Trust: Usability testing as a BS meter

Is your marketing jargon, blaring advertisements, and “discreetly placed” sponsored content helping or hindering your credibility? Is that new interaction pattern linking directly to checkout hurting your sales funnel? What about that new feature tacked onto the existing ‘General Settings’ section, is that useful and clear?

Three common usability findings that tend to come up during baseline usability testing can be characterized by the following themes:

  • Product/website doesn’t speak in your users language
  • Advertisements and sponsored content feel misleading or forced upon
  • Inconsistent interaction patterns lead to confusion → lead to mistrust

Not speaking your users language

With a single ambivalent word your users can miss the opportunity you are providing for them. Terminology used across the product or website, especially for menu items, section names, and taxonomies is the most surprising find in the majority of usability tests I conduct. Sure, I can hypothesize on one or two questionable word choices, as do my clients, (which is usually why I am hired). However, I continue to be surprised by users lack of comprehension to particular verbiage that neither I, nor the team would have predicted. It just goes to show that marketers, designers, content writers, CEO’s, and even us UX researchers cannot anticipate all user perspectives.

Here are some quotes from previous client usability testing sessions:

“I’m still not sure what [product name] is, is it a service that will help me?”
“That’s not something I’m looking for here. Way ahead of me.”
“I have no idea what a ‘Guide’ would be. Will it help me navigate the site?”
“I wouldn’t have expected to find it under there.”

How can you ensure you are speaking their language?

  1. Speak to their education level and use words they use. Not sure what those words are? Find out using surveys and other audience research techniques.
  2. Answer to their hierarchy of needs. Learn what your users need to know first, second, third, etc. before berating them with overly specific details that may alienate those on not ready or on the wrong path. I’ve found it helps to reiterate previous selections to validate their level of interest. Another general tip is to provide a way back or a place to learn specific terminology for when a user feels trapped, confused or frustrated.
photo credit: roitberg 2011 Rock in Rio 1000 free tickets Promo Coca-Cola Rio de Janeiro via photopin (license)

Advertisements and sponsored content

Leading with ads, sets up inauthentic first impressions. Hierarchy matters, think about mobile readability. All those ads in the sidebar on a desktop layout require an alternate hierarchy on mobile devices. Be mindful of the mobile user seeing the same ad, sponsored or featured content first thing on every page. Forcing a user into it on every page load while perusing on their phone is not ideal for quick comprehension of the actual content or product functionality.

Some real-world usability quotes from recent tests:

“…to be honest I wouldn’t trust any more on the site.”
“It doesn’t look official, spammy.”
“My first instinct. I’m gonna skip that top section.”
“Featured makes me think sponsored or paid for… it does not seem like a very good list.”

How can you be sure ads and sponsored content aren’t hurting your credibility?

  1. Don’t dupe your users. Users understand sponsored content, but if they feel tricked into accessing sponsored content, any trust built along the way is jeopardized.
  2. Don’t force feed your users ads. Users are very aware of ads. When ad delivery significantly hinders readability, the ability to scroll/swipe, or hides valuable way-finding features, users will leave.

Inconsistent interactions

For example, sending users off your site via a standard link can be an unexpected action, unless learned from a previous interaction with the product or website. If you develop any new pattern, consistency is your only saving grace, as too many unexpected surprises will lead to diminished trust. False affordances can also leads to frustration, as a user wants to click, tap, swipe, but feels “it won’t let me”, as if the interface has a personal vendetta. Regardless of the true nature of your product or website, the feeling of not getting what they want, leads users into a frustrating mindset.

“I expected to be taken away from the [feature name] area”
“I would expect it to bring me to their program on their website, why are you showing me this?”
“I can’t really request information—that’s kind of false, I expected a page where I fill in my information.”
“It doesn’t give me any information here either, there’s nothing linking it to what I just clicked on.”

How can you diminish confusion on interactions (menus, links, buttons, etc.)?

  1. Set up consistent patterns and expectations 
    This applies to all interaction patterns: buttons, links, tabs etc. Consistency in the design of each of the patterns is equally important.
  2. Setup expectations for when you break the pattern
    For example, in the instance where you’ll be linking to an external website, prepare the user by using a variation of the interaction pattern.
  3. Reduce false affordances
    False affordances are places a user wants to click or touch, but the interface doesn’t allow it. The most common places I find false affordances are: logos that look like icons, photographic imagery (with or without words), and titles of sections. In my experience with testing, users tend to find more false affordances on mobile devices.

In conclusion, by putting some attention on these three themes, you can ensure a more trustworthy brand and overall digital experience.

Happy User | photo credit: haslo 038/365: Happy Call via photopin (license)

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