Explain It To Me Like I’m An 8 Year Old

As lawyer Joe Miller in the movie ” Philadelphia,” Denzel Washington repeatedly interrupts people in mid-sentence with the request that they, “explain it to me like I’m an 8 year old.”

Whether listening to the details of a traffic accident, taking in the finer points of a legal argument, or

receiving shopping instructions from his wife, Joe Miller doesn’t want to hear it unless the speaker can simplify the concept to the level that a second grader can understand.

It’s not that Miller’s stupid, in fact it’s exactly the opposite. He knows that to get to clarity, you need simplification, and if the speaker can’t boil a thought down to something a child can grasp, then there’s a good chance that Miller won’t hear exactly what’s being communicated.

Unfortunately, in the world of web sites, confused visitors don’t bother asking for clarification; they simply leave. With 100 million other choices out there, the moment somebody on your site hits a bump in the road, they’re gone.

Which is why it’s up to you to make sure that the experience at your site is as simple, straightforward and intuitive as possible.

Consider this example. On the National Public Radio show “Talk of the Nation,” host Juan Williams invites listeners to, “continue the conversation on our web site.”

Great idea. The conversation is extended to the web, thereby removing the time constraints inherent in a radio show, and in the process developing a sense of community among listeners who can now interact directly with each other, instead of just individually with the host as they do on the air. A perfect blending of NPR’s offline asset (radio) with its online asset (web site).

But here’s the problem. Instead of simply saying, “Go to our web site,” Williams needs to tell listeners to, “Go to our web site, click on the `Your Turn’ button, and scroll down until you see `Talk of The Nation.'”The site is so complicated, that the only way people can find what they need is for the host to give them three steps worth of directions!

Rather than simplifying the site itself, NPR has instead chosen to beef up the instructions on how to use it (an approach that makes about as much sense as dealing with a leaky bucket by focusing on ways to fill it up faster).

NPR’s solution might work if you own a radio station and have a vehicle for telling your customers over and over again how to find what they want. But for the rest of us, where the majority of visitors find their way to our sites without a hand to hold, we need to keep it simple.

Bottom Line: If your site’s confusing, your visitors will leave and never come back. Put the important stuff where they can find it, use link labels that are in plain English, and test the site regularly with real human beings. I’ve got an 8 year old at home if you need one.

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