Make sure you give users a way out of geo targeting
One afternoon I went to the internet cafe and loaded up gmail.com to find it was in Arabic, even after I logged in. Next I went to google.co.uk and that was also in Arabic. Managed to find a link to google.com in English at which point Google figured out what I wanted and gave me a cookie to remember. Sure enough next time I visited Gmail it loaded up in English for me. Why, after years of sending email in English, does Gmail suddenly think I can read Arabic? Lots of sites have nice flags at the top to change languages. I often thought this was overkill and the process could be done automatically but my experience was that a flag would have been very useful.
Netvibes proved to be totally impossible to use because they don’t offer a link to an English version.
Back to basics
On arrival at our hotel everything was very nice but the room wasn’t particularly clean. A couple of days later the cleaner spent 20 minutes creating a very nice rose out of towels before asking for a tip. The rose was an interesting touch but I would have been quite happy to tip him just for keeping the room clean.
A lot of companies provide very poor service so it is often quite easy to stand out simply by doing your job. Make sure you get the basics right and don’t try to offer fancy services and features unless you have your core product 100% perfect.
Keep pages simple
Netvibes & Gmail both crashed IE6. Even if your users are on broadband the number of scripts running on your pages might be a bit much for older browsers and PC’s to cope with.
Don’t waste time promoting low quality content
The homepage of all the computers in the local internet cafe was a low quality web directory rife with spyware. Internet cafe users who pay by the hour are not looking to browse the web they are looking for Hotmail, MSN, Facebook, Myspace and in my case Gmail. Why would them being forced to visit a web directory help anybody?
Marketing a low quality website is a waste of time. Rather than spending money promoting your site it is more cost effective to make it a useful resource that will offer a good user experience.
Don’t hassle your customers
When you visit a country such as Egypt and Tunisia the experience of shopping is a lot like visiting a spam website. As you walk in the door you are bombarded with salesman desperate to sell you something until you are forced to run away from the shop. On occasion they even stand in front of potential customers to try and stop them from leaving. The salesmen don’t seem to understand they just chased me and my money out of their shop when I was going to buy something, it seems they feel the need to pile on the pressure to make a sale.
While it is important to remember to design websites in a way that makes it simple for your customers to make a purchase or subscribe to an RSS feed it is sometimes more important just to let them do what they want. Bombarding users with adverts and buttons isn’t going to help you gain customers. How many times have you visited a blog and not been able to figure out how to subscribe? Have you ever subscribed because somebody asked you lots of times?
Don’t confuse people
One of the most confusing aspects of Egypt was the fact people kept giving me change in a mixture of English pounds, American dollars and Egyptian pounds. Try working out your change in three currencies and deciding whether the barman has short changed you after a few glasses of fake Stella and you know what I mean.
Offering complicated service is fine as long as you take the time to explain it to your customers. Some bar staff counted out the change as they gave it to me while others handed over a ball of screwed up notes. Think about whether your website takes the time to explain, using nice graphics, how to use the difficult features. Ask a few internet novices to use the site and see what they say.