Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Extreme Website Makeover: Rob Van Dam

No one is more eligible for an extreme website makeover than the King of Extreme, my long-time friend from the wrestling business and former WWE champion Rob Van Dam. Rob is taking a much-needed break from wrestling to concentrate on acting, and to promote his newest venture, RVDTV - an internet-only reality program that follows Rob and his friends from wrestling, films, music, and MMA. Here is Rob's current homepage, a work-in-progress design:
Rob Van Dam home page
The design is graphically stunning. It suits Rob's image perfectly and is visually appealing. The video previews load quickly, and the celebrity photo gallery on the homepage is an excellent touch. So far so good. But what about usability? Are there changes that may improve Rob's conversion rate (defined as visitors becoming members)?
Site Goal: I'm going to define the goal of the site as twofold:
  1. Convert visitors to RVDTV subscribers, and
  2. Entice visitors to keep coming back to learn more about Rob's future projects.
Before You Continue... Whether you're a professional web designer, or just a professional web surfer, please post your thoughts on Rob's website design in the comments section. And just so you're not too influenced by my opinions, you may wish to visit Rob's site and jot down some notes before you read my thoughts. Disclaimer: I am not the site designer and have no financial stake in this project. I'm just helping out a friend.

Ready? Let's start with the home page...
Width Rob's homepage at 1024  x 768
My first impression is that the homepage is a massive 1280 width. I’ve got dual monitors at work, both set at 1024 x 768. A tremendous amount of the design gets cut off, particularly the "Join Now" button in the lower right-hand corner. Even Rob's great photo in the header get's nearly completely cut off. In an only somewhat-scientific review of several client sites, I find that nearly 60% of users have resolution set to 1024 x 768 or less. While I’m not adamant that the width needs to be reduced, I do think it’s imperative that the right-hand 250 pixels or so be reserved for very low priority items. Simply put, anything important shouldn’t be on the far right.
Menu Options There are too many menu items (ten tabs), and I simply don’t know where to click. The first tab that needs to go is “Home”. Even the most novice user knows to click the banner in the upper left-hand corner to return home. Next, I'd drop “News” because “Blog” covers news. What is on the “News” page now should be combined onto the “Previews” page. I’d drop “RVDTV” altogether for two reasons: 1) The destination doesn’t match my expectations, and 2) the Login link should be at the top (more on that later). I’d also drop the “MySpace” tab and simply include that elsewhere – probably as a right-hand banner element. Finally, I’d drop “Behind RVDTV”. I don’t know what it’s supposed to be, but it’s most likely not important enough to warrant a tab, and instead could be linked off “Previews” or elsewhere. That leaves us with the following menu items:
  • Previews
  • Profile
  • Galleries
  • Blog
  • Shop
  • FAQ*
  • Contact**
With fewer tabs, you can make them all bigger.
*FAQ A "Frequently Asked Questions" tab is the perfect place to write answers to all the questions you are asked. Like "What is RVDTV?", "How can I get an autographed picture?", "Are you training for the UFC", and all of the other questions people are going to ask when you put up the Contact page.
You must have a “Contact” tab, and it has to be the far-right tab. Even if you don’t want to be bothered, there is some Director, Producer, or Casting Agent that you’re going to want to hear from. In lieu of posting your email address, add a simple contact form. Besides missing out on potential acting gigs, prospective RVDTV subscribers are going to want to know they can contact someone if there is a problem. Personally, there is no way I’m giving money to any site that doesn’t have clearly labeled contact info. Would you? This is also the page to reference MySpace, YouTube, and other profile sites. But don’t tell people to contact you through your MySpace page. Not everyone is on MySpace, and those that aren’t don’t want to join just to drop you an email.
The login area on the homepage takes up too much valuable real estate. I’d suggest pulling “Login” and “Join” up into the header area, where users are conditioned to look. Typically you’ll find “login” links in the upper right-hand corner. Considering the screen width, I might instead center those two options, but still at the top (see
Mailing List
This is a must. You have got to have a mailing list. You can’t depend on MySpace or RSS feeds from your blog to keep in contact with your fans. Instead, offer a FREE episode of RVDTV to everyone who joins the mailing list. Make that a BIG offer on the website. Each of those email address you gather are a potential subscriber. As you describe the videos each week, they’re more likely to eventually join. Anyone on your mailing list is also likely to someday buy a DVD, book, or another one of your projects.
Episode List
I’m going to assume that these will eventually link to episode descriptions. Otherwise, they’re taking up a lot of valuable space. In the meantime, I’d just link them to the Previews page.
“Now Playing”
I’m not a fan of use of “Now Playing” on the homepage and throughout the site. That implies a description of the video preview currently playing on the page. Instead I’d use a label along the lines of “This Week”, which compliments your “Next Week” header.
Join Now Button
Move the “Join Now” button on the homepage underneath the video preview. It gets lost over in the right-hand corner. Break convention with the “Join Now” button and make it look different from the rest of the layout. Use bold red text. Make it look less like a banner ad and more like a button. Since you’re accepting PayPal, incorporate the credit card logos. People are trained to look for credit card logos on ecommerce sites. Make it easy for them to know where to click.
Now let's take a look at the "Join" page...

Buy? I didn’t notice the “BUY” links at first. They need to look more like buttons. And I'm not sure "Buy" is the right term to use. "Subscribe" or "Join" might be a better fit. Again, add credit card logos to the home page and join page. Studies show this really does help increase conversion rates. Again, add the credit card logos from the PayPal website.
Options Instead of using $1.99, $9.99, etc as headers, I’d give the options more clear-cut titles. Examples:
  • Test Drive
  • Monthly Access
  • Yearly Access – Your Best Value!
Free Episode If no one is choosing the $1.99 option, I’d drop it completely. Instead, offer a FREE video if they sign up on your mailing list. That way you can email them regularly. Eventually they will join.
Deep breath...
This should be enough advice to keep Rob's designer busy for a while. Plus, I'm sure that you will post comments on issues I didn't even notice. So what do you think? Post your comments below and check back for updates!


Ted Hobgood said...

Here were my notes, as they occurred to me:

1) Don't ever distort video. Make sure video is presented in the correct aspect ratio, as it disturbs the eye to see recognizable objects like people stretched out.

2) Put "Rob Van Dam" in the page name. "Imitated Often, Intimidated Never" is fine, but preface it with your name. That way, people can easily identify which page is yours in tabs and bookmarks and whatnot.

3) Smiplify options. Precisely what Larry said; the front page is just far too complicated, and people can't comprehend what's available. Me, I went straight to the shop tab and paid zero attention to anything else, because that's what I was interested in. I glossed over the rest. If you can limit the menu to five or so items, then people can actually take them all in mentally and perhaps be intrigued enough to explore.

4) I'm waffling on this one, but in general any site that automatically plays sounds when I enter it bugs me. Too often I've been at work and surreptitiously visited a site only to have it blow out my speakers. On the other hand, I could see how it might work here. I'm waffling.

5)Larry mentioned the width issue. On my monitor at work, it showed up fine, but I'm at a pretty high resolution. I would agree with Larry's statement about the 1024x768 limit. In addition, I would look at the vertical size. On my monitor, the home page is *just* too tall for the monitor, and so you have to scroll *just* a little bit to see the stuff at the bottom of the page. I've always been a proponent of getting at least the main page designed so that it all fits on the screen at once and looks clean and complete.

That's what I have at first glance. Best of luck to Mr. Monday Night (Now Mr. 24/7 thanks to the accessibility of the internet.)

Anonymous said...

I am going to sound a bit like a broken record, but here are my thoughts.

1. The width is too much. Sometimes this depends on your audience. A techie audience will typically have a higher resolution. The audience for this site is probably more the everyday, beer drinking, wrestling watching American, so having a high res site is probably more of a hindrance than a help.

2. The menu options are quite extensive, but I think this taps into a larger problem. The RVD show seems to want to be a lot of different things so the message is a bit lost. I would suggest narrowing the focus and find maybe the top few things (no more than 5, less if you can) and create menu items around those.

3. As Ted mentioned, a lot of people, myself included, hate sites that immediately play video and sound. If you are at work surfing around you do not want the site to be a "tattle tale" by playing sound.

4. Overall, the site needs focus...too much is going on and it just stands to confuse people.

Hope that helps.