A few days ago we took a side trip to find an RV Park we had heard about in a very remote location in Canada.
Since our GPS couldn’t seem to find the location for us, we contacted the park owner and he promptly emailed us the directions to get there.
His directions had three parts: traveling east from Vancouver, or traveling west from beyond or coming up from the south. Easy enough, we were traveling east so we followed those directions. Or at least we tried to.
When we got to where we thought we were supposed to turn, his description of the exit — no exit number mind you — did not match what he had written. So thinking it would be the next exit, we kept going. And going, and going until we realized we had surely gone too far.
So we checked a map, regrouped and started reading the directions going from east to west. He listed all kinds of landmarks to follow but he must have been doing it from a faulty memory because what he wrote and what we were seeing did not make sense. Things were not exactly in the right places as he described.
We did manage to keep going, finding our way as best we could, when we realized that his directions from east to west suddenly ended and you had to take them up again in the directions from west to east. So here I was trying to figure out where we were in relation to his directions so I could re-orient myself.
Then, as we finally drew closer his directions started using abbreviations without the benefit of also using a period to indicate that he was using an abbreviation. Here I was looking for Vly road when what he meant was Valley Road. With a period after the Vly. I would have figured it out sooner.
It all made me feel quite dumb but then it occurred to me that this is one of those classic situations where things are COIK — Clear Only If Known.
And we make this mistake all the time in our own writings and especially on our websites. Do not use jargon, acronyms, abbreviations and descriptions that you know quite well but that your readers and site visitors might not.
These days busy people are not willing to work very hard to figure out what you are talking about or what you want them to do so you need to be as clear as possible. Do not assume that your readers or site visitors know the various acronyms used in your industry or use abbreviations for things that are not clearly spelled out somehwere.
Some years ago Steve Krug wrote a book about web design called, Don’t Make Me Think. It is still the best book about website design and creation out there, I believe, and his whole premise is that people need to be told exactly what to do and the way you name navigation buttons and structure your site should be done in such a way that the visitor does not have to think about it or try to figure anything out.
If we make people work too hard to do business with us they simply will not do it. They will go to the next person and buy from them instead.
By the way, we eventually did find our way to that RV Park and it was a lovely place. But having had to work so hard to get there I was pretty put off by the time we arrived. I’m not sure that we’ll be planning to go back there anytime soon, if ever.
© Copyright 2009 Marty Marsh