Weekly Breakdown: Survive France Network


(Sarah Hawk) #1

Here you go @James_Higginson – this one’s epic. You might need to grab a coffee first.

It was nice to look at something other than Discourse this time around. I have only worked with Drupal once in the past and its highly extensible modular nature means that most instances are different, so I don’t have the same familiarity with it as I have with the last breakdowns. That’s a good thing though – I didn’t have to work so hard to be empathetic to new users!

##First impression

One word: ads.

In excellent news, it is very obvious as soon as someone new lands on the site that it is all about community, however I’m not 100% sure what the primary purpose of the site is – the name gives me a clue but there is no obvious positioning statement or tagline.

I like that it gives the impression that there are people about, which is important, but the landing page is very busy and ad heavy, and it feels like everything is competing for my attention. The only real indicators of what the site offers are the main nav items, which get lost amongst the scrolling carousel, animated ads and banners.

Search and traffic

  • I tried a number of different search terms (moving to France, travelling to France, advice on moving to France, living in France, French life hacks – you get the idea) but your site didn’t rank for anything I could think of. You could get some big wins here with a bit of keyword research.

  • Your meta title and description data could be improved

Your title could be something like Survive France Network: Practical tips for living and working in France. Your description should make me want to click. At present it is an admin asking a member to post a photo, which is a little off putting.

General UX

The thing that stands out the most with regard to the general UX is a lack of focus. I don’t know where to go or how to sign up. Am I supposed to sign up? The only obvious buttons are on ads, and the log in button is very hard to spot.

Take this example:
Is the site about building websites? That stands out more than the logo. Add to that the fact that the first thing I feel compelled to click is the orange button which will help me launch my WordPress site. YOUR primary CTA needs to compete (and win) against all of these.

  • I love that your login form is on the homepage, but it would be a lot more effective if it was highlighted in some way.

  • Your main navigation items are tiny – well below recommended font size (even for body text). I’d recommend doubling (or even tripling) their size. There is also a strange on-hover event which seems to trigger when focus is lost, which is disconcerting.

  • The social share buttons are a bit confronting. (As an aside, there are two SumoMe links in the share bar, although the top one is hard to see and took me by surprise when it appeared). I’d make them contextual. Currently they are distracting from the main required action, and they’re on every page, which doesn’t make sense.

  • The scrolling carousel is ambiguous. I tried clicking on the image but nothing happened, and it wasn’t until I accidentally moused over the caption that I realised it was a link.

  • I LOVE the latest community content displaying on the homepage, but I think it would benefit from some formatting. Currently there are three different links, all in the same colour and font size, competing for attention in a very small space. I’d consider removing the top link, just linking to each topic once and only including the topic title and author.

  • I clicked on the top link and was taken straight to that specific post, which would be expected behaviour had I read the rest of the topic, but I hadn’t. In the case of this topic, that meant scrolling to the top and back 6 pages.

  • Visited links don’t change colour, giving me no indication of what I’ve already read. That would go a long way to making me feel that I have more control over the environment, which is quite important.

  • Your discussion content is a bit confused – I don’t know where to look first. I think a couple of styling and font tweaks will make a huge difference here. For instance, the font size of comments is much too small to be comfortable. I’d increase that to 14pt, and run an incremental hierarchy up from that. I’d also indent the main topic and put it in a bounding box with a different coloured background.

Signing up

  • I love the contextual help but it would be more noticeable if it didn’t float over ads.

  • You could fix that (and kill two birds with one stone) if you took into account field length. It’s best practice to use variated field sizes to indicate the length of the required input (scroll down to the “Use field length as an affordance” section in this article for more info). Doing this will give you more whitespace to the right of the form.

  • For some reason the contextual help is only on some fields. The email field has hard to read validation instructions below it. The change is confusing.

  • The ‘Getting to know you’ heading in the form is a link that goes nowhere. None of the other headings are links. Such a small and seemingly irrelevant thing, but these things all add up to damage the level of environmental autonomy.

  • Gender, birth date, department and postcode aren’t compulsory (implying that they’re not necessary) so I’d get rid of them. Only collect the info that you absolutely need at this point. You can prompt people to tell you more later. At this stage your only focus should be on getting them to sign up.

  • The gender field itself is confusing. I commend you highly for allowing me to choose non-binary options, that’s absolutely awesome, but I can choose N/A or ‘prefer not to answer/other’, which in itself is strange – I suspect just one of those options would suffice (if you absolutely need this data).

  • After hitting submit I get this error.

    Ideally this validation should have been done as I completed the form, but if that’s not possible due to technical restrictions then I’d consider making it a bit less confronting. It’s currently a bit unwelcoming.

  • After successfully registering (I think) I am taken back to the main homepage with no obvious indicator that I have an account or am logged in.

Edit: A minute or so later I received an email telling me that I’m not actually registered yet. I love the tone of the email (below) – it’s lighthearted, sets the scene for what’s to come and takes the sting out of the message – but it would have been good to get that message onscreen immediately.

Hi Sarah H,

Thanks for signing up to SURVIVE FRANCE NETWORK. Our dedicated team of behind
the scenes monkeys are currently checking that you’re not a spammy robot.

They’ll have to drink their tea first so it might take them a little while,
once they’ve managed it you will receive another email containing information
about how to log in, set your password, and other details.

Go and have poke around while you wait, it won’t be long.


– SURVIVE FRANCE NETWORK team of dedicated monkeys

  • 13 hours later I received a personal email from an admin (which is a nice touch). 13 hours is a pretty long time to wait, esp if I have a pressing question while travelling.

  • Unfortunately without agreeing to have my full name on display, I was declined entry to the community, albeit the admin that I spoke to was kind and explained the rationale. Were I doing this for any other reason I would have walked at this point – displaying my name publicly on a site related to travel crosses boundaries for me. Judging by the good level of activity in your community, not everyone shares my concerns, but I think you should consider digging into your Google Analytics data to see what the bounce rate on this form is.

  • If you’re happy that your audience are in general ok with using real names, then I think at the very least it would make sense to really clearly specify this rule at the time of signup. No one reads the T&Cs.
    (Note: after coming clean about my motivations I was approved.)

The onboarding process

This is where I think you could make a couple of small changes to big effect.

Currently you send one automated email with login details, and below it was the welcome info, with a link to the guidelines and a CTA to post in a topic.

I didn’t actually read past setting my password and it wasn’t until I went back through my inbox just now to double check my initial feeling that there was no on-boarding of any kind, did I find it.

I’d split that first login info section out, and once someone sets their password, I’d send a second email with a very simple welcome and one CTA. Daisy chaining the CTAs with an on-boarding sequence is more likely to result in engagement with each step.

I’m also not convinced that getting someone to start a new topic first up is ideal. Clicking on that link takes me to this screen, which is a bit daunting:

I’d suggest the CTA be to answer a simple question in an existing thread. That gives me the opportunity to take advantage of social cues and see what tone others are using. Is it appropriate to use humour and slang? Is it ok to swear? How carefully do I need to craft my questions? etc

Logged in

  • I LOVE the ability to set my preferred view as my home tab, and now that I’m in, the CTA to post a new topic is really clear

  • It’s unclear what the support portal is about. Why not just have a forum category for support? Also, once I’m in there I can’t get back.

  • Also like the anonymous suggestions box. Does it work?

  • Putting myself in the place of someone that is new to France or looking to travel there, I was a bit daunted by the stream of poltical discussion about Brexit. As a brand new user, it would be great to be directed to the Introductions section so that I can get an idea of the kinds of other people that are around. Navigating there myself, I note that a lot of the intro posts have no responses, which puts me off doing my own. I’d consider either getting volunteers to jump in and welcome new people, or better yet, create a social norm within the community so that everyone does it.

  • With the exception of the emails about using my real name, and your personal welcome DM to me about this analysis, I didn’t have personal contact with anyone in my first day or so, which is a really crucial time in building that connection.


  • You have a good level of activity and your core group seems well invested in the community
  • Your homepage needs decluttering and would benefit from a tagline that clearly communicates your purpose
  • The registration CTA needs to be more obvious
  • Some design and UX tweaks will make a world of difference
  • A bit more handholding at the beginning would be helpful for settling in

So there you have it. I could go on forever, but this is probably a good starting point. I’m happy to go into more detail on any of the above, and am always open to debate if anyone doesn’t agree with me!

What is your position on bumping old topics?
(James Higginson) #2

Hi Sarah

This is absolutely fantastic, thank you so much for taking the time to
review and compile this, I will be going through it in detail and making a
list of the many action points. I feel like I a have won a huge prize, once
again, thanks! I will be getting back to you shortly!

Kind regards


(Sarah Hawk) #3

You’re welcome. I always feel like I’m walking a fine line between objective criticism and sounding like I’m bagging everything!

Let me know if you want anything expanded on (or support with finding data to help you make some decisions).

(James Higginson) #4

Hi Sarah, I wanted to catch up with yo following your review of our community at www.survivefrance.com, once again thanks so much, it was quite an inspiration! We’ve since moved to Discourse, quite a steep but enjoyable learning curve, again inspired by this community. Loving it so far!

(Sarah Hawk) #5

That’s fantastic! And huge…! Good on you.

You might find this topic useful if you want to further customise or add CTA banners to important posts.