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Usability Makeover – Twiddy

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With just a shade under 50 submissions for the first round of the Usability Makeover Series, I had a hard time with the selection process. I ended up selecting Twiddy Outer Banks Rentals because I could tell they had already put a lot of effort into establishing user trust and usability. I think with a few tweaks the site could go from medium usable to extremely usable.

What I Like

First let me point out a few things that I really like about the site (circled in green).

Twiddy

 

  1. Phone number front and center for easy access.
  2. Along with the phone number, the BBB logo, testimonials, and the tagline “Family owned and operated since 1978″ add greatly to user trust. It seems like there are real people behind this site, who I could count on to take care of any problems.
  3. Multiple navigation paths. The user can find a house by searching by arrival date, or browse by certain criteria.

Problems

Home Page

The biggest problem I see is a site design issue. I think the homepage is too cluttered. There seems to be several areas that distract my eye instead of my eye focusing on one or two main goals. I really dislike 3 column designs for e-comm purposes, because usually you need the extra room to display pictures. I think we can eliminate some visual distractions by blowing away the right hand column and incorporating all the navigation into the left column.

There is also too much text here for a home page. I think one introductory paragraph is good. Then if the users desire more information, they can click on a link to get there. Generally not many people read all the text on the homepage. They tend to just use it as a navigation starting point.

I had my design expert friend mock-up the page really quickly so we could see what it would like without the right-hand column. (As you can see from the previous two pictures I’m not too good with Photoshop.) This isn’t exactly how I would lay it out, but this gives an idea of what it would like with a two column design and less text on the homepage.

New Twiddy Layout

In my opinion this design is much more clean and usable. It takes away a lot of the “distraction” from the page.

The next main thing I would do is figure out how to incorporate the “Quick Search” and “Browse Homes” sidebar navigation items into one. I have a feeling the “Search” function is probably a proprietary software piece, but I think we could still integrate those two things somehow… maybe just by pasting the “Quick Search” box to the bottom of the “Browse” box.

Another minor issue I see is the “Quick Find”. As a visitor, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with this. I guess it seems confusing because we have “Quick Search” and “Quick Find”. Maybe they could move it or get rid of it all together depending on how many visitors use it. If they decide to keep it they should expand the search area wider. It seems to be only a few characters long right now, not very inviting for typing anything in there.

Another thing that sticks out at me is the text on the first two tabs at the top of the page, “Vacation Rental Search” and “Browse Homes”. You should always try to shoot for consistency across the entire site. I think here we should say “Search Vacation Homes” and “Browse Vacation Homes” to help make that language more consistent.

Product Page

The one thing I dislike about the individual pages for each house is the fact that there is no price “above the fold”. I realize the rates vary by week, but we should find some way to put a price in there. Either the average price or a price chart for the next 3 weeks, or whatever. My concern is that someone who comes in from Google directly to this page sees only this with out scrolling down:

twiddy_product_page.jpg

The first thing I look for when considering purchasing / renting anything is price. I do understand, however, that a vacation rental house isn’t really an impulse buy, but if I’m power surfing for weekly rental houses, before I even look at the picture the first thing I want to know is whether or not its within my budget.

I see two links in there, “Rates” and “Amenities”, that take you farther down the page. According to Jakob Nielson these can have an inverse usability effect. Twiddy may want to consider rethinking that or taking that out all together and just letting the user scroll down.

Another thing I would like to see here is maybe 5 line chart just below the main picture of “vital statistics”. Price, square footage, number of beds, number of bedrooms, and distance from the beach, or something of that nature would be great. Remember people don’t like to read. Give them something that they can scan to see if the house is right for them, then they can read the details and the full amenities chart.

Conclusion

I could go on for at least 10 to 20 pages, but I don’t want to bore anybody. As you can see, there isn’t really anything revolutionary here. Most of usability is picking apart the smallest details that when aggregated account for a lot of loss in conversion rate. Will fixing the things I’ve mentioned in this article make their sales go through the roof? Probably not, in fact I may have totally missed the mark, but the bigger idea here is that usability isn’t a destination it’s a journey. If you’re not consistently moving ahead on your site testing new layouts, new placements, new buttons, different price charts, adding new features, and figuring out how to try to stay ahead of the competition then you’re basically moving backwards.

If anyone else has any constructive criticism for Twiddy I’d love to hear it in the comments!

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