Practical Ecommerce

Usability Report Card: Accepted.com

Accepted.com is an admissions consulting and application editing service website. It has requested this usability site grade.

Home Page Clarity

To ensure credibility and trust, sites that gather customer information should include a “Privacy Policy.” Accepted.com has a link to its at the bottom of the home page. They also have an “About Us” link in the left hand navigation, which is good and links to, among other things, profiles of the editors that customers can choose to edit their CV or college application essay.

Accepted.com further increases its credibility by including client testimonials on the right hand side of many pages of the site. In addition, a photo appears beside each quote. Unfortunately, however, the photos are not of the actual client that provided the testimonials, but rather models. More egregiously, the same photo of the model is used for quotes from different people in the site and the syntax of the quotes is sometimes incorrect. For example, in the quote, “In the end I choose your firm, not knowing how helpful it was going to be.” Not only is the wrong tense of choose (chose) used, but the quote doesn’t engender confidence that potential customers will be convinced before they use the service they will be getting a good product. It is recommended that sites should use unequivocal quotes with correct spelling and grammar. If photos are used, real photos, unique to each quote, should be used.

Importantly, as the site primarily sells consulting and editing services, the highest standard of spelling, grammar and punctuation should be applied to the site. Currently, problems exist not only in client testimonials, but in other sections as well. For example, in the Medical School CV Review & Editing offering, the description of the service misspells the word emphasizing — “Your Accepted.com editor will edit your existing CV for maximum impact, empahsizing your achievements and leadership experiences.” Others sentences on the site make little sense: “Are they be sweating at the thought of writing their application essays or personal statement?” For a site whose stock and trade is in the editing business, mistakes of this nature are undoubtedly costing them business and should be fixed immediately.

In regards to specific criticisms to the home page itself, the top navigation bar features the day and date. This is generally considered superfluous information and it is not recommended that it is included. The home page, in particular, should be devoted to conveying the site’s offering in a succinct and persuasive way.

The main title on the home page is “Write For Acceptance.” This title is ambiguous and customers may think that Accepted.com is recruiting for staff, and ignore reading the benefits of using the site’s services. Beneath this section is the “Accepted Admissions Almanac.” This is Accepted.com’s blog. It has become increasingly common practice for sites to keep in touch with customers by featuring a blog. This is good. However, it is important to make sure it is clear it is a blog by stating so or at least marking it out in some way from the rest of the content. Furthermore, featuring a blog on the home page should not come at the expense of making your value proposition and service offering anything but crystal clear.

Ease of Browsing

Ease of browsing is assisted by clear, mutually exclusive upper level categories. The category that a page belongs to is highlighted in the top navigation bar, as well as the left hand navigation bar. This is good. When links within pages are clicked, the link changes color from light blue to dark blue. Although it is acceptable for links not to change color, and just in shade, it is more commonly advised that clicked links should be of a lighter, more washed out look than the original color. Overall, because each service is for a particular type of application, such as Law, Medical or CV-related, customers can focus their search beginning from the upper level category. Within each category is a list of the products and services, so it is usually quite easy for customers to drill down to what they want to access. As there is such a diverse range of products and services within the site, exposure to all of them at a glance could be provided on a dedicated page or as part of a site map.

Searching

Accepted.com does not have a traditional search box. In its place, the site has an “Application Help” box, which contains two drop-down menus. Customers first choose which “Goal” they are trying to achieve from the list, such as help with a degree application, or a new job. The second drop-down menu, titled “Task” lists a choice of document, such as “Statement of Purpose” or “Resume,” as well as a choice of consulting services. This is a limited but effective way of searching the site, however, the name “Goal” and “Task” are somewhat ambiguous and might better be replaced with “Degree,” “Job” or “Service.” A standard search box would be a welcome addition.

There is a search box within the blog section of the site, but it is limited to only searching the blog. However, it is sited below the fold and in among other content and, consequently, it does not stand out.

Category Pages

Category pages list each of the products or services that are available within that section. Each product has an obvious hyperlinked title a description, price, rush price, and in some cases notes. In the instances the item does not have a note, the title “Notes” is still shown. These could be removed, as it is superfluous information.

Each item has either a blue or white background behind it to differentiate it from adjacent items. This promotes scanning ease and is a useful method of subtlety delineating content.

Product Pages

Product pages on Accepted.com tend to be quite wordy. This, in and of itself, is not necessarily a usability issue. In fact A-B user testing of different versions of the length of product descriptions would be a worthwhile process to go through to see how different copy length affects sales.

Towards the end of some product pages is a section titled “You may also be interested in.” This area features links to products or services related to the current product being looked at. This is a nice feature to include. Amazon includes a smarter version of the same feature that may be worthwhile looking at and perhaps incorporating in the site.

For certain services there are two prices available —the regular price and a “rush” price. Details about what the “rush” price constitutes should be provided next to the title, or it should be hyperlinked so that customers can easily access the information.

Checkout Process

Accepted.com’s checkout process has many minor problems. If customers click “Buy Now” on a product or service page they are immediately taken to their shopping cart page. This page does not have a title such as, “Shopping Cart.” It is important to always make it blatantly obvious to customers where they are.

In the case of choosing certain ebooks when customers arrive on the shopping cart page, not only will their chosen ebook be listed but three other books will appear as well. After customers get over the shock of having more items in their shopping cart than the ordered, they will realize that it is a promotion. If the customer changes the quantity field of these additional ebooks from 0 to 1 or more, they will receive these books at 50 percent off the usual price. At best, people will appreciate Accepted’s unsolicited offer. At worst, they will be confused and annoyed that Accepted has been so presumptuous and shop elsewhere.

This page also mentions “Please Note: If you ordered an ebook there is no need to fill out shipping information.” This is useful information. However, it could be easily overlooked, and unfortunately it is not repeated on the billing and shipping page, where it would be most useful.

Customer Service

Accepted.com has a “contact us” page, which features all the standard ways of getting in touch. The operating hours for phone support are at the bottom of this page’s content instead of being grouped with the telephone information, so some customers may miss this information. There is also a section called “Internet,” which includes the site’s Internet address under it. This information is redundant and should be removed. To email Accepted.com from this page, one would have to use a web form. However, on the checkout page, for example, a regular email address is available. It makes sense for the site to include this same email address in the “contact us” section.

The “contact us” link, as well as the link to the “Free Newsletter,” is in the home page banner — this looks like an advertisement, and this area is generally quite cluttered. It may be preferable to move the links in this area to the left hand navigation. In addition, similar items in the left hand navigation should be grouped together. For example, the “contact us” link should be adjacent to the “about us” link. The full name of the newsletter (Odds ‘N Ends Newsletter) should be changed to just Free Newsletter or Newsletter for ease of scanning.

Error Recognition

During the checkout process, if any errors are made in the form, a new window opens which lists the fields that need information or amending. This window needs to be closed before changes can be made to the fields. This is problematic as the customer may forget which fields need changing. The fields with errors are also not highlighted, which compounds the problem. Whenever possible, design error messages so that visitors can fix them without backtracking.

It is also important to write error messages that are written in polite, plain English without technical jargon. For example, “Please enter your Email Address” would be preferable to Accepted.com’s “Enter Email Address” value. Care should also be taken to use the exact name of the field that needs amending. Accepted sometimes uses different names in the error messages than they use for the field names.

Conclusion

Accepted.com has a range of interesting products and services from free tips and tricks, chats, email newsletters, and books, as well as high end consulting and editing services that range into the thousands of dollars.

In contrast to other sites that have been reviewed in the past, the most important change that I would recommend would be to clean up the site’s content so that it is as good as the testimonials claim the editing services on offer are.

Usability Report Card

Ceriellofinefoods.com

Home Page Clarity A

Ease of Browsing A

Searching B

Category Pages A

Product Pages A-

Checkout Process B
Customer Service A
Error Recognition C+

OVERALL GPA A-

Want your site graded? Email usability@practicalecommerce.com.

Richard Kerr

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