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((((((((((((((((( WEBREFERENCE UPDATE NEWSLETTER ))))))))))))))))) October 26, 2000


This newsletter sponsored by: Viewpoint, Allaire, Interliant, Search Engine Strategies and Building Dynamic Websites 2000 __________________________________________________________________


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http://www.webreference.com http://www.webreference.com/new/ http://www.webreference.com/new/submit.html This time we've got some special guest authors for you. Famed usability gurus Jakob Nielsen and Kara Pernice Coyne show how to test your site's search interface for usability. There's still time to win a copy of Photoshop 6, your article could be next. New this week on WebReference.com and the Web:

1. TWO GREAT CONTESTS: Subscribe & Win, Submit & Win! 2. FEATURED ARTICLE: Collecting Feedback About Your Website's Search Interface 3. NET NEWS: * UCLA Issues Report of Opinions About the Internet * Ellison Updates Attendees on Oracle 9i * Fasten Your Seatbelts: Internet Revolution Ahead * Microsoft Reveals UltimateTV Product * Honoring the Dearly Dot-Departed

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1. TWO GREAT CONTESTS: Subscribe & Win, Submit & Win!

>Signup & Win!

Sign up for the Webreference Update newsletter, and you could win a registered copy of HoTMetaL Professional 6.0 Web authoring tool from Softquad Software, Inc plus Ulead's PhotoImpact 6! Each week we'll draw new winners from our new subscribers - you could be next. Already a subscriber? Not a problem - just fill out the form, and you'll be automatically entered to win. Tell your friends!


>Submit & Win Adobe Photoshop 6!

Yes that's right folks, submit your article today and you could win Adobe's new Photoshop 6. If your article makes the cut, and we publish it in this newsletter, you win Photoshop 6! See the submission page for details:


This week we step back from our contest submissions for two special guest authors. Jakob Nielsen and Kara Pernice Coyne, both from the Nielsen Norman Group, describe a helpful process to follow for testing your site's search interface for usability. Read on to get your search in gear!


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***********************************************************adv.*** ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 2. FEATURED ARTICLE: Collecting Feedback About Your Website's Search Interface

It's crucial for websites to provide search interfaces that are available, simple, and productive. This article gives basic instructions about how to test your website's search interface for usability.

We recently assessed the usability of twenty ecommerce sites: ten of the world's highest-grossing sites and ten other sites that sell the same kinds of products, but have substantially smaller revenues. The ten high-selling sites complied with 40% of our usability guidelines for search whereas the ten less-selling sites only scored 27%. Even the best sites on the Web are far from having perfect search, but it is still remarkable to note the difference in search quality between sites that sell well and sites that sell poorly. Of course, rule #1 of ecommerce is: if the user cannot find the product, then the user cannot buy the product. Thus, the findings in our study are very understandable. Get more information about the study at:


Search is something most people try to use on websites. Some people simply prefer it to browsing. Others like to browse but are driven to using search when browsing does not help them find what they want. Often the information on websites is organized in categories, and the user does not know which category a particular item is under. The site designer may have a logical structure in mind, but the arrangement still might not help the user. For example, a person wants to buy a Lenny Kravitz CD for his nephew but he does not know what type of music Lenny plays. He might try browsing a music site and looking in the classical or country categories. He wouldn't find the CD there. He would probably resort to searching the site for the artist's name, or possibly a song title or album name if he knew it. If that didn't work, it's likely that the shopper would leave the site and go to another one to make the purchase. To avoid this catastrophe, web designers can conduct basic usability studies to help them learn how to improve their search usability.

>Steps in a Basic Usability Study

Usability studies can be elaborate or basic. Even 30 minutes in a cubicle with paper and a pencil can be effective. When looking for quick feedback about a search interface, your study should include the following steps:

1) Determine the goals of the study 2) Determine the user profile and schedule the sessions 3) Write the user's tasks 4) Conduct the sessions 5) Evaluate the data 6) Implement changes, and repeat steps one through seven as long as the site exists

>Determine the Goals of the Study

Decide on some clear, concise goals for the study. For example: Learn what is easy or difficult about constructing a search. Or, learn what is easy or difficult about using search results. Keep these goals in mind when writing the user tasks.

>Determine the User Profile and Schedule the Sessions

The people who test the interface should absolutely have similar experience levels as those who will use the live site. Decide what traits are pertinent, for example: web experience, search experience, occupation, age, experience using competitive sites or the site you are testing.

Be prepared to offer an appropriate incentive. Some popular honorariums include cash or a check (often $100 US), sweatshirt, software, pens adorned with a product name.

>Write the User's Tasks

While there are many steps and features involved in searching, there are a few basic things people should be able to do, and that you should try to include in your user tasks.

1) Find the search interface: Do not bury it. 2) Type words, create search string: Search should accept and understand both natural language and Boolean strings. You will probably find that most users simply type a single keyword or at most two or three words. Complex queries are rare on most sites. 3) Invoke the search: Provide a clearly-labeled button near the query entry field. People expect the Enter key to work too. 4) View, use, and understand the results: The user needs to know where the results are, not buried in categories or advertising, and which results are the most relevant. Also, opening and reading the pages or documents should be straightforward. 5) Refine or narrow the results.

In the tasks you would give the users, you would not actually use the above words. On the contrary, these are just parts of the bigger user task or goal to "get the information I want," or "buy Mom a birthday present."

During usability sessions, we often give users a protocol or set of tasks to follow. Writing the tasks is more of an art than a science. The idea is to give people enough information without guiding them to the solution. Tell them things they should try to accomplish that are realistic and might occur in a real-life scenario. For example, one task might be: Get your mother a birthday present. In this task you don't use the word search, you don't tell them any product names, you don't tell them to deal with results or relevance rankings. You leave it open-ended for the user to decide what Mom would like, and how they will find it. Then, you watch them try to get the work done, and analyze their behavior as they do.


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>Conduct the Sessions

Get the Person to Talk: Make the person feel at ease before the session. Ask them to think out loud as they work. Tell them to tell you what they like or don't like, and what they understand and don't understand.

Feedback During the Sessions: There is a tendency to want to empathize with the testers. You want to make them feel better when they are confused, answer their questions, laugh at jokes. Empathizing is fine. Distracting is not. Do not give any verbal or visual cues that you are agreeing, disagreeing, surprised, or confused. If you are quiet, the tester will get used to doing the evaluation and ignoring you. As you become more adept at running sessions, you can establish a kind of nod that acknowledges the user's comment, but doesn't agree or disagree with the statements.

If the tester is absolutely waiting for a response, consider using one of these phrases:

"Thank you." "I have noted your comments. Please continue when you're ready." "We can go to task four when you're ready."

Avoid these:

"That's a great idea." "That is an excellent point." "I agree."

These might make testers think: 1) they should elaborate about the one topic they think you are interested in, 2) other points they make are not great, 3) they should try to redesign the interface for you.

>Evaluate the Data

When analyzing search data, it's very important to realize how the task you constructed might have affected the user's behavior. For example, the task is: Read about Ford and Toyota, the user types Ford and Toyota cars. Your conclusion should not be that users do not know what "and" means in a Boolean context. Instead, consider whether the wording in the task lead them to choosing their search string. (Really, a better task would have been: Your brother is happy with his Ford. Your sister is happy with her Toyota. Get information about each company to help you decide which car to buy.)

>Test Search using a Paper Prototype

Search interfaces can be tested with paper prototypes. The earlier you collect usability feedback, the more changes you typically can make. And, if you collect feedback using a prototype before the site is online, you will also spend less money redesigning than you would if you waited to test the online version. Preparing a search paper prototype is time-consuming, but worth it. Some simple things to remember:

* Prepare search results for various search scenarios, including: totally right results, totally wrong results, results that have some right and wrong links, many results that spread over several pages, results that fit on one page, no results at all.

* Anticipate the words and phrases users might type, so that you have realistic-looking search hits.

* During the sessions, have the users actually do the steps. This will teach you the exact words they would type with any separators they might use. And, it will tell you if they know how to start the search. Ask them to click the mouse (their finger). When the cursor is in the search field (a plain white strip) hand them a pencil. Make sure they type (write). If they would have clicked a search button in the actual interface, they should have to do this here too before you make any results appear. This might seem like overkill, but it's not. A person might say: Well I'd type phones or phone systems with two lines and caller id. But, if they were to type it, they might actually write any of the following, which could return different results:

phones or phone systems with two lines and caller id phones with two lines and caller id phone systems with two lines and caller id phones, two lines, caller id etc.

>Further Reading:

WebReference Interview with Jakob Nielsen: http://www.webreference.com/new/nielsen.html

Summary and review of "Designing Web Usability": http://www.webreference.com/new/nielsenbook.html


Attend Search Engine Strategies * Dallas * Nov. 9, 2000**

If your job is to get traffic to your Web site, Search Engine Strategies 2000 is a "must attend" event. Learn the techniques and tips that will help your site get noticed by search engines and directories. Register today and SAVE $100! Visit http://seminars.internet.com/sew/dallas00/ to attend or to get more information!


About the Authors:

Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D., is a principal of Nielsen Norman Group. Before founding this company he was a Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer. His recent book, "Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Experience" has a quarter million copies in print in eleven languages: http://www.useit.com/jakob/webusability/

Kara Pernice Coyne is a Senior User Experience Specialist with Nielsen Norman Group. Before joining the Nielsen Norman Group she managed the usability group and was a principal specialist for Lotus Notes and Domino products.

Nielsen and Coyne are just about to embark on the User Experience World Tour: a conference about Web usability that is coming to twelve cities on four continents: http://www.nngroup.com/worldtour/

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 3. NET NEWS: UCLA Issues Report of Opinions About the Internet, Ellison Updates Attendees on Oracle 9i, Fasten Your Seatbelts: Internet Revolution Ahead, Microsoft Reveals UltimateTV Product, Honoring the Dearly Dot-Departed

>UCLA Issues Report of Opinions About the Internet

UCLA has just released a comprehensive study of the future of the Internet and its social and psychological impact on society. While as many as 66.9 percent of Americans use the Internet, only 39.7 percent have a computer at home. http://la.internet.com/news/article/0,2325,5321_495561,00.html LA.Internet.Com, 001026

>Ellison Updates Attendees on Oracle 9i

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison began his Internet World keynote Wednesday evening with a discussion of the upcoming Oracle 9i database. http://www.internetnews.com/iwlive/fall00/article/0,,10234_496071,00.html InternetNews.com, 001026

>Fasten Your Seatbelts: Internet Revolution Ahead

AOL President Barry Shuler, in his Internet World keynote Wednesday, said the Internet wave has just begun. "The business will transcend the industrial revolution in its effect on mankind." http://www.techweb.com/wire/story/TWB20001025S0009 Techweb.com, 001025

>Microsoft Reveals UltimateTV Product

Microsoft took its WebTV product right from the courtroom to the showroom. The company released the price structure of its Ultimate TV service, which offers viewers digital video, interactive television, Internet access and the ability to pause live TV. http://www.internetnews.com/prod-news/article/0,,9_495961,00.html InternetNews.com, 001026

>Honoring the Dearly Dot-Departed

Is a memorial to the dead dot-coms funny or sad? "It feels like we're all gathering in the palace and partying while the black plague rages out there among the peasants," observers one mourner. http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,39744,00.html Wired.com, 001026

That's it for this week, see you next time.

Andrew King Managing Editor, WebReference.com mailto:update@webreference.com

Catherine Levy Assistant Editor, WebReference.com mailto:clevy@internet.com


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