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Recently, I decided to look for project management/time management/to-do software. And I’m serious about it this time, so I narrowed it down to 8 choices. It’s time to download the trial versions, install them, and see what they can do. Sounds simple enough, yet I’m having problems with item #1 on that list, downloading.

NEWS FLASH: When I click on a Download button or link, it’s because I WANT TO DOWNLOAD. That is why I clicked on the thing that said “Download”. Yet, it seems that I must prove my downloading desire to website owners. Maybe they think I’m not sure about it, and that’s why they require me to click again (and again). Perhaps it’s a test, and only the deserving are worthy. Which seems odd, since I think the point is to get me to buy the product, and anybody with a valid credit card is usually considered worthy.

Or maybe the website owners are just stupid. Ok, I don’t really think that.  Perhaps they’re somewhat ignorant, or just haven’t thought it through – most likely the latter. Or maybe they haven’t considered the user experience…

Free button set from Alta Web Works

Get your free button set from Alta Web Works

First off, testing has shown again and again that people like clicking on buttons. As in, more people will click on buttons than will click on links (and you want more people to download your software, don’t you?). And major software websites have trained the average visitor to look for a button that says “Download”.

Generally speaking, the bigger the button, the better. People like clicking on big, juicy, obvious buttons. You can make them tasteful, but please, make them obvious. When I’ve decided to download your software and try it, you want me to do that as quickly and easily as possible, don’t you? That’s what I want, too. Fast. Easy. And fast & easy requires that I find the “Download” link (button!) at a glance. Please.

And then once I click on it, I want the download to start. Really. I clicked on the Download button (or link) because I wanted to download. Can we be any clearer on that? But wait, you say, there are reasons… Ok, let’s look at some real-life examples.

Fusion Desk, click to enlarge

FusionDesk

FusionDesk

We’ll start with one that gets it almost right.  This is FusionDesk (click on the image at right to see it full-size).  On the first screen, the “Download” link is easy enough to find, in the top right-hand corner of the page.  But the “Next Steps” verbage above it is distracting and not really worth the effort, and both the links below it (Download Free Trial & Buy FusionDesk) would be much, much better as big, pretty buttons.

When I click on the “Download Free Trial” link, I’m taken to another page where I have to click on another link to download.  Why?  So you can present all that information to me, I’m sure.  Well, as a person who just wants to try the trial, I don’t care.  I don’t care about the version number, and you’ve already got me downloading so the release date isn’t that important (and if it’s too long ago, I may change my mind). The latest improvements and bug fixes are a distraction, as well.  I don’t care, and you WANT me not to care.  At that point, me trying the software is the priority, not knowing your version number, or checking out bugs you’ve already fixed.

Buttons instead of links

Buttons instead of links

While the download page is nice-looking and contains good information, I’d make a “Download” link for it in your main menu (there’s plenty of room), and present it then.  But for users who click on the on-page download links, deliver the download immediately.

And if you’d like to see how the product page would look with the Download & Buy Now links as buttons, check out the smaller screenshot, above.

MyLife Organized

MyLife Organized

My Life Organized

This is another pretty website, that has a lot going right.  It’s attractive, and that screenshot immediately grabs my interest.  BUT, the screenshot is so large, it has pushed the “Download” and “Buy” buttons below the fold, or off the visible part of the page.  I have to scroll down to see them.

Then when I scroll down and see them, I’m presented with a choice of buttons. I can “Try Full Edition” or “Download FREE Edition”.  Now I have to stop and think about it.  Which version do I want?  Well, shoot, I was ready to download the software and try it, but now I have to stop and figure this out.  Maybe I don’t have time.  Maybe I’ll come back to it later – and maybe I won’t.  And one button says “Download”, but the other one doesn’t – yet they are both download links.  Consistency is a good thing.  Making me stop and figure things out is a bad thing.

I’d drop the Free Edition button there, then the inconsistency wouldn’t matter.  And I wouldn’t have to stop and think about what version I want (you want me to want the one that pays you money).  Sure, tell people about the free version, but don’t push it quite so much.

Then once I click on the “Try Full Version” button, I’m taken to a page that drowns me in information.  For clarity, I said I wanted to download the software.  Please, just let me download it.  And if you insist on burying the link on this page (what happened to my nice, obvious button?), then at least get rid of the scientific shorthand.  I’m assuming you want to sell this software to more than programmers and mathemeticians.  I assure you, the general public does NOT know that the “~” character means “approximately”.  While it’s flattering that you assume a fairly high level of education, that’s really not a good idea… and you’re making people stop and think again.  Just say “about 3 MB”.  The extra 4 characters won’t cost you a thing.

And then, please, please, by now I’ve had to find the download button, decide which version I want, then find the download link on another page and deal with programmer-speak.  At this point, can I please download the software?  Apparently not.  I had to click on another link to start the download.  You’re lucky that initial screenshot was seriously pretty.

Accomplice

Accomplice

Accomplice

This one is really special.  It does two huge things that can be show-stoppers.

First, once I’m a little interested, I go to the product information page to read about the software in detail.  Now I’m interested, and want to download it.  Right. Download link?  Button?  Anywhere?  Yea, no.  Not anywhere on the page.  Not in the main navigation menu, either.  There is a “GET IT NOW” button, so I try that.  Does “Get it now” mean “Download” or “Buy”?  It means “Buy”.  No Download button on the product features page.  You have to go back to the home page, then you see a “DOWNLOAD TRIAL” button (I knew I’d seen it somewhere).

Once I do that, I’m taken to a page that requires me to provide my name and email address before I can download the software.  Bad news, I’m not that interested.  There are approximately half a zillion competitors in this niche, so I don’t need to provide my personal information in order to get some software to try.  Buh-bye!

Try it, Buy it

Believe it or not, I have more examples, but I think we’ve covered enough.  If you sell software and allow people to download a trial version from your website, make it as easy as possible for your prospective customers to get the software into their hot little hands: downloaded onto their hard drive and running on their computer.  The sooner they get it and try it, the sooner they can love it and buy it – which is the point, right?