What Does Your Website Smell Like?

March 19, 2006

I have referred so often to this older post on scent and websites that it is time to update it (especially before I forget everything I heard at the UIE roadshow.)

You may remember that I orignally wrote about looking for a Honda. “Think of it this way. A red, 5-speed Honda Accord can be classified as a red car, a manual transmission car, or a foreign car… If I click on the “Manual Transmission” link and just see the Honda listed as “Honda EX,” I lose the scent. ‘This isn’t for me,’I think to myself, ‘I was looking for a car with a stick shift. I’m in the wrong place…”

What I was describing, without knowing the term of art, was the concept of target words. Visitors come to the site with certain target words in mind, and if they don’t see their target words, they lose the scent, just like a bloodhound does when he gets to the river. That’s why it’s so wonderful to link to the same page using different terms – you create different kinds of scent for different people. (When I bought my first stick-shift, I never would have known to call it a 5-speed.)

Short links don’t give off much scent but they can emit a little. This is something I have always known – would you rather see “You can learn more about web analytics?” or “Learn more about how web analytics can improve your conversion rate?” The worst are completely scentless links, like this one: Learn more. Spool & Co. say that the best links are 7-12 words. The problem, of course, is that the navigation bars aren’t long enough for those long links, so they have to be embedded in the copy. There is a conversion opportunity here: Instead of having buttons that say, “Submit,” we’d all be better off with buttons that say, “Submit my automotive question and hear from a dealer in 24 hours” or similar.

Something I didn’t always know is that users feel good when they perceive that they are getting closer to the target information(the blouse they want to buy, the car registration they want to renew online) but they lose the scent when they expect the link to take them to more specific information and it takes them to more general information.

Finally (for today) – while descriptive pictures can create scent, they post a problem when people don’t know to click on them. I wrote earlier about having the design vs. marketing debate with my designers. During the presentation, the designer used an example site, that he had designed, to show how great the visualization was. He clicked on the graphic and another whole set of information came up. I stopped him immediately. “You’re right,” I said. “It’s fabulous. It explains the problem beautifully. In a million years, I wouldn’t have known to click on it.”