Here are the results of the recent user survey:
Q: Is the new site design better or worse looking? Approximately 80% of those with an opinion thought the new site design and colors were better, 20% thought they were worse. I'm going to take this as an overall vote of approval for the new layout. It's impossible to make everyone happy, so making more happy than unhappy is about the best you can expect! About 25% of users thought the changes made no real difference.
Q: Is the new site easier to use? About 90% of those providing an answer thought the new site was easier to use. I'm happy with that.
Q: Would you be more or less likely to visit other pages on the site? 95% said it was more likely that they'd look at other pages on the site. Again a good result.
Q: Did the search function do a good job? 70% of those using the search function said it did a good job and 20% said it did an OK job. The surprising (and disappointing) statistic was that 75% of respondents said they'd never tried the search function! In fact it usually does do a very good job at finding articles related to the keywords you type in. I'm not sure how to encourage more people to try it other than a big flashing arrow pointing at the search box! I've drawn the line at that though and I'm trying a yellow border around the search box.
Q: Does the current "dropdown" menu system work? About 50% of the replies said that it did a good job, with 45% thinking it did an OK job. 5% found it poor. One response surprised me and indicated that the respondent hadn't realized that the stuff at the top of every page was actually the site navigation. I'm not sure what I could have done about that.
Q: Any interest in a User Photo Gallery here? The answer was "No" by a 75% to 25% margin. Seems like the web has enough galleries and doesn't need another one! If I do add some sort of user Gallery, it won't be "just another of the same". It would need to be significantly different from what's available elsewhere to make it worthwhile. Perhaps something based on the Lensplay "Your 3 best" gallery.
Q: Any interest in a Classified Ad section? This one split about 50:50. Since it's quite easy to add a section to the forums for buying/selling gear, I might do so.
Q: Where do you buy your photo gear? This one surprised me a bit. About 1/3 of respondents used a local photo store. I didn't think there were enough of those still in business to account for 1/3 or purchases, but it seems I was wrong. About 2/3 of respondents said they bought via the web. Of course they were on the web when they posted the reply, so you'd expect most respondents would be familiar with ordering via websites. Very few people indeed (less than 5%) used mail or phone orders or bought from large electronics retailers.
Q: Who are the best/most trusted retailers? B&H Photo rated best with a 96% good or very good rating, followed closely by Amazon (88% good or very good) and Adorama (85% good or very good). J&R scored 75% and Calumet scored 60%, though there were fewer replies for those two stores and in fact quite a significant number of replies indicated the respondent had never heard of them! Ebay trailed in last with only about 10% of respondents giving them a "very good" or "good" ratings. About 1/3 of those commenting on eBay said they were "OK". Based on these numbers, I've added a B&H link to the site sponsors listed on each page (in the left hand column)
Q: Amazon policies: About 60% of respondents were not aware that Amazon offers free shipping on most items they sell themselves, a 30-day return policy and a 30-day price guarantee on most items they sell themselves. B&H have a 15 day return policy and Adorama 14 days on most items, though on some it's only 7 days. BTW, I didn't mention that you get a 3% credit on future Amazon purchases if you use their credit card (and $30 discount the first time you use it). Adding all these up, Amazon is my preferred supplier right now. In fact I just bought an EOS 5D + 24-105/4L IS from them ($2600 with $78 back in Amazon credits)!
General Comments - While most people like the new color scheme, some said it was too bright and they would rather have a darker background. Well, I looked at sites like MSN, Google and Yahoo (as well as the New York Times, Apple and Microsoft) and they all used light backgrounds. I assume they must have done lots of usability research before they decided on their color schemes, and so who am I to argue! The background on BobAtkins.com is actually "off-white" since some academic studies found that it was preferred over just plain "white". I am looking at the possibility of offering users a choice of color schemes, but there are some technical difficulties and layout problems (graphics background colors for one). I'm looking at it, but no promises. I did have one complaint that the text wasn't dark enough, but since it's black it's as dark as it gets. Perhaps they meant the blue links weren't dark enough, so I did darken them slightly and used a bolder font. That should make them more visible.
Some people don't like advertising, but most understand it's necessary. Yes, it could be less obvious, but less obvious means fewer people will follow links and that means the site generates less income. Since I'm basically "working for tips" here, I can't afford to sacrifice all the advertising for a cleaner looking website. Maybe if I charged $100 per user for site access I could, but I'm not even considering that possibility. It wouldn't work (people wouldn't pay it!), plus I don't want to do it even if it did. I prefer free access for all at the cost of some advertising. I do keep the "flashing banners" off the site and I don't allow ads for cell phone service, dating agencies, mortgage brokers and 1000 other non-photographic products and services. I could run those ads if I wanted to and I've been approached by advertisers to do just that, but I've decided not to, even though I might generate more income if I did.
I can't comment on all the suggestions I received, but I can tell you that I read every one of them and some of the suggestions have already been put into practice (for example I added search boxes to the search results page, so you can do a second search without having to "back up"). Some suggestions were impractical (remove the ads), but I appreciate them all. Further comments and feedback can always be posted in the Feedback Forum.
There were some comments about difficulty of navigation and I'm currently working on that issue. In the meantime, the 75% of users who have never tried the site search function might want to give it a shot if they find the navigation menus difficult to use or just can't find something they though they remembered seeing. The search does work pretty well. You should also find a "return to top of page" link at the foot of each page, which will take you back up the the search box and navigation bars.
So thanks again for all the suggestions. Since this is a one-person website, changes can be made quickly. I decide on what's a good idea, I do the programming, I upload the content - so things happen fast. Many photo websites are going corporate these days. Dpreview was bought out by Yahoo, Photo.net is now owned by NameMedia Inc. (who own 2 million domains!). This site is just me! At least you know who to blame if you don't like things here - and who to contact about it. If there's something wrong on the site, it's my fault. The buck, as they say, stops here!