Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Measuring conversions on non-transactional websites

If you have an e-commerce or transactional booking site, you have an easy job tracking profitability, efficiency and the success of your website. One of the key metrics you use is conversion rate — the number of users that end up buying something.

But most sites are not transactional sites. How can a company site or an information site track conversions? In this context we talk about "mental conversion" — referring to any choice the user makes on the site that is beneficial to your company. The challenge has always been, what are these choices and how do we measure them?

Levels of Conversion

I operate with 4 categories of conversion when measuring non-transactional websites. This fits neatly with the limit of four goal conversions in Google Analytics, a nice bonus.

  • Interest
  • Subscribe
  • Share
  • Contact

It is important to note that the appropriate sites for this model is not product oriented sites that easily could have been e-commerce sites. For product oriented sites, Contact should be replaced by Store Locator or Where to Buy.


At this level the user is showing an interest in your company and/or your content. This includes:

  • Bookmarks/Favorites
  • Writing down to URL for later visit (offline bookmarking)
  • Saving the page
  • Printing the page
  • Adding the page to "Read it Later"


At this level the user is interested in you and in getting updates from you in the future. This includes:

  • E-mail newsletter
  • RSS subscription
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Become a fan on Facebook


At this level the user finds you interesting enough to share his or her discovery with others. This includes:

  • Tip a friend
  • Share on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites
  • Blog about
  • Adding a widget to the Vista Sidebar or Mac OS X Dashboard


At this level the user makes direct contact with you. For non-transactional sites this means that a conversion can happen offline. This includes:

  • Phone
  • E-mail
  • Fax
  • Letter
  • Physical Visit

Note that it is only in step #4, Contact, that we will be able to convert the user into a customer. The implication is that all your communication in the steps #1-#3 should seek to push the user to a higher degree of mental conversion.

Measuring Conversion

On e-commerce sites we have the luxury of having an exact conversion rate, and exact statistics on how much each user creates in revenue. It's quantifiable. Unfortunately, measuring mental conversion is a more qualitative exercise.


To measure bookmarking, written down URLs, writing the URL from a printed article, etc… we can assume that visits that are Direct (without referrer) and also a return visitor is from a bookmarked URLs.

Unfortunately this does not catch all visits.

  • Visitors that revisit after 30 days will not be return visitors
  • Visitors using online bookmarking services like delicious or google bookmarks (this has a sharing perspective also and its debatable if they are bookmarks in a traditional sense)

To measure printing of the page it is possible to count printer friendly versions of the page and depending on browser it might be possible to count loading of print stylesheets.


E-mail subscription is easily trackable through either the confirmation page or the e-mail subscription list itself. RSS feeds can be tracked with Feedburner. Other types of subscription like microsummaries, widgets, follow on facebook, follow on twitter, etc… needs different measuring techniques. The numbers are readily available, but I have not found a good product that consolidates them.


Common sharing techniques like tip a friend and share on is easy to measure. It is important that you also tag traffic generated from sharing so that the value of this functionality can be evaluated later. People that share by using bookmarklets or copying the url is a little more difficult to track. Implementing technologies like Trackback is one solution.


E-mail — either through a form or through a direct mailto link is possible to measure.

Tracking phone calls is expensive and difficult, but it can be done. By having a large pool of phone numbers you can show a random number to each user. The phone system will then feed back to the web statistics when a call is received on the number. An easier way to catch at least some phone traffic is functionality for having the user supply his phone number so you can call him.

Measuring actual visits that comes as a direct result of a web presence is doable by using traditiona surveys in the physical locations. A number of companies can do this in any city of sufficient size and there are experts that should be consulted in order to formulate the questions.

Surveys on the website can be used to supplement your statistics in order to gain an understanding of mental conversion. Always remember that surveys is a field of expertise and random free surveys with questions from management is not going to give you anything substansial.


Measuring mental conversion is not an exact science and it involves both quantitative and qualitative data. It is possible to By following this model you will be able to be more exact than before in putting a value on your users and website.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The User Experience Wheel

I have used this model for some time now, time to reveal it to the critical eyes of fellow practitioners. It is a model that tries to explain “what is user experience?”

PDF Version

The Model should be explained from the inside. It starts in the middle.
  1. Value is what we want to accomplish
  2. For customers and providers, positive user experience is a win-win situation
  3. We want to accomplish value through positive user experience
  4. The user experience is a series of phases, we have to focus on positivity in findability, accessibility, desirability, usability, credibility and usefulness
  5. Numerous factors contribute to the phases of user experience, the model shows 30 factors carefully placed
  6. To achieve this we work backwards, starting and ending with search engine strategy, and going through and making a choice about each of the factors

I feel the model still is a work in progress. Comments on how it can be improved, is it completely wrong (?), is it useful is welcome. Let the discussion begin.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How much do context matter?

We all know that context matters, but seldom have the point been tried as directly as in this article in The Washington Post. One of the greatest violinists in the world with a $3,5 million stradivarius plays some masterpieces of classical music at a metro station. The big question is, will people appreciate the music in that context? Will people stop? Will they give him money? Will he be treated better than a regular street musician?

I don't want to spoil the article for you, but it is sufficient to say, this article answers a lot of questions about context.

The link to the article was discoveret at the Freakonomics blog.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Adaptive Path throws down the gauntlet

Change makes a word of difference!
The word far was introduced in the text and Adaptive Path have clearified what they meant to convey. I apologize for not giving Adaptive Path the benefit of doubt in the original statement. I guess we europeans are a little over-sensitive to perceived condecending attitudes. I will however leave the original text below as a timely reminder of how just a small three letter word can make such a drastic difference in user experience.

I was quite shocked to read Adaptive Paths blog entry about UX Intensive in Amsterdam. As a european UX practicioner I was insulted by the following statement:

From what we’ve been told, the European UX community has evolved beyond the basics, and we’re excited to bring our workshop for intermediate-to-advanced practitioners to The Continent.

If this is the mindset of Adaptive Path when they are visiting Europe I will have to say the same as a fellow practicioner said to me before this post: "That is a reason not to go."

As mentioned above the text is now changed. It is interesting to see the change just one word makes. The now text is now:

From what we’ve been told, the European UX community has evolved far beyond the basics, and we’re excited to bring our workshop for intermediate-to-advanced practitioners to The Continent.

Without the help of facial expressions and vocal tone we are left with fewer tools for communication. We can learn from this that with fewer tools, the application of the tools we have has to be more precise.

When I do expert evaluations of web sites I find that I focus a lot on tone of voice, labels, wording and text, this whole incident will not change that.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

User Experience in Educational Multiplayer Games – A Case Study of Global Countdown

Global Countdown is a hugely successful multiplayer educational game commissioned by Telenor in Norway and developed by Rayon, Hybris and Thue & Selvaag. It has been deployed in five different locations in Norway and will soon open in Islamabad, Pakistan. The game teaches teens that visit Telenor about information technology and communication.

The game is an installation that takes up a fairly large room. The room consists of a big screen, one game master PC, 4 president Tablet PCs, 4 group big screens, 8 Advisor Tablet PCs and 12 PDAs. With that kind of hardware a whole school class can play at one time. A game lasts two to three hours and involve up to 24 people.

The concept behind the game is quite simple. The players are divided into four groups that represent the four regions of the world. Each group selects their president that will sit on the central negotiation table. The rest of the group is advisors, with the head advisor in contact with the president through video and audio communication. All players have access to chat, e-mail, address book and other applications through their tablet-PCs or PDAs. The presidents will negotiate with each other to reach consensus through five rounds of questions. While they negotiate, the story moves on and the advisors are bombarded with information from different sources in the form of e-mail, video calls, phone calls and chat messages. If the advisors don’t manage to filter and trust the relevant information to their president they are going to be at a disadvantage when negotiating.

The story is about the increasing environmental problems in the world. The four regions have sent the nuclear powered icebreaker Artica to the North Pole to conduct studies and negotiate a climate treaty. But just as soon as the game starts, the story starts to twist. A crewmember is found dead, oil is found, a ship is in need of assistance and the fusion reactor starts acting up. Quickly, the situation changes from minute to minute, all while the players are required to solve the situation to their regions best interest.

To me, the most interesting aspect about this game is the experience it creates. There are unique opportunities when creating something like this:

You control the room, the sound, the hardware, the esthetics of the interior, and the behavior of the game master. Use that to create an immersive experience. Every single detail has to be there to create the illusion of being inside the game. Create suspension of disbelief.

You certainly do not control the players; let them create content, subplots, action and suspense. The story is just there to facilitate cooperation, competition and conflict between them. Do not let the story become the focal point, but let it become the framework. Experiences is all about emotion and emotion between people can be much more powerful than emotion between player and game.

Skills matter, not knowledge
With immersive game experiences you have a unique opportunity to create situations that test skills and not knowledge. The inter-personal skills, speaking in groups, negotiation, information filtering, speed reading, netiquette, information technology and calmness under pressure. The game should put the players in a situation where it is necessary to use skills and not knowledge to master the situation.

Let the players be in control. The players are not spectators; they are participants in the game. Embrace the uncertainty of the human factor and lead the players into situations where the human factor can contribute. Do not include elements that take away control from the players, like “hand of god” or railroading techniques. These kinds of techniques will limit the effort they are willing to invest. Your greatest tool for creating the experience is the players.

Learn by doing
Do not require the players to be thought the game before they start. Let the game teach them. If they have to find out how things work and teach each other during the game it will only heighten suspense and facilitate cooperation.

The game is going to be played only one time, so the rules of the game have to be simple and intuitive. It should be challenging, but not impossible to grasp and master the game in a short time span. Keep the rules simple, but the experience complex.

When creating games, if it is a board game or a massive multiplayer game, you have to create a playing field and rules. The rules of the game have to be consistent and fair. Read up on game theory. The rules also have to be logical, but they do not need to be explicit. People have a remarkable ability to spot patterns unconsciously. If you break the rules, the experience will feel like “something is not right.”

Re-use story elements
When writing an interactive story that are going to be played one time you can re-use a lot of scenes across different paths of the story. Think of the story not as a tree that branches, creating a story that so huge that the cost is going to be astronomical. Think of it as a hay ball, where a number of different paths through the story can touch the same scenes.

Use your strengths
You are not going to have the same budget as the developers of console games. You can’t compete against Halo or Gears of War when it comes to graphics. Avoid using the same graphical style as regular video games. Differentiate yourself from that kind of competition. Use video or illustration, use immersion, and use the players to create a game that will never be possible to recreate in somebody’s living room.

These unique opportunities are all answered to some degree in Global Countdown, and has created a successful game, from an educational standpoint as well as successful in the experience it creates.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Response from Peter Morville

Peter Morville responded to my post restructuring the user experience honeycomb in a comment on the original honeycomb article. He says:

It's certainly interesting to consider the order of facets within the context of experience. I'm not sure the linear model holds up in all cases. For instance, I may never try using a product that I don't find credible. And, a linear model doesn't invite consideration of the overlaps and relationships (e.g., the way that findability enhances credibility). But, your version does encourage us to think a little more (and diffferently) about user experience design. Thanks!

This is valuable insight, but I have to disagree with some of the assumptions made by Peter. One of the underlying changes that is made by restructuring the facets in order of experience is that some of the sub-facets is moved. For example, the concept of Brand is not longer in desirability, but becomes a part of findability. Brand vitality and strength increases the likelyhood of being found, and that when found a decision will be made to move forward and attempt access. The consequence is that by ordering the facets in a linear model the facets themselves take on a somewhat different meaning than in the original non-linear model.

By redefining the facets of findability, accessibility, desirability, usability, credibility and usefulness we start to move even further away from the original and maybe the original purpose. At the same time, we get a model that I feel have stronger "explanatory" power when explaining user experience to people outside the field.

To elaborate further, in the context of user experience as a linear model the facets gets the following definitions:

Findability the likelyhood of the website, application, service or product being found and choosen when a user is trying to accomplish a task. Findability in the linear model spans brand strenght, brand vitality, search engine visibility, name and marketing presence.

Accessibility the amount of users who are able to access the website, application, service or product. Accessibility in the linear model spans (for web) response time, browser compatibility, standard compliance, WCAG-2 compliance and Section 508 compliance. Accessibility in the linear model is not confined to users with a disability, but accessibility for all users.

Desirability the amount of users who will like and find appropriate the aestetic qualities and the strength of postitve emotion these qualities generate for the website, application, service or product.

Usability the amount of users that will be able to accomplish their task using the website, application, service or product.

Credibility the amount of users that will be confident that their task will be accomplished without unexpected consequences.

Usefulness the amount of users that accomplishes their task and fulfill their expectations using the website, application, service or product.

This makes the linear model different from the original. The labels are the same, but their meaning is different when viewed in the context of the experience. The linear model also discards Value as a facet, and re-introduces value as a result of the user-experience. The jury is still out on which model is the most useful, but at least it will create some interesting discussions.

Just as I wrote this, Peter included the linear model in a post at

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Value of User Experience

A positive user experience creates value, whether you use the honeycomb , my restructured honeycomb or another sales pitch, this is what we tell our clients. But what is this value? How do we explain the benifits of a good user experience?

Again, I find myself uttering "so, I have this model." In this case it is a concept map. Inspiration for this comes from this map made by Experience Dynamics. Mine is not as pretty (I may get one of our graphic designers to do a nice design for it later, but at the moment they have too much to do).

Larger Version [+]

The map is simple, it puts the user experience in the middle of the diagram and adds the context of the user, goals and tasks and the positive or negative result of the experience. As with all concept maps of value there is really no way to describe it using just text, so see for yourself and tell me what you think.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Restructuring the User Experience Honeycomb

Peter Morville, the author of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web and Ambient Findability is also known to have created the User Experience Honeycomb diagram. Even though his honeycomb is over two years old, it's still used by Peter at presentations:

I always thought that his diagram had a strong appeal, but also that it was lacking something. To my surprise, I found the diagram became much better after re-structuring it. It is kind of ironic that the work of one of the greatest information architects in the world wasn't structured ideally from the beginning. But then again, I might be completely wrong. Anyways, I put the facets in a different order and removed the honeycombs:

Why the new order? Simple, now the facets are in order of experience. The rationale for the order is the following:

It's first, to quote the inspiration of this post "you can't use what you can't find"

Maybe a new quote, "you can't use what you can't access"

You see the interface before you use it.

You have to be able to use something to do something with it

You have to trust something before actually commiting to solving a task with the service

Usefulness is last, because a user forms an opinion about usefulness when he leaves, hopefully after completing his task.

value is the result of the user experience and not a facet of it.

It is my humble opinion that the honeycomb is more descriptive as a process than as a honeycomb. Although, the insight would never have came had it not been for the original.