I couldn’t resist reading an article by Dion Jones entitled Want to help Web visitors? Speak to them. In the article Dion, who is described on his own website as “very experienced in marketing online” claims that adding audio instructions to a website “will increase your e-mail list opt-in rate while decreasing your order page abandonment rate and visitor confusion.”
While I have nothing but anecdotal evidence I’m going to say that I think adding automatically played audio to a website is generally a mistake.
But first, let’s examine the possible benefits of audio. First, it’s interruptive. That sounds bad, but it could be a good thing. When Dion asks the question “Have you ever been to a Web site and wondered what you need to do next to buy the product?” my honest response is “Ummm, no. I can’t recall ever having this problem, and the only way I could imagine having this problem would be if the site wasn’t built correctly from a usability standpoint.” However, I can imagine that maybe some other people do have problems where I don’t, and while instructions might be overlooked, audio is hard to ignore. I am willing to admit that some people might be helped by audio as they navigate a website.
When Dion continues “Or maybe you were at an order page and didn’t finish because you weren’t confident that your credit card information would be safe.” I think “No, I don’t visit those types of websites.” But again, maybe there are other people who feel hesitant about purchasing anything online at any website. Maybe audio is a way to get through to them, although I fail to see how audio would be any more reassuring than a paragraph of text unless it is providing information that most people wouldn’t notice if it were just text. Again, interruptive.
This is about as far as I can go in supporting auto-playing audio. My own experience as well as that of everyone I’ve ever asked about this topic (which isn’t a ton of people, admittedly) is that auto-playing audio is annoying, interruptive in a bad way, embarassing if you’re in a cubicle environment at work, and generally downright cheesy, although this could be due to poor implementation rather than a poor strategy. Maybe.
Dion goes on to describe other ways audio can be used as an effective online marketing tool.
“Do you find yourself giving customers the same response to support questions over and over? Why not add audio to your support page addressing the frequently asked support questions? Since most people hate reading long blocks of text, having a “Click to Listen” option will be a welcomed alternative.”
I agree that most people would probably prefer to read a short block of text vs. a long block of text, but would most people, or even 1% of people prefer to listen to support documentation instead of reading? Reading is, in most ways, a more user-friendly way to receive information. You can pause, rewind, and fast forward, all without clicking a button.
But of course Dion isn’t suggesting that we replace text with audio but rather that we provide audio as an alternative, and he isn’t suggesting that it auto-play, but that the user must click to listen. I can live with that under a few conditions:
1. Don’t provide audio at the expense of those who won’t use audio. That is, never make the audio interruptive nor allow the steps required to play the audio get in the way of someone who prefers to read.
2. Don’t require those who want to listen to audio to install software unless it’s something quick and easy like Flash. That means stay away from providing audio in formats that require Windows Media Player, Quicktime, or RealPlayer, and especially stay away from any non-standard players.
3. Do hire professional talent. You don’t have a good voice. You’re right, I don’t even know you, but trust me on this one. Unless you’ve done professional voiceovers before, you shouldn’t be recording your own voice for use on a commercial website.
If you abide by these three conditions, what you’re going to find out is that it’s not inexpensive to do this the right way. Like most things in life, doing something the right way means it takes time and money, and when you look at what else you could be spending your time and money on you might figure out that there is something else that will give you a better return.
Now to switch tacks a bit, consider this column as a whole. Is it trustworthy? Is it credible? The author says “Did you know that by appropriately adding audio to your Web site you can increase the number of leads and sales your site generates?” but doesn’t give us any evidence to back up the claim. Are there studies about this? If this is such a “powerful strategy” then why have I never seen this used by any major ecommerce coimpanies like Amazon.com, Buy.com, or Dell? With all their billions of dollars that have been poured into developing the ideal online experience, is it possible they could have missed this?
Why does the author say “If you would like to see examples of some of the audio methods below and the recommended provider I use, visit www.eNautics.com.” This makes it sound as though the author is an independent entity from eNautics and is promoting it because it’s a good product, but if you go to the eNautics website it’s obviously that eNautics is the author’s own company. Why not just say “My company provides this service…”?
The author’s client list on his website is a collection of small-sounding companies with a few exceptions. The author’s website is poorly designed, contains little content, and is not optimized for search engines, something you would expect from someone who “has helped develop strategies to get his client’s websites noticed.”
Before hiring anyone to help you market your company online, including my firm, I would recommend doing some research by visiting sites like www.webpronews.com and www.marketingsherpa.com. Education is the key to not being taken advantage of as well as improving the effectiveness of any help you receive.