Is Afghanistan at the top of your country list?
Are your users annoyed because the dropdown country list on your registration page starts with Afghanistan? They may be… do your research! And if they are, is this problem worth solving? The answer is far from obvious. And it has nothing to do with the stigma of “George Bush vs. Osama bin Laden.” Let’s start with Usability 101: about 6% of the 31-million Afghanistan population use the internet: that’s under 2 million… most of whom don’t speak English and/or don’t care about your site. Sorry for bluntness, but this is a business discussion. So, should a typical social networking hub or a retail site place Afghanistan at the top of the list? Or should it force its primary target markets (e.g, USA) to the top of the list?
Indeed, Afghanistan happens to be the first country in the world, alphabetically speaking. Still, many sites – especially those whose primary market segment is defined as either “USA audience” or “English speakers” – force the United States and/or United Kingdom to the top of the list. Problem solved? Not really. Because this may imply that any country or countries that appear above Afghanistan is/are “cool and important,” while other civilized nations (e.g., Australia, Brazil, France, Spain, Zimbabwe, etc.) are not. Not a politically correct solution then, is it?
In other words, if you are a Canadian, for instance, and your country dropdown on the registration page starts with United States, followed by Afghanistan, you are left wondering: “Am I welcome here?” Due to this concern, most global sites just leave Afghanistan at the top. What is the problem with that? Apart from the many sentimental implications, many users simply don’t have the patience to scroll down to choose their country and instead choose a random country near the top of the list (e.g., Afghanistan). In fact, I conducted my own research on this topic that involved analyzing a statistical sample of over 10 million web registrations across 11 retail and social sites, and the number of these “phantom” users is staggering – over 22%. Do you want your users doing that?
So, is there an elegant solution? Of course! The most intuitive one is – grow up! Don’t ask the user living in the United Kingdom or in Zimbabwe to click on the dropdown field and then scroll all the way down – that could involve 4-5 clicks and is inefficient. One may argue: “Even children know that you can type the first letter of your country, and then the selection will jump to the respective section in the country list down below, where you can further navigate using the arrow down key.” And I say, “Exactly, Ringo!” If your visitors are expected to use a letter key just to get closer to their country in the dropdown list, why not give them a chance to just type their country name in that field in the first place? This is why we have Ajax: when the user types the first letter or two of the country name, a list appears giving him/her all the countries that match. And, if you want to kick it up another notch, look up the visitor’s IP address and pre-populate the country field accordingly (but leave it modifiable so that users can override the value if they are registering while traveling in another country). Problem solved.
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