Do sweat the small stuff

August 19th, 2010 § 1 comment

Some of the most common issues I come across on the web are the most annoying to me as a user yet hard to keep track of as a producer. These are what I refer to as the small stuff. The stuff that isn’t primary functionality, and easy to overlook in testing. The stuff that you as a regular visitor to your site might never encounter.

Example 1 – Dead ends:

I was trying to sign up to Anno Books, and I used a plus-address in the e-mail field. Of course, they had a ‘Verify your e-mail address’ step which I forgot to anticipate. (For the record – END THE SIGN UP VERIFICATION MADNESS!) They sent me the verification link, I clicked on it, and I arrived at this:

Few issues:

  • ‘Oops we seem to have a problem’ isn’t helpful. Was it my fault or yours? Do I need to do something to correct it, do I have to just wait for you to fix stuff? Web makers, please make your error messages as informative (and obvious to the eye) as possible.
  • This page is a DEAD END. What do I do now? Where do I go?? Think about it. Somehow I got to your page, was convinced to sign up, went through the sign up and verification process – and now I’m stuck. I invested time and effort, and this blank page is the difference between whether I ever come back and visit you or if I move on and never look back.

The fix: As much as possible, inform the user about what went wrong. If there’s something they can do to fix it, let em know. If it isn’t something they can action, give them a path out of the situation. A link to contact support, a link to check an FAQ, a link to your blog, where you put up downtime notices… something, anything!

Example 2 – WTF moments:

I added a secondary e-mail address to my Paypal account, and clicked on the verification link (in this case, verification = good) This is where that took me:

The issue:
My brain goes – EGADS!! What have I done?!?!?! – and alarm bells start ringing. It tells me I have activated my ACCOUNT, linked a credit card AND to proceed I have to link my bank details. Really, W T F?? I actually did think I did something to create a new account, which of course, was not what I was trying to do. And the call to action, the big yellow ‘Continue’ button would mean having to give more information I didn’t want to. My eyes didn’t even register the little ‘Go to my Account’ link on the bottom of the page.

The fix: Don’t FREAK ME OUT YO!! Make sure your links lead to the relevant pages. I’m sure that account created page works well for newly created accounts, but in this case, I should’ve been taken to a page that simply said ‘Email verified, Go to Account’.

The ‘high level’ fix:
The thing is, as producers, these things are easy to miss. When I first started at Tangler, I usually only found out about these when our members told us about it. That’s a great first step – listen to your people. If there’s a small issue, fix it, and this is key – add a test for it in your testing process. That ensures that any subsequent annoyances will be picked up.

The other thing I learnt to do as a product person was to take some time out and focus on the small stuff. I’d go into the system and sign up, change details, break things on purpose etc, just to see where an error led, if we could do anything to improve the landing page, or if indeed we had a dead end in a sequence. It became a fun past time, something I’d do between big releases to unwind. Doing this became key when we released TanglerLive. We all know it’s crazy times going live with a brand new product, and the small stuff is often forgotten amidst the madness. But that’s ok. No one expects you to get it right at first go. Just keep your eye on the small stuff as you go.

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