links for 2007-05-21
links for 2007-05-22

The importance of getting people to the finish line

There they goMy wife ran the Cleveland half marathon yesterday and so, being a supporting husband, I drove her down and hung out waiting for the finish. I had a couple of hours to kill so I walked around downtown shooting some images. I caught the runners at the one mile mark seen here and I got to cheer on some friends and some interesting characters including running nuns, a guy in a full business suit and a hippie on roller blades being pulled wildly by two huskies.

Once I stopped laughing and everyone passed by I headed down into the Warehouse District and then into the Flats. As I was standing there shooting with my eye to the camera I heard what sounded like a LARGE group of people running up to me. I turned and there were 30 runners with 10K badges asking me "Where are we? Where is the race?". I was shocked that this many people got sidetracked from the course and I quickly sent them back up the hill toward the finish line. It turned out they were amongst the strongest runners on the pack.

I don't know if you've ever run a race like this, but the last thing you want to have to do is think about where you are going on top of running flat out. People are supposed to be directing you with cones, signs, police officers and race vehicles. The runners should just need to run. That's it. It turned out that the lead vehicle was sent the wrong way along with several hundred 10K runners who ran up to 2.7 extra miles while lost. (The local paper picked it up here.)


It made me think about the user experience on web sites (I do that a lot you know). When a visitor comes to your site, do they intuitively know where to go? Do they know what to do? Or, will they get so off course that they just give up?

People shouldn't have to work to get to where you need them to be online. If your goal is a purchase it should be easy to browse, add things to a cart and check out. If your goal is an RSS subscription, it should be prominent on the site and use best practices. If people have to put in too much extra effort to give you what you want, they'll quit and probably not return.

Ask yourself:

  • What do I need people to do?
  • Can somebody, with no prior knowledge of the site, do that easily?
  • How do you make sure people stay on the course?
  • If they get off-course how do you bring them back?
  • How do you make sure people return the next time they need the same thing?

Do you think about this on your site? If so, how do you do this? If you don't you should take a hard look and think about making some alterations.

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