These “dollar words” are truly excellent… at going over your audiences’ heads while keeping them from accomplishing their goals by taking the actions you’ve set out for them. Anyone who’s taken our Persuasive Online Copywriting course would agree; Jakob is singing our tune in his discussion of a usability test he did on the U.S. Census Bureau website:
Beyond banner blindness, the major reason this homepage failed is that it used made-up terms or branded descriptions rather than plain-spoken words. Terms like “Population Clock,” “Population Finder,” and “QuickFacts” are not as descriptive as a simple line of text that says:
Current population of the United States: 302,740,627
Once Jakob goes beyond the heatmap, things really get interesting. He uses gaze plots (click thumbnail for image) to describe 4 main classes of behavior — “search-dominant,” “navigation-dominant,” “tool-dominant,” and “successful” — and gives insightful descriptions for each. If one were so inclined to look at the same observed behavior through the lens of the personality types or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, they’d see beyond the how people clicked, and into the why they clicked. It’s how they’re wired, naturally, according to their preference, or type.
A: The Competitive type — what Jakob observed as “search-dominant user” in this study; Using the MBTI lens we’d shorten their preference to operating in “NT” (iNtuitive/Thinking) mode- working at a fast pace, with a logical bias. The Competitive quickly scans and skims everything, looking for a clue as to how to solve the puzzle. Neither Active Window [define] content nor navigation seemed to be the path of least resistance. (Notice: Competitive type didn’t even look in the right-hand column; they’ve been trained to ignore it.)
The right and left vertical lines clearly illustrate the Active Window, where a Competitive is most likely to spend time. (The same goes for all types, but the Competitive does this more often.) Once this person struck out with copy in the Active Window, they aimed for navigation and, after quickly striking out there, went to search.
As a footnote, Jakob adds, this “user” (don’t get me started) mentioned the ability to search faster for the answer… at Google.
B: The Methodical type — Jakob’s “navigation-dominant user”; “SJ” (Sensing/Judging) on the MBTI — behaves with a logical bias similar to Competitives, but with a far more deliberate pace. You know the Methodicals in your audience. They’re not easily satiated by the answers you give them. They want more. No detail’s too small. They want it all. The good news from a marketing communications perspective is they’re willing to give you their time — provided you’re willing to give them relevant content.
The Methodical approach was to look everywhere; Active Window, left navigation, right-hand column (where the answer was actually sitting, cloaked in techno-babble and jargon), above the fold, below. You name it, they saw it. They just didn’t find anything that seemed like the answer until, finally, navigation appeared “most promising”.
C: The Spontaneous type — Jakob’s “tool-dominant user”; “SP” (Sensing/Perceiving) on the MBTI; — behaves at a fast pace, with an emotional bias. They’re highly experiential by nature. (Notice how Jakob describes this type as people who “like parts of websites where they can do something”.)
The Spontaneous visitor clicked around briefly, mainly focusing on the interactive features, before most likely leaving in failure. The gaze went everywhere, without focus, until a single feature grabbed their attention — that is, until another rabbit hole appeared (on another website) that was more entertaining.
D: The Humanistic type — Jakob’s “successful user”; “NF” (iNtuitive/Feeling) on the MBTI; — behaves at a slightly less deliberate pace than the Methodical, but with an emotional bias. Testimonials were created for this type. Show them how you’ve treated other people like them, and you’ll gain their confidence.
My assumption that Plot D represents the Humanistic is based on a few observations and is a shining example of the value of optimizing your experience based on a plan, rather than some out-of-the-box analytics package or testing platform. Had we planned this experience using a customer-centric methodology like Persuasion Architecture™ [define], we would have a context in which to view this gaze; to know how far off the execution was from what we’d originally planned. That would give us an actionable approach to making website improvements.
With Plot D, I see someone who’s spent more time than the other visitors — except, of course, for the Methodical — not just scanning and skimming, but actually connecting. I also see someone whose gaze fell oddly on the right-hand column; a behavior we typically see when people are capable of scrolling with their mouse without actually looking at the gutter to find the down arrow. They intuitively know the scroll bar is there.
Each of these experiences could have been planned better to achieve the task at hand, but that’s a post for a different day. For now, simply consider that people are wired to behave according to different preferences, their behavior fueled by their own momentum.
For you to achieve your goals, your audience must first achieve theirs. That means presenting what they want, when and where they want it — even if you have to make a single product page speak to 4 different “types” of people. But that’s the beauty of the medium. Online, it’s far easier to measure and improve your plan dramatically over time.
(Author’s Note: Anyone think my headline would’ve been better if it were “What People Do on Your Site and Why”? Now do you see the power of plain-spoken language?)