How do you design a web page so that it’s easy to look at, has clear information, and allows the user to navigate quickly to the content they’re looking for?
Over the last 15 years, mostly by a process of trial and error, website design ‘rules’ have evolved. Now almost any successful website follows a similar format is followed. All sites have a header across the top. Logos are in the top left hand corner. Menu bars are down the left hand side or below the header. Content is in the main area in the middle. And a ‘call to action’ tends to be in the main content or on the lower right hand side.
There’s lots of ‘web gurus’ out there that can advise on clear page layout, and website structure. One of the best known, with some of the best writing you can find on this subject, is Jakob Neilson.
Most of this knowledge has been arrived at though trial and error. Web designers have tried putting menus across the bottom and up the right hand side, and have found that they sell fewer products if they do that. And people have been observed using websites in focus groups; researchers have examined what they looked at and for how long, and what they clicked on.
Its even possible to buy software that can tell you where on the page your users’ mouse hovers, and where they click, even when there’s no button there to record that click.
But now Google wants to take the trial and error out of website design, with a piece of research they’ve just commissioned for YouTube. They want to get fully inside the mind of the user.
If you’re a frequent user of YouTube you might have recently seen a whole bunch of new advertising formats that Google are trying out on the site. There’s been anything from full homepage takeovers to plain old sponsored listings (like on the rest of Google). The brand new advertising format -called InVideo – that is now being tested overlays ads onto the bottom of the video being watched by the user.
Google is so keen to discover how effective this format is that they have enlisted the help of a company called NeuroFocus, who specialise in ‘brain wave research’. What exactly does that mean? Well Neurofocus place sensors on users’ heads in order to measure brain responses to visual and aural stimuli. They also test pupil dilation and skin temperature. They’re doing this for people watching the new InVideo ads on YouTube, to find out how effective they are compared to more traditional advertising formats. Google reckon that this new ad format is so radically different to traditional online and offline advertising that it requires specialist research to prove that.
According to Leah Spalding who is heading the project from Google, “This is an innovative company, and we want to embrace innovative technology”.
There’s no doubting the innovation there, but there’s also a pressing financial need to prove YouTube’s worth. It cost Google $680m back in 2005, and the high bandwidth, high storage resource it demands is an enormous ongoing cost. Yet despite being one of the most visited sites on the planet, Google haven’t been able to make it work financially. If they can show that InVideo really works, then advertisers should start pouring money into the site.
Unless you’ve got the money, your build a web site experience needs to rely on the old trial and error. Wait though… have you got a bit of foil… and a coat hanger… yes I can see it now! Visors on, electrodes attached, lets start testing!