Make the Most of Your Video Blog Posts: Advice From a Videophobe (Part 3 of 3)

In the previous post about whether or not people watch video on blogs and niche site, I mentioned that a friend answered my mini survey saying that whether or not she preferred video depends on what she is looking for.

As an example, she said that when she couldn’t figure out how to hook up her phone in her car via blue-tooth by reading the manual she watched a YouTube video.

I read her comment and a light bulb went on for me. I am frustrated by so much of the video I am seeing because it doesn’t solve a problem for me.

While I may have ranted about how much I hate video, there are I times I didn’t think twice about watching it . . .

…because it was the right media for the message and it was aimed at me.

Start with Your Audience

Yup, it always starts here.

I think too many people read a couple articles on the necessity of video on blogs today and think, “Crap, I’m falling behind, I need to get some video up fast to stay competitive, what can I record?” Then they grab their video camera, blow off the dust and start shooting.

Don’t do that. Slow down and start at the beginning, ask yourself:

  • Who your audience is?
  • What do they need?
  • What do they want to know?
  • How can you help them?

Hopefully you already have a handle on all of that and you can quickly move to the next questions.

  • What is their preferred ways to receive information?
  • Are they actively looking for video on your topic?
  • Or are they like me and likely to skip it?

Not sure what your audience is into? Ask them. But ask them in a way that will get you the information you want.

Asking whether they would like to see videos on your site or not won’t help. Most people can’t accurately say what they will do in the future, but they can tell you what they’ve done before. So ask them specific questions about the recent past such as:

  • Have they watched videos on sites like yours?
  • How often?
  • Under what conditions? (In a busy office, at home with the kids around, or where it is nice and quiet and they could focus.)
  • What videos have caught their attention?
  • What did they skip through?

If you don’t have a very large audience, look at other sites your audience frequents.

  • Are those sites using video?
  • Is it effective?
  • What do the comments say about the video?
  • Are there lots of complimentary comments asking for more videos, or does the video have a fewer comments than most posts on the site?

If the video seems to be reaching the audience, analyze it trying to figure out what works and what you could do better.

Is a Video Blog Post the Right Media for The Message?

Once you have a handle on your audience, and you’re sure video is an option, think about what you want to say:

  • What is the best medium to share that information?  If you don’t have something to show, video ain’t it. I’m going to say it again, I don’t want to look at you and your kitchen cabinets.
  • Is the information you are presenting going to date itself? It’s easy to update a text post with new information as things change, but updating a video is a lot more difficult. Will your video stand the test of time?

When Video Blog Posts Work Well

There are times video isn’t only an option, it’s the best option.

If you are sharing information about how to do something, showing can be way more effective than telling. Video is a good option for a how-to post.

My friend’s blue tooth example is one case where video worked better than text. (And if you’re putting together a how-to post about a specific Photoshop technique, video is a must. I can seldom follow written Photoshop tutorials. Just saying.)

Add Slides or Screen Shots with a Voice Over

We’ve established that talking heads are boring, but what if you splice in a few slides where you show examples of what you are talking about, or use some video screen capture software to walk your audience through how to do something? Now you are on to something.

Are you writing a blog post about how to use Google Analytics?  Show me the screens while you talk.

Did you get great traffic from some new technique you tried on your site? Show me an example page and the stats pages.

Have you ever noticed that recorded webinars are often more interesting to watch than talking head videos?  That’s because they give you something related to the subject matter to look at. Webinars include slides that augment or summarize what you are talking about, and when they are well done, they are way more interesting than your poorly lit face.

Mix Up the Media

Don’t post a video with a bland intro and expect the video to do all the work. You have to get your audience to watch it. The A-list bloggers will get people to watch their video just because they are A-list bloggers and people want to know what they have to say. That isn’t necessarily true for you and I (and the A-list bloggers forget that when they tell you to go all out on your video.)

Put some effort into drawing people into your video.

  • Write a compelling introduction that accurately reflects the contents of the video. Let the audience know what the video is all about so they can judge whether it’s what they are looking for or not. Even if they leave, it’ll be on better terms that if you dupe them into watching a dubious video.
  • Include a teaser or two like, “Don’t miss my awful flub at 1:22,” or “ John says something that really made me think at 3:40 in the video.” Only do this if the scene you refer to really is compelling.
  • Use short pieces of video and edit out the dull bits. Keep your audience in mind, and remember that they have other things they want to do besides read your blog. They can probably read a lot of the information faster than you share it in your video so think about only including the parts that are visually compelling as video, and summarizing the rest as text.
  • If you are creating a How To video, consider outlining the steps as text along with the video. It’s really hard to rewind and fast forward video to find the next step if you are trying to follow along.
  • Respect your audience’s time and keep the video short. I’ve been looking at the comments on video posts, and it looks like videos that are shorter than 5 minutes, get more positive comments asking the author for more videos than posts that contain long videos. Unless you are Spielberg, don’ make a movie – make a video clip.
  • Get to the point. I don’t want to sit through a long intro.  There is more than enough research that shows people don’t even read your post – they scan it.  Remember the stat in the last post? 20 percent of people will close the video in the first 10 seconds.  Get to the point quickly.

 Ready, Get Set, Video Blog

So you:

  • Know your audience is receptive to the idea of video,
  • Have a concise message that is tailor made for video,
  • Put together some compelling visuals (slides or a screen capture video),
  • Took everything I hate about video to heart.

… then it’s time to Google more about how to record compelling video and get at it.

Photo by Brett Farmiloe 

Posted in ...On Blogging, Blog Content, Video | 1 Comment

Should You Use Video on Your Blog? What the Research Says (Part 2 of 3)

In my previous post I let my hair down with a rant about why I hate video on your blog. But being the data-lover that I am, I felt compelled to follow that up with some research.

I started with the oh-so scientific “email-my-friends” approach — secretly hoping that they would back me up with a resounding series of, “gawd, I hate those videos.”

That isn’t exactly what happened.

My quick and dirty survey collected 7 responses (including mine). Some people were like me and seldom watched video on blogs and niche sites, but some people did watch it and even preferred it.

Here is the breakdown:

  • We all watch informational, instructional or marketing videos occasionally and 1 out of the 7 often watched non-recreational video online
  • Recognizable name websites were the most likely place to watch video – this included manufacturer’s sites and big name blogs like Endgadget and Gizmodo.
  • 1 person was more likely to watch video on small blog sites
  • 2 people would watch whatever seemed useful (and one of those people goes to YouTube specifically to find non-recreational video)
  • The preference for video or text blog posts was split:
  • 3 people preferred text
  • 2 people preferred video
  • 1 person wanted a mixture of both
  • 1 person said it depended on the topic (More on this in the next post Make the Most of Your Video Blog Posts).

There’s nothing conclusive here. All I can confidently say based on my survey is that my views don’t represent everyone’s.


But I included this mini-survey anyway because it illustrates one of my main bailiwicks – you are not your audience, and don’t assume everyone wants what you want.

But since my survey didn’t come up with a definitive answer about the value of video on a blog, I decided to dig deeper.

The Usual Video Stats

The video-post advocates quote a lot of stats to explain why you need video on your site.  You can find a good compilation of these stats in this post,  17 Facts and Figures About Online Video: How important is it for your SEO for Getting Found Online?

This post and most others like it quote numbers like these:

  • 35% of  people watch video on-line
  • 49% of all adult internet users frequent YouTube
  • A lot of people, especially younger people are watching more and more TV and movies on their computer

The problem with these numbers is that they are too general and don’t relate to the kind of video you are putting on your blog or niche site.  These stats include everyone looking for Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and cute kitten videos; which is a very different activity than watching a talking head video on your blog.

20% of People Abandon a Video within 10 Seconds

I kept digging, looking for some more applicable stats and found this; according to a study by Visible Measures :

  • 20% of online video viewers click away from a video in the first 10 seconds or less
  • 33% leave by the 30 second mark
  • 44% have moved on by 1 minute into the video
  • Almost 60% have abandoned by the 2 minute mark


Think about it.  For every 100 views, 44 of them didn’t get beyond the first minute.

This study looked at 40 million video assets with 7 billion views, so again these are pretty broad stats that may or may not apply to your blog and its audience; but it is worth thinking about because it may be that no one is getting to the sales pitch half way through your video.

Executives Watch Business Related Video

I kept looking for better data and I found a Forbes Insight report from December 2010, Video in the C-Suite: Executives Embrace the Non-Text Web.

This report is based on data from more than 300 C-level and senior executives and specifically discusses business related online video. Here are some stats:

  • 62% of executives prefer text to video for business content, while 22% said they prefer video (30% of executives under 40 prefer video)
  • 75% of executives watch work related video on a business related web site weekly
  • 52% of executives watch work related video on YouTube weekly
  • 65% of executives have visited a vendor’s website after watching a video, and 39% have made a purchase (keep in mind that the survey doesn’t say how often they’ve done this, just that they have done it)
  • 54% of executives share work related videos with co-workers at least weekly, with younger executives being far more likely to share video than executives over 50
  • 47% of executives post links to work related videos on “networking” sites, with 69% of executives under 40 posting links
  • 59% said they preferred light-hearted work related video
  • 47% said they preferred videos to be between 3 and 5 minutes
  • 80% said they were watching more work related video on-line than they were a year ago

To me, this information shows that while text still reigns supreme, there is a growing market for business related video (especially if you are targeting younger people) and that any video you create should be short, snappy and combined with text.

The Best Stats: Your Audience

Stats are fun, but you can make them say whatever you want them to. The best place to get reliable information about whether or not you you should be using video blog posts is your audience. Listen to them.

So if you’ve read my rant about what I hate about video blogs; and now you’ve seen my attempt to be more rational with some stats; but before you run off to revise your video strategy, take a peek at my next post, Make the Most of Your Video Blog Posts: Advice From a Videophobe.

Photo by Brett Farmiloe 

Posted in ...On Blogging, Blog Content, Video | Leave a comment

7 Things I Hate About the Video On Your Blog and How You Can Fix Them (Part 1 of 3)

Do you really think I watch the video on your blog?

I don’t.

Sure, I’ll watch music videos, flash mobs, and cute puppies; but when I get to a blog, I skip the video. When I get to a solopreneur’s site, I skip the video. When I get to a niche site, I skip the video.

But the more I read about social media and driving traffic to sites, the more I come across advice to use video on your blog or web site to create new and compelling content. So I thought I might be missing something and I started watching these videos.

I wasn’t missing anything.

The more video I watch on blogs and niche sites; the more frustrated I become. I think that most of the video I’ve watched is well intentioned; and I could probably learn something from the person behind the video; but I’m just not willing to invest the time to find out.

If you have jumped on the band wagon and started incorporating video for video’s sake on your website, here’s why I hate your video.

1. The Video Blog Skype Chat Interview

I appreciate that you interviewed someone I want to learn more about. I admire your gumption for reaching out and getting an interview with someone I don’t have the nerve to approach.

But posting all 34 minutes of your Skype chat is just plain lazy.

You started off great. You targeted an interesting person and you got the interview; and because of that I’m thinking pretty highly of your abilities. But then you try to make me sit through 30+ minutes of really boring, poorly lit, split screen chat video with audio that cuts in and out.

Take the time to write up the interview as an article, or at least a Q and A style interview so I can quickly scan it to see if there is anything I’m interested in.

And when you post the video on a blank page with nothing more than a title; you’re doing well if I click the video to see how long it is before I close your page.

Is it really too hard to include a synopsis of the interview and the topics covered so I can tell if I am interested in investing half an hour of my time?Free Sales Pitch for Subscribing

2. Free Sales Pitch for Subscribing

It has become the norm to offer a freebie like a short e-book or report when someone subscribes to your blog. I appreciate this and often find these freebies worthwhile reading.

So when I receive links to a video for subscribing to your site, I’m hoping for a short video that explains something about your topic. But when you send me a link to a 5, 10 or 20 minute self promotional video, no dice. I’m unsubscribing immediately.

At least if your free e-book is crappy I can scan it, toss it quickly and give you an A for effort. But if expecting me to sit through your sales pitch is your way of saying thank you for subscribing, I’ll find someone else to subscribe to.

Make sure your free video is something I want to hear, not an ego-stroking promo video.

3. The 30 Minute Talking Head Video

What do you have to say that I need to hear that really requires that much of my time?

Remember the golden rule of blogging? Small easily digestible pieces of information. Do you really think I’m riveted to my screen watch you sit in your kitchen talking into your Flip camera?

Keep it short and to the point.  I might be willing to give you a couple minutes if I’m interested in the topic. But for me to stare at you for half an hour, you’d better be someone I’d spend big bucks to hear speak – and even then you had better have something really important to say.

 4. The Embedded Sales Pitch

Here’s the deal.  I don’t mind if you promote your product or service in your video.  I expect it, and I may even be interested in what you are pitching if your video and product/service go hand-in-hand.

But when you embed a huge sales pitch into the middle of your video – not cool. (Even if that does explain why the video is 30 minutes long.)

Pitch naturally. If your product or service addresses my need, bring it up naturally as you explain solutions to my problems. If you are classy about it and pique my interest, I’ll go looking for more info. If you hit me over the head, I’ll call snake oil and leave your web site.

5. You’re Boring and So Is Your Video Blog Post

Video blog posts are being touted as a great on-line engagement tool. The theory is that if I see you and hear you, I’ll like you better.

But, if you are boring and speak in a monotone voice I’m not listening because I’m too busy unfairly judging you.  You might be able to get your personality and your message across better with your writing.

Just saying.

Be interesting, maybe add visuals to your video, and if that doesn’t work write a traditional blog post.

6. I Hate Headphones and My Tablet and Phone Are Slow

I usually read blogs in the evening with my family around, or on my phone waiting for my kids to finish their swimming lesson.  My family really doesn’t care about your advice on how to use Twitter as a freelancer, and I don’t want to cut myself off from the conversation around me by wearing headphones.  So I skip your video, and move on to the next blog.

Same goes when sitting at the orthodontist, no one wants to here what I am watching — but they don’t have to worry, because I am too impatient to wait for your video blog post to load on my phone and I’ve moved on to someone else’s site.

Add a written summary of your video so I can see what you have to say when I’m not willing listen to a video.

7. How Do I Find the Part of Your Video I Want to Quote?

If you have great information in a video blog, and I want to come back to it, how do I find the piece of info I need? How do I quote it here?

A link from my site might not mean much, but what if one of the big name bloggers was in the same situation? Would they put in the effort to get the quote right and link to your site? Will they sent their loyal readers to watch your long boring video if I won’t?

Include some quotables from the video in the written introduction to your video, and include signposts to key content, something like, “Check out the great tips for increasing twitter engagement at 2:15 in the video.”

That’s it. Seven reasons I hate video on your blog and how you could make me happier

In the next post I return to my rational self and share the research I found about whether other people are really watching your video. In part three, I list my suggestions for how to make video blog posts work for me on your site. (I bet you can’t wait.)

In the meantime leave a comment.  Do you watch video on blogs? Why or why not?

Photo by Brett Farmiloe  


Posted in ...On Blogging, Blog Content, Video | Leave a comment

Remote Usability Testing of Mobile Applications

Remote usability testing of mobile apps is possible.

I am a  fan of remote usability testing because it lets you connect with your users where ever they are without any travel costs.

I’ve had great success using WebEx to share design mock-ups and applications with remote users, especially in niche markets where it is hard to find the right users to test with locally.

With the increase in importance of usability on mobile devices, I’ve been wondering how to do some low cost usability testing of mobile apps when you can’t see your user’s phone if they aren’t in the room with you.

Today I came across an article on Remote Usability Testing on Mobile Devices on MailChimp’s blog and their idea is so simple that I think it might work.

During a Skype video chat, MailChimp’s usability team had participants with laptops and webcams turn the laptop around in front of them) so that they were effectively hugging the laptop) and hold their phone in front of the laptop’s camera.

According to MailChimp’s blog post, the only other thing they had to do was ask people to turn down the brightness on their phones to be able to see what they were doing on the screen.

That seems straight forward.

So all you need for remote usability testing of your mobile apps is participants who have laptops with webcams, and a few minutes budgeted to talk participants through the setup and voila, remote usability testing of your mobile apps.

I love this idea, and can’t wait for an opportunity to try it.

What about you? Do you think this is a way you could leverage low cost remote usability testing for your mobile application or web site?

Photo by Stuhacking.


Posted in ...On UX, Usability | Leave a comment

We Don’t Use Personas Any More: Savanna’s Story

User personas need to be realistic

Not too long ago, I was talking to someone who said that his company didn’t create personas any more. I got the chance to read some of the personas that had been created within the company, and while some were great, the more recent personals were done without the benefit of any research and read like a Creative Writing 101 project.  Based on what I read, I wouldn’t use personas either.

One of the personas I was read was for Savanna (her name has been changed to protect innocent personas everywhere). Savanna is a software development team leader. According to the persona write-up, she is a coder because she’s good at it, but shes a party girl (and goth based on the picture use don the persona write-up). She likes to fly to New York or LA on weekends to party.  Savanna believes in elegant code, and hates working with code from 3rd party vendors that isn’t well written. She is very out spoken and recently had the opportunity to speak to the Vice President of Information Technology at one of her employer’s customers (a big name company you’ve heard of), and she told the VP how much the code she had been given sucked, and she asked him if he had as many problems with the quality of the vendor’s product as she did.

So what’s wrong with this?  A lot.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

It’s cliche but true, people draw a lot of information from a picture.  The picture I’ve included at the top of this post is similar to the one used for Savanna — except the original appeared to be taken in a club and Savanna was wearing a vinyl mini-dress.

The picture immediately drew my attention, but as I read the rest of the persona it didn’t fit.  She looks too young to be a lead software developer, and she certainly doesn’t look like someone any company I know of would put in front a an executive at another company.

The picture on a persona is important — it needs to reinforce the message you are trying to get across.

It’s important to take a few minutes and show the picture you are thinking of using to a few people to see if it represents the persona to them.

I once presented a persona for what I thought was a fairly average, middle class, non-technical man to the development team. Throughout the meeting people kept making comments implying that the persona wasn’t very smart — which wasn’t true.  When I asked why people though he wasn’t very bright, and it turned out the problem was the photo I’d chosen — the way the guy in the picture was wearing a baseball cap made people think he wasn’t that bright.  I changed the picture, and never heard those types of comments again.

The Devil’s in the Details

According to Savanna’s write-up, she is a software developer because she is good at it and it’s a flexible job that gives her time for her hobbies. Her bio also tells us that she usually celebrates the end of a project by flying to New York or LA to party the weekend away.

Savanna is also outspoken and had the opportunity trash talk a vendor to the head of IT at a customer company.

None of this is believable to me.  I’ve worked with software developers for 20 years, and have yet to meet one who has the money to fly to New York and LA to party.

I’ve also worked for several software development companies — some of them fairly avant garde.  None of them would have put someone who looks like Savanna, and who regularly shoots off her mouth, in front of a major customer.

I worked on another project where we made a smaller mistake with the details. We had talked to several users who all had post graduate degrees, and when we created the persona to represent them, we gave him an undergraduate degree from the university that one of our interviewees attended, and a post graduate degree from a university that another another of the interviewees had attended. When the persona was unveiled, a key subject matter expert told everyone at the meeting that he didn’t believe the persona. When we asked him why, he said that no one had an education as prestigious as we gave the persona. We had no idea we’d picked the two most prestigious universities for that field of study, but we could have saved ourselves some heartache if we had just previewed the personas with a few key people who understood the target audience.

In Savanna’s case, none of the details I’ve mentioned were relevant to the project, but because they don’t make sense, they make me doubt the entire persona.  Which brings me to my next point . . .

Be Relevant

It’s great to give the persona some personality to make them memorable. But the personal details you add should be relevant to the type of user you are representing with your persona.  Savanna’s partying means nothing to the project, it’s just distracting — and gives the audience as reason to question the validity of the entire persona.

If your persona’s family situation isn’t relevant, don’t include it. But if you are designing a web site aimed at new mom’s, giving your persona a colicky 3 month old baby that keeps her sleep deprived and distracted may be important.

Personas Should Target the Project at Hand

Personas should be specific to the project at hand rather than generic catch-alls. Savanna’s job is to build applications incorporating code purchased from various vendors. Savanna’s write up tells us she hates working with sloppy code because it makes her job harder.  That’s all it says.

If that is all that needs to be said about this user type then someone should have just said it, and skipped the persona.

The project that Savanna was originally created for was developing an SDK for 3rd party developers. What I would have liked to see in her description is information about how she uses an SDK in her daily work. What does she use? What does she ignore? How does it impact her work? What makes her job easier and what makes it harder? What types of support tools does she need? Where does she want leeway to do her own thing . . .  etc. etc.

Use Goal Oriented Personas

One of the most important parts of a persona are the goals. These are the often unarticulated goals that you sense after talking to several members of your target audience. If the design and development team can do things that will help the personal achieve their goals — there is a good chance they have developed a winning product.

One of Savannah’s goals is “to have time for fun.” Good development tools could help her do that — there’s something in this goal that the team might be able to sink their teeth into. But wait for it . . . the goal is followed up with, “Savanna writes software because she’s good at it, and it’s a flexible job allowing her to pursue her various hobbies.”

It sounds like she’s achieved her goal just by having this job. If that’s the case, the goal isn’t relevant to the project. But imagine if the goal had said: “Savanna is always on the look out for shortcuts that let her complete her work quickly so she can get out of the office and enjoy life.”

Now my mind is churning with possibilities of what I can do for her within the bounds of the project.

Start with Research

The best personas are based on research. Observe and talk to target users. That is where Savanna falls a part. She wasn’t based on research — she was created because personas were an expected deliverable at the time. There wasn’t any money available to go out and interview real end users, so persona creation became a creative writing project.

In Savanna’s case, the company that the persona was created for probably employs 100 developers. A few interviews and a few hours observing people within their own company would likely have lead to the creation of a useful persona without the cost of visiting customers to talk to their developers.

Test Your Personas

I have no idea what, if any, testing Savanna was put through. But I do know that I have learned to test my personas to make sure they accurately represent the people they speak for, and that they seem genuine.

Before rolling out personas, show them to people that regularly interact with the target users. This could be sales people, service people or customer service personnel.

If your reviewers disagree with technical details that your research says is true, (for example they think everyone knows how to change their monitor’s screen resolution, when your research shows that your target audience has never done this) you don’t have anything to worry about. But if they tell you other details are off, or the persona doesn’t sound like a real person, you need to make some changes.

One of the ways I know I’ve got a persona right, is when people say things like. “I met someone just like the persona at a conference,” or “I was talking to a customer just like the persona last week, and she said. . . ” or “Which company did you say she worked for? I think I met her when I was out visiting company ABC.”


This is getting to be a very long post. So I’m going to summarize my thoughts here for those of you who got bored, and scrolled down to see just how long winded I can be.

  • Base your persona on interviews and time spent observing your target users.
  • Make sure the stories your personas tell are project specific.
  • Include goals that you teased out of your research, and that your design and development team can help the persona achieve.
  • Pay attention to details including thee details meant to make the persona memorable and believable. Make sure they support your key message and doesn’t detract from it.
  • Pay attention to the photo. It’s more than just a pretty picture, it should represent the demographics and attitudes of your target users.
  • Test your personas. Show them to a few people who interact with your target users to ensure they ring true.
Posted in ...On UX, Personas, Usability | Leave a comment

Usability Testing. What For?

Know what questions you want answered before performing usability testing.

You need to do some usability testing? What for?

No, no. I don’t mean why do it — there are a bazillion articles out there that list a gazzillion reasons to do usability testing.  I mean what are you looking for?

Are you interested in:

  • How well the design fits people’s mental model for the task?
  • How easily people can complete the task or use the design?
  • How valuable they find the feature?
  • If you are missing something people think is a must have?

If you think about what questions you want answered before testing starts, you’re more likely to get the answers you need.

Dana Chisnell, one of the authors of the Handbook of Usability Testing, has a great blog post; Popping the big question(s). How Well? How Easily? How Valuable? that lists several great questions for design teams to think about before usability testing.  Take a look. It’s a good place to start.

Once you have the short list of questions you want answered, the next steps are to prepare tasks that will help you answer those questions AND to prepare some possible probes around these questions that you can ask participants as they perform your tasks.

Let’s say you want to know if your design supports people’s view of the company or product brand.  During the initial “get-to-know-you” interview you might ask the participants some questions about their perception of the brand, so you know what they think before you start. Then, while they perform tasks during the testing, ask some questions to see if their perceptions match. And at the end, you might ask if what they saw has had any influence on their perception of the brand.

So if they say during the interview that they think of your company as young, funky and affordable, and then when you ask for their impression of the site’s home page they say it’s dull, and looks like somewhere their parent’s would shop — you know where one of your problems is.

My point is simple. Like with everything else, you’ll get more out of your usability testing if you go into in knowing what you want to learn about.   Do your prep work.

Posted in ...On UX, Usability | Leave a comment

In a Recession Cut Back on Usability. NOT!

User experience is not the place for budget cuts in a recession

Why are usability and user experience some of the first areas to get axed when times get tough?

When times are good, companies work to stand out, build better products and make customers happy. When times are bad, companies SHOULD work to stand out, build better products and make customers happy. But a lot of companies don’t, they cut back across the board or on “extras” like user research and good design.

But when times are tight, and you have to work harder and harder for the sale, that’s when you NEED to do things that make you different, noteworthy and memorable. Giving your customers a great experience with your product or web site is still one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to stand out from the crowd.

Here are a couple reasons to continue investing in user experience and usability and a few ideas for how to do it on a recession-sized budget.

Usability is Cost Effective

When sales are down you advertise.

When ads work, you get a nice spike in sales, and hopefully people become repeat customers recommending your site or product to others.

Simple. Obvious. Tried and true.

BUT is that return visit or recommendation going to happen if they found your product or site hard to use? Did all that money spent on the ad campaign pay off? For how long?
On the other hand, usability improvements are relatively inexpensive, and whatever improvements you make will last.

The Neilson Norman Group recently updated their research on Usability ROI, and found that key performance indicators improve by 83% on average after strategic usability improvements are made. In another study they found that a mid-sized company can get $4.5 million in productivity savings by taking their intranet site’s usability from poor to good at a cost of about $1 million for the project.

350% ROI. Not bad.

Now what about customer support sites? You know what I mean, the online resources customers use to find the information they need instead of calling customer support; things like FAQs, forums support pages etc. If you improved the quality and findability of that information – how much could you save in support costs?

Time after time research shows that investing in usability is a solid and relatively inexpensive investment.

In This Economy Your Customers Are More Careful with Their Money

Gone (for now) are the days of large impulse purchases. People are going to do their research and they expect more for their money. Think of it this way, people are looking for the best experience they can get.

At the same time people are shopping on line more and more. Why not? They can compare prices, check out reviews and make a purchase with a few clicks. No need to worrying about the price of gas this week.

An online survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Tealeaf found that 89% of respondents had problems making an online purchase in the last year. Almost half of those people said that when they had problems making a purchase they usually gave up and went to an online competitor.

On top of that, 42% of the people who had experienced problems said they were unlikely to try to use the problematic site again.

‘nuff said.

Use Usability to Stay Ahead of Your Competition

Did you notice the definition in the photo above? The key word is temporary. The recession will end.

There is a good chance your competition is undergoing the same cutbacks you are right now. Do you want to come out of the recession on par with your them, or would you prefer to be in a  stronger position? Put your money into fewer key projects, and make sure you nail the experience.

Apple worked on iTunes and the iPod during the last recession . . .

Improving User Experience While Budgets Shrink

Maybe you’ve agreed with me all along, or maybe I’ve convinced you that you should invest in usability; but that doesn’t change the budget cuts and hiring freeze you are faced with.

The large design agencies are expensive. But smaller boutiques and independent consultants are much more reasonable.

And don’t forget all the people who have been laid-off recently. (And sadly a lot of interaction designers, usability experts and user experience architects have been laid-off lately.) There’s a pretty good chance you can find someone with a lot of talent, and a fresh perspective who is interested in a short term contract – and maybe a great candidate for a permanent position when your hiring freeze is lifted. I bet you can find someone motivated to help you make your case for usability.

Don’t forget to look inside your company. Do you have anyone in QA, a tech writer, or maybe a product manager who is interested in usability? Find a consultant who is willing to train your people while designing, facilitating and analyzing results of a usability test. Using current staff to do some of the work should reduce the cost of the consultant AND you may have the beginning of a new user advocate in your company who can take on more and more usability tasks in the future.


If you don’t have a user experience strategy, here are a few tried and true resources and interesting articles to help build your case for investing now.

Jakob Nielsen’s website

Usability Professionals Association resources

Business Week Article: 10 Worst Innovation Mistakes In a Recession

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