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Strengthen Your Site by Understanding Its Usability

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by Thomas Young, President and Owner, Intuitive Websites, LLC

When you make decisions about your company’s website, it’s important to get out of your own way of thinking about usability and think the way website users do. Fundamental approaches and concepts are often lost in the website design process, so the person in charge of that process should be sure to provide leadership and direction about this area.

The guidelines and rules of thumb that follow are based on usability testing and my work in the industry. In some situations, things may work differently.

Website users form an instant impression. For many people in your target market, your website provides the first impression of your company and your brand. First impressions are important online because people have so many options and can leave a website very easily. Also, a first impression is forever and can’t be changed.

Website users look first at the upper left corner. People look at website content the same way they read books and magazines. They start at the upper left corner of the page and their eyes move across the page to the right. The most valuable part of any website page, therefore, is the upper left corner.

This is why the company logo is usually best placed in that position. Many websites have the logo in the upper left corner to anchor the site and draw attention to the logo and the company. Use this space wisely, and as a best practice, place your logo and tagline in this area of all your site’s pages.

Photos of people get attention. Website users love to look at photos, and pictures of people especially catch their eye. However, websites that use stock photo images and clip art in place of photos of real people provide users with a low level of value, particularly if they have seen the same photos on other websites.

Use photos of your team with captions to tell the story of your business. Have professional photos taken for the website and avoid stock photography as much as possible. If you do use stock photography, include a caption or tagline to clarify the message behind each photo. Website visitors will decide on their own what a stock photo’s purpose is on your website if you don’t clarify its message, and they may get it wrong.

Website users ignore graphics that look like advertisements. Web stats and user testing sessions show that users generally avoid graphics seen as advertising. Never use graphics or banners for your key calls to action. Use links in your navigation menu or well-designed call-to-action buttons that you can track in your stats. And make sure all the graphics, colors, and fonts on your site are consistent with its overall design.

Website users ignore marketing-speak content. Just as they ignore advertisements, website users generally ignore brochure copy and other marketing-speak content in large blocks of text.

Here are a few examples of brochure or marketing-speak content that is likely to be familiar from other websites and that communicate very little about your company’s value:

“Our innovative, state-of-the-art solutions provide our customers with high satisfaction levels.”

“Our people make the difference.”

“We are committed to the best service and products.”

“We provide excellent service, innovative solutions, cutting-edge products, and top-notch support.”

Instead of making claims that almost any business can make, use content that highlights more specific value. For example:

“We have been leaders in circuit board design for 30 years, and we have one of the most experienced management teams in the industry. Call us today to find out why Apple, Dell, and Cisco come to us for solutions.”

“A proven productive tool that saves you 30% and improves accounting results. Click here to learn how it works.”

Notice the difference? Engage your website users in the same way leading salespeople engage their prospects, by talking about the real value your company brings to customers.

The navigation menu matters a lot. Specs for your site’s navigation menu are crucially important for usability. Keep the menu easy to use. Limit it to fewer than 10 main navigation areas; put all your most important links in it, and use link titles that your website visitors will easily understand.

Also, keep the navigation menu consistent on all pages and avoid too many pull-down menus. Top navigation menus work well. If you need more room, put the navigation menu on the left side of the page.

Website users scan content and move through sites quickly. You might be amazed how rapidly people scan website content and move around a site. Designers may develop a site thinking that users will take their time and appreciate the design work, photos, and content, when in reality, they will scan everything in milliseconds, looking for something of interest.

Use taglines, bullet points, and photos with captions to grab a user’s attention, along with call-to-action buttons, and links in the navigation menu.

Many users leave websites quickly. Bounce rates are a key web stat and a best practices measurement of user engagement or lack of engagement. It is not uncommon to see websites with bounce rates over 60%. This means that 60% of the people that came to the website left immediately without visiting more than one page on the site.

Target bounce rates are under 40% for lead-generation websites and under 30% for e-commerce sites.

Focus on simplicity and ease of use to drive lower bounce rates, as well as high conversion rates and increased sales revenues.

Action Items
  • Design a website that does not make visitors think about how to use the site.
  • Make sure there are just a few clicks and scrolls on each page.
  • Keep the navigation no more than three levels deep.
  • Make sure your website users never get lost.
  • Keep users on your website; don’t design it so that they have to move to another site for content or information.
  • Use captions on photos and text comprised of brief content and bullet points that can be read easily by users scanning web pages looking for something of interest to them.
  • Include contact information and information about location(s), and make that information easy to find.
  • Check your bounce rates and keep them at acceptable levels.
  • Write value-added content and remove marketing-speak content.
  • Do not use ads or graphics as navigation tools or call-to-action links.
  • Put your logo in the upper left corner of all pages and link the logo to your home page.
  • Use photos of real people at your company, and provide captions for them.
  • Talk to your website visitors to confirm that you understand and are fulfilling their needs. And make changes on your site if that is not the case.

About the Author:

Thomas Young who has 25 years of experience in marketing and sales, is president and owner of Intuitive Websites, LLC, a Colorado-based website design, development, and marketing firm, and the author of Intuitive Selling. He has presented around the United States and Canada on Internet marketing and web usability. This article is derived from his new book, Winning the Website War: 4 Steps to Marketing Success. To learn more: WinningTheWebsiteWar.com.

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