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British Expat Newsletter:
24 October 2007

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.

In this issue

  • This week: Website usability
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This week

Sorry. We’ve not sent the newsletter for a couple of weeks. We were in Kuala Lumpur on holiday and then busy re-launching another of our websites when we got back. To use the words of our friend Martin Pickering, we started off sending the BE newsletter weekly and ended up sending it weakly.

Never mind, we’re back and this week’s subject is website usability. For anyone new to the newsletter, don’t be put off! We cover a great variety of subjects in our newsletters, and this sort of issue gets featured only on the rare occasions when it’s likely to have an impact on our readers – so stay subscribed!

This is a subject which has interested me immensely for a long time. I even did my MSc dissertation on it. But don’t worry, I’m not going to get all technical on you. (Fat chance!) The reason that usability is at the front of my mind this week is because of the re-launch of our other website.

Now, you might think that if a website is nice and easy to use and provides the visitor with a good experience, then that website will be more profitable than one which is difficult to use. Not necessarily so!

Here’s a quote from my dissertation:

Nutley (2005) discussed how today’s sites have become so easy to use that the customer can get through the transaction process too quickly and easily. This is good for customer retention, but if the customer misses all the other messages on the site, then it is bad for increased sales. Paradoxically, usability may be counter-productive.

This is talking about an e-commerce website (a website which sells things). However, we’ve had a very similar experience this week with our little content site (a website which provides information; in this case, the information is provided to the user free of charge and the money comes from advertising).

The site is a directory of links to British newspapers online. It was getting plenty of visitors but making very little money – in fact, less than it cost us to maintain it. Given that we earn our living online, we sought advice on how to make that site pay for itself rather than costing us money to provide people with a free service.

The suggested changes were very radical, so we hesitated to go the whole hog for fear of putting off all the site’s visitors. But we implemented some of them. The result was that we changed an ugly little site (designed by me about five years ago when I had the crazy idea that I might become a web designer) into what one visitor called a “nightmare”.

Basically the old version of the site, although ugly, was very easy to use. It was easy to find what you were looking for and to find your way around (navigation). The new version confused people and a number of visitors gave feedback saying they wouldn’t return unless we changed it back to the old version and its simple navigation.

So, should we go back to the old easy-to-use site? I think probably not. Why? Because this new version is bringing in some money now, rather than making a loss. It seems – counter-intuitively – that there is profit in reducing usability. Oh, the joys of making a living online.

Profits aren’t everything, of course, but we have to eat too so for the time being we’ll leave that website as it is. I’m in no hurry to try the same experiment on BE, though.

This is a very complex subject, and one which affects all Internet users; I’ve barely scratched the surface of it here. I hope you’ll give your views on it.

Do you have anything to say about this topic? Or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us?

Virtual Snacks

Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:

Just so you can see what all the fuss was about, here’s a link to the site we’ve just redesigned:
British Newspapers Online

My dissertation is on flowtheory.com and is free to download (594KB PDF). It’s a bit boring in places but may be of use to anyone who has an interest in website usability.

Satcure.net is one of Martin Pickering’s sites – about satellite and digital TV. I thought that since I’ve quoted him above, he deserved a mention here. Also, without Martin my dissertation would never have been submitted on time. (I’d thought an email version was acceptable and discovered at the eleventh hour that they wanted a hard copy printed and bound in a specific way. Eeek! Martin saved the day.)

Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • masturbation and constipation
  • appreciate being made aware of gc.ca
  • army institutionalised
  • how to please your boyfriend orally [Tell him he’s lovely, perhaps?]
  • british opinion of the beach boys
  • helen simpson 33 from nottingham was wearing
  • animal vulva and dick
  • greek yogurt total back in australia
  • welliebobs
  • a wee tatty

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat Magazine

Quotation

“Software suppliers are trying to make their software packages more ‘user-friendly’ Their best approach, so far, has been to take all the old brochures, and stamp the words, ‘user-friendly’ on the cover.”

– Bill Gates, US software tycoon (1955- )

Joke

A newsboy was standing on the corner with a stack of papers, yelling, “Read all about it! Fifty people swindled! Fifty people swindled!”

Curious, a man walked over, bought a paper and checked the front page. Finding nothing, the man said, “There’s nothing in here about fifty people being swindled.”

The newsboy ignored him and went on yelling: “Read all about it! Fifty-one people swindled!”

PG Author: Kay McMahon

Kay has been an expat for nearly 30 years. She set up the British Expat website back in early 2000, whilst living in London and missing the expat life. These days she spends much of her time lugging computers and cameras around the world. (Dave gets to deal with all the really heavy stuff.)

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