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Red Routes: What City Busses Can Teach You about Website Usability

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Even though people in London drive on the wrong side of the road, there are still some things we can learn from their transit system. Their bus system, just like every other one in the world, is designed to get people where they want to go quickly and easily. However, they’ve found a way to optimize travelers’ experiences using a system called red routes. This same logic can help you optimize your website to guide your visitors to the information they’re seeking.

As you might expect, some places in London are more popular than others. In fact, just 5 percent of the city’s roads make up a third of the traffic. The city decided to fast-track busses on those popular routes by creating red routes, which received their name courtesy of the double red line land markings. These routes place restrictions on other traffic patterns and prohibit parking in bus lanes. By optimizing the efficiency of these routes, they’ve managed to reduce wait times on those routes by 15 percent in the first five years.

Now think about your own website. Chances are there are one or two pages off of your homepage that make up at least a third of your traffic. On my Web design company’s site, for example, most of the traffic from our home page goes to either a page about our services or our portfolio. I know that these are important pages to my visitors, and I also know how frustrating it can be when you can’t find what you’re looking for on a website. Therefore, I want to make sure this majority group can easily find links to that content.

Just as in London, Web developers now commonly refer to these critical paths as red routes. And, just as in London, optimizing them can have a big effect on your most important metric: conversions.

Identifying Your Website’s Red Routes
The first step is to identify these routes. A quick look at your analytics can shed some light on how visitors flow through your site today. Granted the paths might not be as easy as it could be for visitors, but these numbers will show you the popular tracks your customers are actively seeking out. By improving the flow to these red routes, your goal is to more easily direct the more passive visitor down the same path. After all, all red routes should lead to a conversion.

Optimizing Your Website’s Red Routes
Now you have two good pieces of data: where you want your visitors to go on your website, and where they’re currently going. It’s time to put those together to create a simple path for users to not only get to those pages, but more importantly, to also get from those pages to a conversion. Take this site as an example. Two obvious goals for this site are to get users to opt-in to the BlogWorld newsletter, and to register for the NMX conference. At the same time, let’s assume the most popular page after the home page is the most recent blog post. That is why there are prominent banners on the right of all blog posts showcasing these two things. There are plenty of sites that just feature these types of calls-to-action on the homepage, and they’re missing out on a big opportunity.

Testing Your Website’s Red Routes
Once you’ve identified your red routes and set them up, it’s time to see if they work. While things might look obvious to you, it’s best to try some user testing to see what an average visitor thinks. When testing your own site, it’s always a good idea to give users a series of tasks to complete to see how difficult it is for them. Think of this like a virtual scavenger hunt on your website. You want to know if users can easily find what they want, or in this case, what you want them to find. This is much more valuable than simply asking how your site makes a person feel.

In this kind of testing, it’s critical to test your red routes. Can people locate the content that is most important to them? There is nothing worse than a customer on an ecommerce site who is ready to buy but can’t find the product they’re after. Likewise, a visitor to a blog that can’t find the “subscribe” or “share” buttons would be equally frustrated.

Red routes are just one important way to give your visitors a better experience on your site. If you’re looking for more tips, then you’re in luck. I’m speaking at NMX in January on defining and maximizing conversions through better usability. I hope to see you there!

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