Balancing Security and Ease-of-Use When Creating Online Logins

One of the most valuable things about the internet is it enables us to perform transactions online—such as banking, purchasing or bill paying—at our convenience. However, with this expediency comes the necessity for transactional web sites to protect our identities. Identity theft scams, such as phishing, are at an all time high which has induced legitimate web sites to deploy more elaborate security measures (affecting registration and login processes) to protect people who complete transactions online.

As a result, an on-going challenge for web site developers is to balance secure login functionality with ease of use. Users don’t want to “feel” the complexity of the security measures being activated upon login; they just want to login at any time and enjoy effortless transactions. If a user cannot login, the visit is over, or at the very least, cut short.

In a recent online user experience study of a mutual fund shareholder site, 18% of the participants claimed they had difficulties logging in to their account. Users who were logging in for the first time thought they understood the process, but were often unsuccessful. Some comments included:

  • “Login was hard for first timer.”
  • “My login never worked the first time.”
  • “I will phone tomorrow because I was unable to log in for the first time.”
  • “Need to know how to log in to find it.”

This finding and associated comments suggest that the login process for this site should be explained more clearly and designed with the first-time user in mind. Instructions should be clear and demonstrative, and ideally interactive.

Following is a series of screen shots from a login demo for a major investment banking and brokerage services site, illustrating well-constructed, step-by-step interactive login instructions: merrilllynch1.jpgmerrilllynch2.jpgmerrilllynch3.jpgmerrilllynch4.jpg


For sites requiring the utmost protection for their users, a lot is involved behind the scenes with the programming and design of the login process. But, making it user-friendly is equally as important. Ensuring users experience a demonstration and clear explanation of the login flow will help increase successful transactions and maximize visitor retention.


Is Your Site Conversion Meeting Your Set Targets?

The success of a website is multi-faceted.  On the lowest level, visitors who do not already know a site URL should still be able to get to the desired website through methodologies used to maximize site traffic, such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Pay Per Click (PPC).  But then, upon arrival, visitors should find a compelling and usable website, thus ensuring a successful visit experience.   Hand in hand, these fundamentals are essential to achieving conversions.

The following chart represents dollars spent on online advertising in recent years, as well as future spending projections.

Obviously, companies will continue to spend dollars on Internet marketing and they will continue to use SEO or PPC to drive traffic to their website.  But is it possible to reduce online advertising expenditures and still enjoy similar revenue?

Yes, and a key lies in how effectively the traffic is converted after arriving to your site.  This is where usability analysis becomes vital.

When usability analysis steps in

An effective usability analysis can uncover the reasons visitors are leaving the site, why they are not purchasing and, in general, the problems they are encountering that keep them from converting.  Every additional conversion increases revenue, thereby improving ad expenditure ROI.

In a recent online user experience study conducted for an e-commerce website, it was revealed that 33% of visitors arrived at the site via search engine organic results.  This indicates a certain level of success with their Search Engine Optimization.  However, of those arriving via a search engine, 41% claimed their site visit was unsuccessful because navigation was difficult and/or organization was unclear.  In other words, they didn’t find the site all that usable.

So, although the site optimization effectively drove traffic to the site, the user experience fell short in converting visitors. For this particular client, visitors who failed with the intention of purchasing represented a significant revenue loss, approaching $150k per day.

Working together

Usability testing early in the website development cycle is most effective because it reduces development cost.  You can improve the user experience before your site is launched and have the confidence that you have delivered a quality product. But even if conducted later in the cycle, usability issues can be addressed and corrected for subsequent releases.

It is no secret that the cost per click continues to increase over time and money spent on SEO or PPC must be on-going to continue driving traffic to the site.  But, the effectiveness of recommendations made to improve the site based on the usability analysis is enjoyed year after year.  Ongoing usability analysis will only continue to improve the conversion percentage resulting in added revenue.

The marriage of SEO/PPC and usability analysis is not only a winning combination but a required blend for success in the Internet marketing arena.

How Can You Benefit from an Eye-Tracking Study?

What is eye tracking?

Eye-tracking systems detect and record where a participant’s eyes are focused at any given point in time. Eye-tracking records bothfixations and saccades. Fixations are the brief pauses the eye makes in order to take in detailed information. Saccades are the very fast jumps the eye makes between fixations.

Recently, eye tracking equipment has become very unobtrusive, often to the point that a casual observer may not even notice the equipment at all. Most commonly, infrared or near-infrared light is reflected from the participant’s eyes and that light is detected by an optical sensor. In the past, head movement was a problem when recording eye-tracking data, so many systems restricted participants’ head movements by bite bars or chin rests. This is no longer the case as eye-tracking systems have become much more sophisticated about compensating for head movements. This means that participants can behave as naturally as possible while in the lab.

How can eye-tracking help you design a better website or product?

Eye-tracking data lets us see what users look at, for how long, and in what order. Eye-tracking data supplements the other user experience data that we are already collecting in a traditional usability study.

It can help us gain insights that we otherwise would not have access to. For example, in a traditional usability study, we can observe if someone clicks on a target link fairly easily, however if he or she does not click on it, we are left with a number of questions:

  • Did the participant see the link, but did not click it because it didn’t seem like the right thing to click?
  • Did the participant not even see the link?
  • If they didn’t even look at the link, where did they look instead? (Where do they expect to find the appropriate link or button?)
  • Is something in the visual design distracting the participant from the main task?

The eye-tracking data provides objective answers to these questions and helps us determine if the target link might be labeled incorrectly, is in the wrong place (and if so, what is a better place for it), or is simply surrounded by too much “visual noise.”

When coupled with the participants’ verbal feedback and careful observation of their actions while using the product, knowing where a person looked while completing a task can also help us understand:

  • What attracts the user’s attention and what doesn’t
  • How efficiently (or inefficiently) the design leads the participant to achieve their goals
  • Which of two design variations is more effective
  • What content is being read in detail, what content is being scanned, and what content is being completely ignored

Are there any drawbacks?

As with all user experience research methods, there are some limitations. First, as mentioned at the outset, eye-tracking primarily records the user’s fixations. A fixation relies on our central vision, which is the kind of vision that allows the brain to take in and process detailed information. As anyone who drives a car knows, we also use our peripheral vision to detect changes in the visual scene, to detect motion, and to determine where to fixate our eyes next. This means that human beings “see” much more than they fixate on. The converse of that is also true. Simply because a person fixates on something doesn’t necessarily mean that they have consciously processed or comprehended that item. Think about the last time you were looking for lost car keys and they were right there in front of you the whole time. You know you fixated on those keys numerous times, but did you actually “see” them? Probably not.

Another limitation is that eye-tracking data will not answer all of our user experience research questions. It is best suited to research questions around the findability of UI elements or questions of visual and spatial design in general. Most questions about overall process flow, information architecture, and taxonomy are better answered using other methods.

Guidelines for Conducting Successful International UX Research

You have decided to conduct international usability research.  Great!  Now where exactly should you start?  Outlined below are some things you will want to keep in mind as you plan for your international test.

On-Location vs. Remote Testing

One of the first things that will need to be considered is whether your international test will be conducted on location or remotely.  Each method has certain advantages.  One clear advantage of remote testing is the cost savings from not having to travel to various locations across the globe, while still gaining the insight of participants across various target markets.

However, remote testing can be challenging as well.  If going the remote testing route, you will want to be sure the screen sharing service you will be utilizing functions properly across locations and minimizes latency or keeps it within acceptable bounds.

Also, there is the question of whether you will be testing the user directly from their home or office, or arrange for them to go to a local lab facility for the session.  Although testing users directly from their home or office will save money on lab rental and associated fees, you may very well find the money worth spending.  A key advantage to a local, in-country lab facility is that you will have a consistent test environment and available support if an issue arises.  You may want to seriously consider a lab facility if the testing requires participants to install software for remote viewing.  This will simplify having to troubleshoot the install for each individual user.  The lab can also provide a fluent moderator or translator to operate on location as opposed to over the phone.  This segues to our next topic…

Scripted with Fluent Moderator vs. Real-Time Translation

If the goals of your study are fixed, well defined and relatively narrow, you can consider translating your testing script and having a local-language moderator run the sessions, while a simultaneous translator translates the discussion into your language.  However, this limits your ability to react in real time to observed issues during testing, or the flexibility of probing deeper into issues to gain additional insight.

If you are employing a more flexible study design, you probably want to moderate in your own language and use real-time translation.  You’ll want to consider a professional skilled in simultaneous translation to translate your questions to the participant, with an additional translator translating participant responses back into your language.

Time and Schedule

When planning testing overseas, be sure to build in extra preparation time to account for expected lags in communication and responses due to day/night work schedule conflicts.  When creating your testing schedule, remember that session times will need to be extended to account for technical setup and translation time.  A session that takes 60 minutes in a single language can easily take 75 or even 90 minutes when run internationally.

You will also want to be aware of the local users’ perception of timeliness.  2:00pm in some countries means 2:00pm, while in others it means 2:15pm or 2:20pm.  It’s a good idea to allow for additional time in between sessions in those countries so, if users arrive late to their session, you can still cover all necessary content.  Some cultures also start their work day much later than in the US, so starting sessions at 8 or 9am local time may not be ideal for your users.

If traveling to perform the test, a day or two may need to be built into the schedule to adjust to local time, so as to avoid poor testing due to jet lag.  If testing remotely, keep in mind that sessions will likely be taking place at odd hours, potentially over night, due to time difference between your country and the country where testing is taking place.

Differences in Technology or Equipment

When thinking about differences in technology or equipment, one thing you will want to be sure to plan for is having the appropriate adapters and convertors for any electronic equipment that needs to be plugged in.  You certainly don’t want to fly 8,000 miles to find out you can’t charge your testing laptop or damage the power supply for your microphone!

Another consideration of in-person testing is using variances in video cameras and connection formats.  If you plan to rent any equipment at the facility you’ll want to make sure you can connect your own equipment.

Yet another consideration with differences in technology is internet connection speed, reliability and availability.  If for example you were user testing in China, internet connections may be readily available in most all of the moderate sized towns, but may not be available in smaller villages…or could be unreliable where available in such locations.  Other countries, such as South Africa, may not have reliable high-speed connections even in the larger cities, which can impact how much content you’re able to cover during your session.

Cultural Considerations

You should also be knowledgeable about the cultural differences your participants may be sensitive to.  For example, it may be difficult to recruit participants in some cultures during working hours or even during the work week.  Some cultures are less likely to criticize products or services even constructively.  In some cultures eye contact is extremely important to have, while in others it is considered offensive.

Male/Female interactions are another cultural difference to be taken into account.  In some countries it is forbidden for married women to talk to men they are not related to.  So, if testing locations where this may be problematic, it is wise to have both genders represented on the testing team.

Final Thoughts

In summary, when planning for international research, some considerations are:

  • Selecting the appropriate test method (on-location or remote)
  • Employing the appropriate translation style (scripted or real-time)
  • Ensuring adequate time is allotted in the schedule
  • Preparing for any differences in technology
  • Accounting for specific cultural considerations

Hopefully this has given you an overview of the tradeoffs between in-person and remote international testing, as well as some basic things to keep in mind as you begin planning your international research.  Best of luck to you!

Best Practices for Embedding Videos on Your Site

In today’s fast-paced world, a video can often capture the attention of your audience faster and communicate your message better than unending lines of text or even bulleted lists.  Often, however, if the video is not presented effectively, it could cause user frustration and even embarrassment.

Picture this: You’re sitting in your cube farm and decide to get on your favorite website to check for last-minute holiday deals.  Unbeknownst to you, the website has a really cool video (with audio) which begins to play as soon as you arrive on the Homepage.  As luck would have it, your desktop speakers are on, and lo and behold, your boss walks by just in time to be greeted with the cheerful sounds of Jingle Bells.  This when you were supposed to have been hard at work on that TPS report!

Humor aside, when it comes to using video as a channel of communication, there are certain best practices that can be adopted to enhance and enliven the user experience.

Best Practices

To ensure an optimal user experience, consider implementing the following recommendations when using videos on your site.

Video Content

  • Videos should provide current, relevant content that adds value to the website and visitor experience.
  • The duration of a video should be as short as possible and should last only as long as it takes to convey a message.
  • As a general rule, advertisement and testimonial videos should be shorter, while videos with tutorial content may be longer in order to effectively convey the instructional information.  Video length should be determined by evaluating the subject matter at hand as well as the background of the intended audience.
  • Videos that last longer than a few minutes should be divided into chapters or sections which allow users to quickly navigate to the section of their choice at any point during the video.

Video Display

video display image

  • By default, videos should display in a paused state until the user clicks to view the video.  Prominently display a Play button (as seen in the screenshot above) to direct user attention to the Play option.
  • Video should be embedded within the page rather than opening in a new window.  Opening another window diverts the user from the original navigation path and increases the likelihood of the user not returning to the site.  In the event a video is displayed in a new window, ensure the video window is smaller than the original screen so users realize a separate window has launched.

Video Quality

  • Videos should not appear grainy or choppy.  However, the resolution should not be so high that it requires an extended load time as most users will appreciate a short load time over video quality.
  • The longer a video takes to load, the less likely users will watch the video.

Video Controls

At the minimum, videos should have the following controls, some of which are shown in the screenshot below:


  • Volume slide bar displayed with a speaker icon to give clear indication of volume controls (#1 above).
  • Video duration slide bar displaying the elapsed time on the left and time remaining on the right. Users should have the ability to fast-forward or rewind manually using the slider (#2 above).
  • Option to maximize and restore the video window (#3 above).  This option may be more appropriate for entertainment videos or for videos containing great detail.
  • Play and Pause buttons directly below the video or easily accessible upon mouse over of the video.
  • Closed Captioning option or a text transcript of the audio.

Additional Elements


Advanced Features

  • Lower Lights feature (seen on as shown above) that dims everything on the page with the exception of the video window.
  • Ability to adjust the video resolution.
  • Options to send a link or embed a video on another page.

International and Multi-Cultural Considerations

  • Race, ethnicity, and accent are perceived differently by individuals in different countries as well as individuals in different regions within the same country.  Therefore, ensure that the individuals presented in the video portray characteristics that correspond to the expectations and worldview of the targeted demographic.
  • Ideally, videos presented on foreign sites should have individuals speaking the native tongue.  If this is not possible, present the original video overlaid with audio in the native tongue.  At a minimum, provide accompanying transcribed text in the native language.


If done incorrectly, videos can frustrate users or be perceived as a waste of time.  However, if done correctly, videos can be a very powerful tool that can provide users with an optimal viewing experience of high value

Can You Quantify Your Site Redesign’s ROI?

In today’s economic environment, it is critical to achieve a return on investment (ROI) for any budget that is spent. In the online environment, where the landscape changes so quickly—either due to competitive challenges or the increasing savvy and changing needs of the online consumer—achieving a ROI can be especially challenging. But the need to spend money online to remain relevant and compelling is an ongoing push.

Brands may regularly find themselves needing to do a full site redesign, or a partial site refresh, as part of their online strategic marketing plan. However, any investment in a website should be justified against the bottom line, making it necessary to demonstrate the quantifiable impact of any changes that are made to the online property.

So, What Might You Do?

There is a multi-phased (Pre-test/Post-test) approach, primarily used to measure the impact that changes have on a site (such as a full or partial redesign). The current website is first researched to gather benchmarking measurements. Keep in mind that by conducting research against the current website, real-time usability feedback and site experience data can be leveraged to guide the site redesign effort itself. The site is then updated (fully or partially revamped) and the new website is tested again.

Case Study

In a project for a client in the office supply category, Usability Sciences utilized this research design with dramatic results. The client brand team was gearing up for a major site redesign. In advance of this effort, Usability Sciences collaborated with the brand team on a two-phased research project that would serve two functions: 1) provide qualitative feedback on the current website that would direct the brand on where to focus their redesign efforts, and 2) provide quantitative benchmark measures of the performance of the site on key business indicators such as online conversion, success with site visit, and ease of use.

Phase I of the project, the pre-test, ran for six months. An online survey was utilized that included website entry and website exit questions to determine visit purpose and visit success, with various other demographic and key performance questions. Usability Sciences then conducted an analysis with the resulting findings becoming instrumental in focusing efforts on improving overall navigation and the checkout process. Redesign efforts continued and the new site was released three months later.

The following month, Phase II of the research project was launched when the post-test began by fielding the exact same survey on the new site, collecting data for the next four months. Upon conclusion, Usability Sciences conducted a second analysis, this time with the intention of comparing pre-test responses to post-test.

  • Key Finding #1:The checkout process experienced a 28% increase in completed transactions. Changes to site checkout, such as shortening the number of steps in the process from start to finish, had a significant positive impact on the conversion rate for online transactions. By looking at checkout process data, we determined that the pre-test measure of successful completion of checkout was 25%, while the post-test measure of successful completion of checkout was 32%, an increase of 7 percentage points, or a 28% lift in productivity. By enabling visitors to more successfully navigate the checkout process, the transactional mission of the site is being met to a greater degree, and the redesigned site delivers online conversion at a quantifiably higher rate.
  • Key Finding #2: Browsing navigation success was improved by 5%. Changes to site navigation, such as establishing a consistent page layout and implementing changes to the look and feel of the toolbar, had a significant positive impact on visitor browsing behaviors. By looking at visit experience data, we determined that the pre-test measure of the success rate of those seeking products using the browse path (as opposed to the search tool) was 79%, while the post-test measure of the success rate of those using the browse path was 83%, an increase of 4 percentage points, or a 5% lift in efficiency. By enabling visitors to more successfully match products to their needs, the organizational mission of the site is being met to a greater degree, and the redesigned site delivers a more powerful online branding experience at a quantifiably higher rate.

Parting Thoughts

In closing, as you face your own business needs of having to demonstrate return on investment with each of your online initiatives, a good rule of thumb to remember is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. The Pre-test/Post-test methodology is an excellent tool to keep in your measurement toolbox for times when you are introducing a new online strategy (new look and feel, new messaging, usability enhancements) and you need to demonstrate the quantifiable impact of your approach.

Six Best Practices for Online Checkout

A seamless online checkout process can act as a powerful driver of increased sales and profit margins. Not surprisingly, most of our clients in the retail space understand this and come to us regularly to get user feedback on their sites’ checkout process. Listed below are six best practices to address some of the issues that routinely surface during user testing of the online checkout process:

  • Allay customers’ security fears.  Visitors appreciate sites that make an effort to protect their privacy and most will not provide their personal information during checkout unless they are confident their information will be kept secure.  Visitors typically look for a familiar security logo/certificate from a company such as VeriSign, and also expect to see a ‘lock’ icon toward the right of their browser’s address field.  Additionally, some sites incorporate a ‘lock’ icon within the buttons that are located throughout the checkout process.  Following are a few examples of how online retailers have indicated a secure checkout:

  • Vertical wins over horizontal.  Whether your checkout steps occur all on one page, accordion style, or over multiple pages, present the text fields in a clean vertical (top to bottom) format, versus a horizontal format.  In our labs we observe that users encounter fewer errors and have less difficulty when fields for sections such as personal information, shipping, billing, and payment are presented in a clean, vertical format. This approach allows for easy, top-to-bottom scanning and the ability to quickly tab through the various fields.
  • Reassurance is nice.  Although all visitors do not typically expect an ongoing review/summary of their order as they go through the steps of checkout, they are pleasantly surprised with sites that do provide a snapshot of their order as they go along.  Some sites also display previously entered information and allow customers to directly edit things like the color or quantity of an item, or even personal information, if they notice something that needs to change.  This is appreciated by customers, as it prevents them from having to click back to a previous step of the checkout process.
  • Flaunt it if you got it!  If applicable, display any percentage of savings or deals within the breakdown of the order total as early within the checkout process as possible.  Often, visitors have comparison shopped prior to coming to your site, so give them a reason to stick around and complete the purchase by displaying their savings throughout the process.
  • Promotional codes first.  Display the promotional code field or any other applicable code/coupon fields early within the checkout process and, if applicable, allow customers who do not have promotional codes/coupons to learn how they could obtain them for their current/future purchase(s).  This type of proactive feature sends the message that the retailer is working to help the consumer save money, which is always appreciated!
  • Help them through it.  As with any process involving visitors inputting personal information, ensure your error messaging is direct and easy for visitors to understand.  Along with the standard error messaging toward the top of the page, incorporate contextual error messages and highlight the text field where the error has occurred.  Also incorporate other visual cues such as arrows, borders, call-out graphics, or messaging beside/surrounding the text field that needs to be corrected.  Following are a couple of examples that do a good job of calling out where and which errors have occurred:

There are many more things that can be done to improve user’s eCommerce experience, but these best practices are a result of what we commonly observe and hear from users in our usability lab studies.  We believe incorporating these best practices will help improve the overall user experience of your checkout process, as it relates to e-commerce.