10 Easy Steps To User Friendly Website
By Kalena Jordan- November 2003
a busy search engine optimization consultant, I don't have a lot of time
to manage my website. But recently I learnt the hard way about the fickle
nature of website visitors and the damage that having a user- unfriendly
site can do to a business. Now I give my website usability much more priority
than ever before.
Here's what happened. I had written a research report late last year
and was selling it as a downloadable e- book via the site. However, I
was relying on an offline press release and links from other sites to
lead visitors to the specific page from which the report could be purchased.
Although this report resulted in considerable press attention, much of
the media coverage did not include a link direct to my report page, or
in some casese, even my website, meaning that interested parties were
forced to conduct a search for my site.
It wasn't until I received an email from a potential customer advising
me that he had searched my home page and couldn't find a link to the report
that I had my "Duh!" moment. I had forgotten to include a link
to the report page from my home page!
My old website had no site map or site search tool either, so potential
customers finally arrived at my site, only to click away in frustration
after not being able to easily find information on my research report.
Goodness knows how many sales I missed out on due to this oversight. Embarrassed,
I quickly added a link to my home page and made a mental note to study
up on website usability, pronto.
Since then, I've learnt that improving your website usability isn't time-consuming,
it isn't expensive and it's certainly not difficult. It simply involves
common sense and dedication to the task. Here are 10 easy steps that anyone
can implement to make their website more user friendly:
1) Create a Site Map
No matter what the size of your website, you should include a detailed,
text-based site map, with a link to every page and preferably, a short
description of what each page offers. An excellent example of a site map
can be found here. The advantage of using a site map is that you don't
have to link to every page from your home page, but you should link to
your site map from every page. Not only are site maps useful for visitors
looking for specific information on your site, but they are great "spider
food", meaning they allow search engines to easily find and index
every page on your site.
2) Use a Logical Navigation Structure
When designing your site navigation menu, use logical headings and link
descriptions. For example, web site design services is much more intuitive
to a visitor than Internet services. Use Cookie Crumbs to show visitors
where they are on your site at any point. These are headings you often
see at the top of websites and search portals showing what category and
page you are currently browsing (e.g. Home > Travel > UK > Bristol
> Bed & Breakfasts). Guide Visitors to specific pathways throughout
your site. You can do this using Call-to-Action links instructing visitors
what page they should view or what action they should take next e.g. Click
Here to Order, Bookmark This Page, or View Our Catalogue Now.
3) Check for Errors Regularly
There's nothing worse than browsing a site or following a link only to
find it leads nowhere. Make sure you check your site at least once a month
for any broken links. There are low cost link checking tools such as Link
Defender available to help you keep on top of this. Make sure your HTML
code is designed to display correctly in different browser versions. Also
ensure that your site hosting provider is stable and reliable to avoid
any unnecessary downtime of your website. Services such as Internet Seer
can help you monitor your site uptime.
Make sure your site does not contain spelling or grammatical mistakes.
If you're not the world's best speller, have trusted friends and colleagues
check your site copy for errors. When proofing your site, remember to
take into account regional spelling usage for different audiences worldwide,
e.g. British versus American English. A webmaster service such as Net
Mechanic can be used to check for many of these errors via the one location.
4) Use a Consistent Design and Layout
Common sense rules here - make sure you use a consistent design and layout
for each page on your site. This means using the same general colour scheme,
logo, consistent navigation menu, header and footer in the same location
and consistent link attributes (e.g. always underlined). This way you
never alienate your visitor or cause them to become confused and lose
their momentum to keep looking.
5) Include a Site Search Tool
A user friendly website provides the visitor with the ability to search
the site for specific keywords. Thought this one was too hard? Me too.
Until I discovered Atomz Site Search. This is a software program that
provides site-wide search for websites of 500 pages or less, for free.
It's a quick and painless way to setup and customize your own site-wide
search tool. They also offer a paid version for larger sites.
6) Ensure All Forms Work
It sounds obvious and it should be. If you're going to make your site
interactive with feedback forms, newsletter sign-ups, guestbooks and the
like, then make sure they work! Double check each form field is large
enough to accomodate even the longest of names. Think about your international
visitors when creating fields such as Zip Code. Make it clear which fields
are required by marking them with an asterix. Test the form to make sure
it submits correctly and displays the right confirmation message upon
7) Ensure Shopping Carts are Functional
This is vital for any type of e-commerce site. Ensure you have adequate
product descriptions, pictures, specifications and crystal clear pricing.
Include information on shipping and freight costs and integrate any taxes
within your price list. If selling internationally, include a foreign
exchange calculator such as the free one provided by XE
for visitors to compare costs in their local currency. Make sure your
shopping cart pages are protected by SSL or a secure certificate to give
visitors the confidence to reveal their personal and credit card information
without threat or risk. Provide simple instructions for completing the
online transaction, give them the ability to back out easily and provide
a help email address or phone number on every page of the process in case
they get stuck. For instant transactions, provide a receipt immediately
and confirm their transaction was successful. As with your online forms,
test, test and test again. It only takes one bad experience for you to
lose a potential lifetime customer.
8) Include Obvious Contact Details
With all the scams proliferating the web these days, people are understandably
sceptical when it comes to online business. To build trust, you absolutely,
positively need to display contact details prominently on your site. If
you're not willing to provide a way for people to contact you, why should
anyone be willing to buy from you? You should include your business address
(preferably your street address and a postal address), a telephone number
and at least one email address. If you are concerned about spam email
harvesters, you can either hide your email address within a HTML encoder
such as Natata Anti Spam Encoder or use a contact form for people to submit
to contact you with (although many people, including me, find the latter
9) Use Easy to Understand Language
The Internet is no place for verbosity. People are in a hurry - they want
to find what they seek quickly and easily with the least hassle possible.
You can help them in this quest by ensuring your site pages use simple
language and easy to grasp concepts throughout. For example instead of
brand-building web information architects, use website designers specialising
in brand promotion. Keep the text on each page to a minimum, using bullet
points and sub-headings to get your main points across or to demonstrate
your product benefits. Use the old WIIFM (What's In It For Me?) adage
when composing your body copy to keep the user's interests at top of mind.
Remember your international visitors by avoiding regional word usage or
technical jargon that could alienate. Want your visitor to take a particular
action? Spell it out for them in plain English.
10) Make it search engine friendly
Last, but by no means least, make sure your site is search engine compatible.
A user friendly site is generally a search engine friendly site too. Use
body text and headings in place of graphical text. Use a text-based navigation
Flash or any code that could trip up a search engine spider trying to
index your site. Use logical Title and META tags for each page, tailoring
these to match the content found within. Scatter target keywords and search
phrases throughout your body copy to give your pages better ranking potential
on engines and directories for related searches. Don't compromise the
readability of your copy to achieve this - hire an expert copywriter to
strike the right balance if need be.
So there you have it. 10 easy steps to making your websites more user
friendly. Now you have no more excuses for avoiding usability. Implement
one of these per week and your visitors will repay you with loyalty.