How Small Changes Lead to Success

2011/11/01

Joshua Tree National Park

Are you proud of sound effects you’ve created and want to share them? Wondering if your field recordings can make it into the hands of talented people?

Maybe you want to build a web store, a sound map, or perhaps a new freesound.org to share your creations with the world. Maybe you’ve started a sound blog and want to exchange ideas with more of the community.

Or perhaps you are already sharing and haven’t had much response.

I sell sound effect downloads at my website, airbornesound.com. While creating it I learned a valuable lesson: small changes can tip a sound effects library from obscurity to success.

Although this idea is often mentioned with marketing in mind, I think it applies to many topics. I’ll write about three I’ve noticed. I’ll start today with revisions to your web site. This will be helpful if you’re trying to share sounds or writing on the Internet.

The next post will look at small changes to make your sound library better. My last post will discuss how this idea can affect your creativity.

Tipping Points

I recently finished an interesting book called The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a book about how trends spread. The ‘tipping point‘ is a moment when trends quickly move from obscurity to popularity. Gladwell applies the idea to changing all sorts of things.

For example, the book discovers why one precise strategy was responsible for tipping New York City’s 1990’s crime wave into a decline: removing graffiti from subway trains.

It made me think: could this apply to sound libraries too?

How small changes affect your web site

Small, precise changes are important to sound clip web sites. Making minute changes to code or design can have a huge impact. Here are two examples from personal experience.

At Sounddogs.com

About ten years ago I was working at Sounddogs.com. This was long before it was possible to quickly start a web store with streamlined, all-in-one stores like e-junkie.com or shopify.com. Sounddogs.com was built from scratch.

Unfortunately, and perhaps because of this, when the new web design launched customers couldn’t figure it out. Bugs were everywhere. We were deluged with email. I was moved to customer service from mastering sound effects to ease the load.

A year later we were still drowning in email. By this time I had noticed patterns in customer problems. In a somewhat self-motivated effort to cut back on the hours I spent with email, I dove into the code.

I clarified wording on the support page. Another change: at the checkout a pulldown for channels was labeled ‘1’ and ‘2’. That confused the casual customer. What’s a channel? Is 2 better than 1? Why would you choose 1? There wasn’t any context. So I added the words ‘Mono’ and ‘Stereo’ next to the numbers.

I added a few helpful links in other places and left it at that.

Overnight the volume of email dropped by half.

At my own website

Here’s an example from airbornesound.com.

I noticed something strange six months ago. For some reason, the majority of people paying with PayPal.com abandoned their orders before completing the purchase. Why would they register, complete checkout forms and then leave?

After a few slight modifications I discovered the answer.

Anyone who has paid with PayPal.com knows that to complete a sale you first must pass through PayPal’s secure login page. After that’s done you’ll return to the original website.

The trip from my checkout to PayPal.com’s white and blue login screen was a jarring visual shift. Customers were confused and abandoned the sale.

Sure, the transition to PayPal.com was familiar to me. I assumed that because they had PayPal accounts customers would be comfortable with the process. But what I thought wasn’t important. I needed to experience things through my users’ eyes.

So, I added seven words of text beside my PayPal payment button: “You will pay via PayPal.com and return.”

The problem vanished. It had taken me five minutes of work.

What making small changes means for web sites

It was an invaluable lesson: small changes can have huge effects.

Knowing what changes to make comes from being aware of what people respond to. Sometimes these changes come from subtle things: the colours, design, font and layout of your web site. This is known as web usability.

There’s no question that applying color psychology gets a better response from people. It’s also true that superior, less or clearer text or instructions are more helpful.

But I also believe the idea goes beyond design principles. The changes result directly from feedback. This is why, whether you have a web store, a director you’re aiming to satisfy, or readers of a blog, the most important thing is stop and listen.

Bill Gates said: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Feedback like this won’t arrive as a broad critique. It will usually be a small suggestion. Experiment thoughtfully with tiny changes on your web site and watch the effect it has on users. Use this information to make a big impact.

Whether they are your customers, blog readers or users of a community sound sharing site, the goal is to get your sound effects into the hands and ears of others. Listen to what your users say and watch what they do. Then give them what they want.

In my next post we’ll move away from usability and talk about how small changes can affect your sound library.





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2 responses to How Small Changes Lead to Success

  1. Cccoriolis 2011/11/02 at 05:22

    Thanks for this, Paul. I have experimented with the effect of small changes (on other types of sites) and you often really do have to spell things out to a degree you wouldn’t have thought necessary. But then, your users aren’t YOU. That’s the key thing to understand. Great post – because it’s true. I’ll have to check out that book…