A/B testing the mega menu

This week we’ve started experimenting with A/B tests on elements of our site design. The first results are coming in and show us some small but not insignificant improvements can be made.

Spot the difference in our mega menu:

We’ve been testing how many people visit the Undergraduate homepage from the mega menu – Google Analytics stats show many more people go straight to the courses page than to the top level page.

Using Google’s Website Optimizer we can test the two versions with and without the heading underlines to see which performs better. After four days the stats show the version without the underline performs 9% better at driving people to the Undergraduate homepage.

This was a very small experiment but in future we’ll be testing more fundamental elements of our designs. Apologies if this makes you feel like a lab rat!

Help test our website

As our new designs progress apace, we’re looking for some willing subjects to help us test the website. We’ll probably be trying a number of different techniques but essentially they involve trying out various things on the website and give us your feedback.

So if you’re a student, member of staff, or even just have an interest in Edge Hill, can spare 20 minutes and are able to get to the Ormskirk campus during the day, leave a comment and we’ll get in touch to arrange a time. In return you’ll get a beverage of your choice and a chance to be one of the first to see the new web designs.

When is a username not a username?

This week I bought a new mobile phone and moved networks to Vodafone.  I signed up for access to view bills online but 24 hours later when I tried to log back in I couldn’t for the life of me remember what username I’d chosen.

I tried all my usual combinations of usernames and passwords, searched my email but to no avail.  Then it struck me, the sign up process asked if I wanted to use my email address and I said “of course – I’ll never forget what that is!” yet logging in gives no clue that this is a possibility:

Vodafone Username

So web designers, if you accept email addresses for logging in, please don’t label the input “username”, and while you’re at it, examples of acceptable input is a really nice touch too.

Write Articles, Not Blog Posting

The web guru Jackob Nielsen in a recent article is arguing that people should write articles and not quick blog posting entries, but he’s actually focusing on business blogging if they want to make money.

Blog postings will always be commodity content: there’s a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else’s work. Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they’re definitely easy to write. But they don’t build sustainable value. Think of how disappointing it feels when you’re searching for something and get directed to short postings in the middle of a debate that occurred years before, and is thus irrelevant.

Read his article ‘Write Articles, Not Blog Posting‘ , as the way he handles the matter is quite interesting and he’s backed his argument with some impressive stats.

Over engineering web applications

ff_fig3.gifI’m sure that I’ve been guilty of writing some slightly dodgy user interfaces in my time as a web developer but College Web Guy recently posted a link to a story about an application at Penn University that takes usability and design to a whole new level.

The university have bought in a system called FacilityFocus which seems so complex that it led to a Professor writing a guide in how to conquer it. It talks you through some shocking design decisions:

You may be tempted to fill out some of the 23 temptingly-empty text boxes on this screen, with information like e-Mail (that’s easy) and “Desired Date” (that one’s a little personal, don’t you think?) — BUT DON’T! This is a search screen, and you’ve got nothing to search for yet, since you haven’t actually gotten your work request into the system.

While I hope that we wouldn’t produce anything like this, it’s a danger when you buy in products from third parties and it is sometimes difficult to keep the end user in focus when working closely with the “customer” to meet their requirements.