Online Instructions: How Meaningful Are They?


March 5, 2006

Does your site mean the same thing to your readers as it does to you?

Frequent readers know that poor writing for the web drives me a little wild. The worst are the site owners who insist on using their own language, despite the fact that it is meaningless to the rest of the world. Not quite as bad, but still up there on my list of lousy web writers are the site owners who really do think that everyone else understands (they just don’t.)

So I have a real life story, along these lines. Since I’m an analyst, I’m always looking for new ways to measure my blog and my site. Last week, I signed up for Blogbeat (web analytics for blogs.)

It’s a free 30 day trial and the signup is simple enough. Then I got to this field, “RSS or Atom URL.” Now that I use FeedBurner, I couldn’t tell easily if my feed is RSS or Atom. I hunted around some and then just decided that it was probably RSS. (For the record, my feed when I originally wrote this post was in Atom.) I was surprised when the signup screen came back to me with this error message, “We couldn’t verify your RSS or Atom Feed. Please check it again… etc.” Well gosh, I thought, how could they verify my feed when they never even asked for it… at which point I realized that I had completely misunderstood the “RSS vs. Atom” field. Blogbeat wasn’t asking whether my feed was RSS or Atom, they were just asking me to please type in the name of my feed (be it RSS or Atom.)

This is a great example of how sites lose visitors. The visitor tries to give you their money or sign up, but we make it too hard for them. If we want a credit card card in a special format (no hyphens), then tell the visitor. If the web address needs the http, tell the visitor. Blogbeat needs to tell their visitors what they want, up front. (Also, they will convert more visitors if they tell them where to find one’s feed address – the universe of people who have blogs and other feed-type media is no longer as tech-savvy as it once was.)