187. Jedi Mind Tricks

Paul Boag

On this week’s show: Paul looks at how to better communicate and we ask whether you should mask your email address to avoid spam.

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Although we promised you ClearLeft on this week’s show we have had to postpone it until next week. However, that gives you a whole extra week to submit questions via the comments on our blog.

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A web designers time is precious

We are all too busy, period. However, life can be particularly intense if you work as a web designer or developer. The pace of change is so fast it can be hard to find the time to keep up.

Fortunately there are some great articles around that provide time savings tips. Take for example Sitepont’s post this week “How to take control of your time.” It provides some excellent advice including the importance of prioritising, the need to leave adequate time and learning to say no.

Smashing Magazine has a post of their own entitled “20 time saving tips to improve designers workflow.” This includes ways to customise your work environment and better work with tools like Photoshop.

Speaking of Photoshop there is a great cheatsheet that contains all of the keyboard shortcuts you need to speed up your workflow in Photoshop. When combined with the IE6 cheatsheet for solving common IE6 bugs you will find yourself saving considerable time.

The answer to overload is not to work longer hours. It is to work smarter and that is what these posts enable you to do.

15 common ecommerce mistakes

I love working on ecommerce sites. They are by far my favourite. The reason – you get to see an obvious return on your work, because they have an obvious call to action. Conversion either increases or decreases. Profits either rise or fall. You are in no doubt as to whether you have made a difference or not.

However, the other reason I love working on ecommerce sites is because so many of them are terrible. Often when you start working on an ecommerce site there are loads of quick wins that make an instant difference to revenue.

People make the same mistakes again and again. In fact these mistakes are often so predictable that you could write a top 10 list of them… and guess what… that is exactly what Smashing Magazine has done: “15 common mistakes in ecommerce design and how to avoid them“.

Some of my personal favourite mistakes include:

  • Hiding contact information
  • Long winded checkout
  • Poor customer service
  • Not highlighting related products or otherwise upselling
  • Hiding the cost of delivery

If you are designing or running an ecommerce site then you really should check this post out. You will be surprised just how many of these mistakes you make.

The benefits of inline form validation

I have said it before and I will say it again: “forms are the most important feature on most websites.” Most often a sites call to action requires the completion of a form. Get the form wrong and you frustrate users potentially driving them away.

Nobody likes filling in forms. Whether it is a contact form, site registration or just a simple login form. It is therefore vital that we make the process as painless as possible.

There is a post on a List Apart which I have only just gotten around to reading. “Inline Validation in Web Forms” does not sound like the most exciting read but it does provide some invaluable best practice for dealing with forms. However, it doesn’t just provide somebodies opinion on best practice, instead it backs those views up with valuable testing.

The post takes a typical signup form and trials different forms of inline validation with real users. They didn’t just monitor success/failure rates. They also looked at errors made, satisfaction rates and completion time. They even did some eye tracking.

Although the results are not surprising, it is nice to have some numbers to put against what we have known to be true. For example, it was obvious that inline validation makes an enormous difference to both actual success and perceived success. Just validating a form on the client side increased success rates by 22% and satisfaction by 31%. Those numbers went even higher when the user is given feedback as they completed each field.

A valuable post, worth reading.

Innocent smoothies: A case study into corporate communication

When you speak at as many conferences as I do, you often find yourself referring to the same examples of good or bad practice. Whether it is comparing Google and Yahoo or fawning over Apple’s great UX design, the same names keep coming up.

One of the names I often reference is Innocent Smoothies. I love them. They just ‘get the web’. Actually, that is a lie. They get people. They know how to communicate and they know themselves. They have a distinctive voice that makes people warm to them and that is carried through to their website.

This week Anna Debenham has written an excellent case study on Innocent Smoothies looking in detail at what makes them successful online. In particular she looks at their blog and mailing list.

As Anna says at the start of her post:

A lot of the clients I work with who have just set up a web presence for their company think it’s a good idea to start a mailing list and a blog. Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t they? The problem is, so few companies get it right and very few people will bother to read them.

So what makes Innocent different? Anna gives 6 reasons:

  • They show you the real people behind the business
  • They make their copy fun
  • They don’t just talk about their products
  • They are generous
  • They provide useful information
  • They make good use of imagery

Anna’s post is packed full of examples, so be sure to check it out. There is a lot most corporate bloggers could learn from Innocent.

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Feature: How to persuade your users, boss or client

Whether you are trying to get signoff for a site’s design or persuade a user to complete a call to action. We all need to know how to be convincing. This week, we look at how to present our message

Read Jedi Mind Tricks: How To Persuade Your Users, Boss, Or Clients

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Listeners feedback:

Email masking

One of the more popular suggestions for topics was how to mask your email address so it doesn’t get harvested by spammers.

This is something that everybody worries about from designers to website owners. However, unfortunately there is no good solution. In my opinion you need to just put your email out there and deal with the spam.

Sure there are a number of possible solutions but none of them are acceptable. They either require the user to be running Javascript (which creates accessibility problems) or they place extra burden on the user. Giving users the ability to contact you is a fundamental part of almost all websites and, so you do not want to make it hard.

There are however two ways of minimising the impact.

First, you could choose not to publish your email address, but instead offer a contact form. Although spammers can spam these too, it is harder and there are ways of minimising spam without putting an added burden on users. However if you do use a contact form, send a copy to the user so they have a record.

Second, you can fall back on good spam filters. Use a site specific email address and make sure it is guarded by a good quality filter. I personally find Google Mails spam filter particularly good, so you might want to consider routing enquiries via that.

However, at the end of the day if a spammer is determined to spam you there is very little you can do to stop them. Unfortunately, this the price of being online.

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