Posts Tagged ‘user path


Swimmers vs Divers & the Viral State of Mind

A common talking point among Web developers, whether we’re revamping an existing site or starting from scratch, are the assumed profiles of typical users. We try to predict their:

  • Background, education & culture
  • Specific interest in our branded topics
  • Motivation(s) for visiting our site
  • “Value system” for Web content

We also try to grasp how these and similar attributes will affect their response our message—right now, today, in real time.

Carried out methodically, this line of thought can help us develop sites that acquire, retain, position, compete or share. That is, provided our predictions are based on more than vague generalities couched in specific numbers.

That’s because we need to know what people do—not what numbers do—the people who visit our site. If your theory of marketing derives from a study you read, instead a study you led, you need to wonder how definitive your “findings” are.

Statistical variables vs the variability of human nature.
But even assuming a best-case scenario, there’s still one more behavioral category that, as I see it, is usually overlooked: The natural variability within one and the same person. Take a quick look in the mirror and realize that, unless you have some rare form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, your behavior operates within a range.

Though you may usually follow a certain routine when you, say, visit a Web site, there will be times when you break the mold.

So we must assume that users we identify as eager to absorb our branded message will not always care to make an in-depth exploration of our content. No matter what other targeted attributes our site visitors may have, they’ll occasionally fall into one of two categories:

  • Swimmers
  • Divers

The difference is depth of involvement on a visit-by-visit basis. And it strikes me that, considering how jam-packed a typical Web site is, paying attention to your customers’ alter egos just might have a shot at lowering the volume on the boing-boing sound associated with rising bounce rates.

Swimmers skim for essentials.
In this context, “paying attention” means staging your message with a two-tiered approach. By all means, build your Web presence so it can accommodate whatever attention mode your audience might be in at the moment. For Swimmers, you’ll need a user path that delivers your complete, albeit “essential” message along the smallest possible trajectory.

That is, chuck out the marketing speak, the promotional manipulation, celebrity endorsement—or that flaming gibberish about JD Powers and Associates—and just tell your Swimmers what you want them to do. In other words:

Make your digital presentation action-oriented.

Whether it’s view a 15-second video, activate an animated bar graph, call a sales rep, take a survey, solve a silly puzzle, or enter a sweepstakes—give your short-attention-span visitors something very easy to do, and make it rewarding.

No, not to you, to your visitor. At least, I assume the only reason you’ve posted something online is that you have something rewarding to deliver. If not, no amount of SEO, strategic brainstorming or blog-squinting can save you.

Divers delve for reasons to care.
On the flip side of this duality are the Divers, people actually eager to “learn more” about your brand. But be warned: To make their deep dive meaningful, you must create a clear, efficient path for them to reach the specifics—and only those specifics they’re actually interested in. Otherwise, they might run out of oxygen and click away.

Keep in mind the attributes underlying a typical viral video: the razor sharp honing of a concise message by a tantalizing concept. You want people to listen? Give them a reason to care—and a feel for the emotional logic of your offering.

Now, can anybody actually do this, or am I asking for the moon?

Well, a step on the path I propose is on display at, the Anti-Tea Party if ever there was one. Click around on its navigation and see how effortlessly the site enables you to filter, fuss and fidget with the content until you strike the balance that strikes your fancy. My personal favorite is the “SURPRISE ME” button—for people with a real interrest who don’t know where to go, but want to get there fast.

Here’s an example of what a what can happen when we pick our heads up from the pixels and think about people. Sure, just adopting the nav logic at isn’t going to tip the balance in your favor. But if you can catch the viral thought process it suggests, you might come closer to developing a Web space both Swimmers and Divers can comfortably inhabit.



The Path to an “Audible” URL

“When a tree falls in a lonely forest, and no animal is near by to hear it, does it make a sound?”

As any graduate of Wikipedia University knows, some form of this question has been kicking around in Western Philosophy’s attic for at least 300 years. While I don’t subscribe to this line of logic-spinning—the attempt to make the unknowable knowable by couching it in paradoxes—I have to admit the question has an undeniable relevance to digital messaging strategy and Web design.

You need only install Google Analytics to realize the awful truth. Proof of your site’s existence will be constantly challenged by the statistical evidence: Your URL is only as audible as your site traffic allows.

Naturally, the premise behind any Web site is the assumption your brand has a clearly defined prospective audience. Nevertheless, your “volume” is largely determined by the steps you take to drive traffic. Whether through social networking infiltration, distributed content or banners—you must pave the way to your URL with content that reaches digital venues your audience frequents.

And yet, you may still find your Web site’s fall is heard by only a paltry few.

Branching out from tradition.
To tip the odds in your favor, realize that driving people to a home page is only meaningful if, once they arrive, they can find what they want instantaneously. That’s because, in the post-iPhone era, your most compelling sales pitch is due to be interrupted by incoming cat pix, retweets, timelines, tumblrs, pins, IMs or an e-mail from Mom at any moment.

In such an environment, greeting your digital audience with a confusing array of interchangeable options has a FrozFruit’s chance in Mauna Loa of achieving engagement. By contrast, a home page capable of leading visitors along well-defined user paths has far better odds of catching and holding attention.

With their focus on impulse buying, branded e-tail sites offer a simple example of user paths in action., as of 4-20-13, reflects this kind of thinking in several ways. At the simplest level, users can self-identify by choosing an option in the upper left corner: “For Women, For Men, For Girls, For Boys.”

More options, by clothing genre, reveal themselves in the main navigation, an elegant series of rollovers that call up a single, targeted image. Each of these options addresses a different kind of shopper with the full realization that the person looking for wedding-wear today may well be shopping for vacation-wear in a few weeks.

In this instance, user path clarity is enhanced by a design free of anxious, space-filling mania. Because users see one image at a time they can actually feel the impact of the image. Hence, the site speaks to specific users within the larger audience of J. Crew fans. Interior pages show similar restraint, allowing the product to speak for itself.

And that’s an essential feature of a successful user path: enabling targeted users to define the brand in their own terms. Light years away from the…

“Buy now and save up to 50% until May 31, while supplies last”

 …mind set, J. Crew lets users drive themselves to the products they choose and, along the way, create their own sales pitch for the items they want most.

Rooted in manipulation.
On the surface, the difference between this site and, say, J.C. may not be so apparent. After all, the latter offers some of the same self-defining options. Yet the two sites couldn’t be more different.

First, with its unstoppable slideshow marquee, J.C. Penny forces users to traipse through a wide swath of its offerings whether they want to or not. The only path, inevitably, is J.C. Penny’s and the copy—directive, manipulative, aggressive—wants to dictate how users should feel about the products on display.


 …screams a one-size-fits-all headline, itself only a hair’s breadth away from


As in the nightmare scenarios called up by George Orwell or Aldus Huxley—not to mention the billboards in the film adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s Minority Report—sales talk like this aims to dissolve each visitor’s identity in a dark pool of conformity.

So as you map out your information architecture, rewrite your user experience guidelines and lay down the law about fonts, pixel-widths, stock art style and word count, remember: The most compelling reason people frequent your site is the feeling they can use it their way.

Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY



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