on the conference room carpet. He crinkled his nose in disgust and informed me that the agency “didn’t do stickers. They’re tacky.”

Needless to say the red sticker mailing, running as a control, continued to out-perform more attractive test packages. The ugly and unsophisticated won out, in terms of effectiveness, over the attractive and more contemporary.
Click here graphicI was thinking of this while participating in a discussion recently on the pros and cons of using “Click here” as an inducement.

Our team’s stance is simple and non-negotiable: The practice is bad form. They’re in good company. Jacob Nielsen, the Moses of usability best practices, carved his own Ten Commandments of web design on a virtual stone tablet, and #2 included “Don’t use ‘click here’ or other non-descriptive link text.”

Built into this commandment is the crux of his reasoning. If you employ link text that is not descriptive, you’ve wasting valuable words. But is this waste always sinful?

Effective Versus Efficient

“Wasteful” can be considered the antonym of “efficient.” And who doesn’t want to be efficient? Well, the answer is me — sometimes. That is, sometimes there are strategic reasons for a little “waste.” Stephen Covey is quick to point out in his book that it’s not called Seven Habits of Highly Efficient People. No, Covey chose the word “effective” for the title for a good reason.

If your web users are not particularly web-savvy, you may have to go back to “Web 1.0″ in your copy and presentation. And that may mean slapping some “red stickers,” in the form of hackneyed hyperlink instructions over your web design. Only testing can tell you for sure.

The exception is if you are asking your user to make a commitment. In the case of “buy it now,” etc., you should still never use “click here.” To do otherwise would simply be too inefficient to be optimally effective.