The lifts in New York City’s Empire State Building in the early 1930s were torturously slow. In their haste to benefit from the astonishing innovations in engineering and architecture at the time, construction companies placed faster-moving elevators low on their list of priorities.
After two years and thousands of complaints, they decided to do something assertive about it; they put mirrors in the lifts. The complaints quelled from a flood to a trickle immediately. As one engineer remarked at the time, "I think our elevator speeds are fine, people are just crazy".
After all, who doesn’t have time to fix their hair or add a bit of last-minute lippy before that all-important business meeting?
The story illustrates a central tenet of online user experience and that is the concept of real time versus perceived time. With websites as with lifts, they are not the same thing, and with online as with offline, perception is reality.
A review of your Google Analytics will almost definitely corroborate this. A key statistic which frequently is misinterpreted or misunderstood is “length of time on site” because often a review of the standard deviation of customer time on site is of greater value than the average time, yet average time is what gets the focus. User patterns of behaviour are of much greater significance than the actual number of seconds spent on a site.
These patterns will help you grasp how your users perceive time and how preoccupied and engaged they are with the content on your website. Perceived time is a function of three important components; how confident your website makes your users feel, how in-control it makes them feel and how strong a scent they feel they have towards their goal.
The three phases of of customers’ time on websites
But back to time on site and standard deviation; the picture is more complex than this simplification but it may help to view the time your customers spend on your site in three segments, the first 5-10 seconds, seconds 11-120 and beyond two minutes. Personally I call them the “am I in the right place and can I do what I want”, “the valley of death” and “the business end” segments. Let’s consider customer mind-set through these three phases.
Phase 1 – Am I in the right place? The world’s most popular user test is the five-second test. Get the user to look at the site for five seconds. Turn off the computer. Ask the user what the website offers them, what the business does and what they might be able to do next. Your website must pass the five-second test or it hasn’t entered the race (a more than 50pc bounce rate usually means you have failed the five-second test).
Phase 2 – The valley of death. The user walks through the valley of the shadow of death, tentatively making their way from the homepage to the content that matters to them. Their focus is on finding, selecting and comparing; thus they need the tools to carry out these activities quickly and easily.
Phase 3 – The business end. The user is deeply engaged in the content and is serious about their intent to buy.
Scent is the torch which guides your customers through phase 2 and encompasses everything that makes your users feel confident and in-control. It gets stronger when you focus on better navigation, content, menu structures, and calls to action.
Getting the right product at the right price to the right (market) place, promoted in the right way is very difficult. The four Ps of marketing are the hard part. That is why it is criminal to fail because your user hasn’t even got to consider your market offering. Before your customers get to your four Ps, they want to find, select and compare their terms.
Let the user get to their goal quickly and easily and on their terms. It’s just plain common ‘scents’.
Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their websites and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include user testing, usability and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Fáilte Ireland, The Irish Times, WeddingsOnline, Ogilvy, MD Golf and Dublin City University