A Rose By Any Other Name Is Overlooked
By Wendy Eichenbaum
William Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” And while Juliet was wooed by Romeo’s logic, your customers will not be when they visit your website. They are looking for a rose, and if you call the rose a daisy or tulip, they’ll never find the rose. And they’ll leave in frustration.
Choosing the correct words is one part of the site’s taxonomy. Taxonomy comes from the Greek word taxis, which means arrangement or order. Taxonomy is a very common term in science, where scientists find, describe, classify, and name organisms. And taxonomy is just as critical on your website for your customer experience. You need to use the organization and terminology that your audience will understand or they will not be able to find what they are looking for.
So how do you determine what words to use and how to organize them on your website? You should employ two methods: a competitive analysis and a card sort.
The first method is to conduct a competitive analysis to understand your customers’ mental models. I discussed mental models in my June 2015 article, In CX, You Compete Against Other Experiences. Mental models are users’ pre-conceived notions about how your website should work based on their experiences with other websites. If your choice of words does not conform to their mental model, they won’t know where to find the information or which terms to enter in the search field.
For example, users would not expect to find product information in a section labeled Contact Us or My Account. Perform a competitive analysis on your competitors’ websites, other sites that are popular, and sites known for a great customer experience. Use the wording and organization from those websites as a guide for your website.
The second method is to perform a card sort. This is an exercise that allows users to evaluate the terminology and organization of your website. Start with a deck of index cards. Write one website topic on each card. Tell the users to sort the cards into piles that seem useful and intuitive. When they have completed the sort, ask users if there are any other topics they think should be included. Write each suggestion on its own card and tell the users to sort these suggestions into their piles. Finally, ask the users to name each pile they created.
After users have completed the process, ask them to explain their pile names and the reasons behind their sorting. If the users are confused by any of the topics or think a topic should have another name, explore why.
Ideally, you would recruit 8-10 people in your target audience to perform this exercise and compare results. Look for patterns as to how users organize the topics and name the piles. If you have an existing website, compare the results to your current site navigation structure and naming conventions.
Are there many discrepancies between your site and the users’ expectations? If so, consider creating a prototype of your website with a revised organization based upon your users’ feedback. Then run usability tests to see if that new organization and terminology is more intuitive and useful for your users.
Selecting the most appropriate terminology and organizing the content in an intuitive structure is the key to a great customer experience on your site. Don’t make blind decisions. Instead listen to your users to determine what works best for them.
Wendy Eichenbaum is a UX professional with 23 years in the business. She began her career as a technical writer. She then earned a Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Carnegie Mellon University, studying both writing and UI design. Over the years, she has worked across verticals, from start-ups to multi-national firms, in many areas of UX including research & strategy, Information Architecture, usability testing, and focus groups. She started her own UX consulting firm in 2008, Ucentric Design. And she is an adjunct professor at Cal State University, Fullerton. There she teaches a class that she created, User-Centered Design for Web and Mobile Interfaces.