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How to Meet User Needs by Understanding Website Usability

Business leaders must have at least a basic understanding of website usability in order to lead website design and development efforts. It is important to get out of your own way of thinking about website usability and think like website users. This chapter reviews the fundamentals of how people use websites. These approaches and concepts are often lost in the website design process and it is the responsibility of the person in charge of the process to make sure they are providing leadership and direction in this area.

Website Users Form an Instant Impression

For many in your target market, your website is often 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 Visitors Begin in 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 is the upper left corner. This is why the company logo is usually best placed in that position. Many websites have the logo placed 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 web pages.

Photos of People Get Attention

Website users love to look at photos, and pictures of people especially catch their eye. However, many websites use stock photo images and clip art in place of photos of real people. This leaves the user with a low level of value and it is possible to see the same stock photo on multiple 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 the 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 Advertisements, Graphics and Clutter

People tend to ignore anything that looks like an online advertisement. Users have been trained to avoid them and stick to content and navigation menus. Website users do not know where they will go when they click on an online ad. These types of graphics are seen as advertising and mostly are avoided. This is reported in web stats and in user testing sessions. Never use graphics, ads or banners for your key calls to action and for website navigation. Put those links in your navigation menu or use well-designed call-to-action buttons that you can track in your stats. Make sure all your graphics, colors and fonts are consistent with the overall design of your website.

Visitors Ignore Marketing Speak Content

Like advertisements, brochure copy and marketing-speak content in large blocks of text are usually ignored by users. This content is usually interchangeable with other websites and actually says very little about your company’s value. Here are a few examples of brochure or marketing-speak content:

“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 of any company.”

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

Almost any business can make these claims. Avoid marketing-speak brochure copy and keep your content brief and action-focused. Here are examples of content more specific to value:

“Leaders in circuit board design for thirty years and 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.”

Here is a more action-focused approach: “A proven productive tool that saves you 30 percent and improves accounting results. Click here to learn how it works.”

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

The Navigation Menu

It is easy to forget about the navigation menu, but it is one of the most important parts of the website’s usability. Keep the navigation menu easy to use. Limit it to less than ten main navigation areas and use link titles that are understood by your website users. Keep the navigation consistent on all pages and avoid too many pull-down menus if possible. Top navigation menus work well, but if you need more room put the navigation menu on the left side of the page.

Website Users Scan Content and Move Fast Through the Website

You would be amazed how quickly people scan website content and move around a website. Designers will develop a site thinking that users will take their time and appreciate the design work, photos and content, when in reality, they scan everything in milliseconds looking for something of interest. Use taglines, bullet points and photos with captions to grab the user’s attention. Include call-to-action buttons, not ads, and place all your most important links in the navigation menu.

Many Users Leave the Website Quickly

Bounce rates are a key web stat and a best practices KPI measurement of user engagement or lack of engagement. It is not uncommon to see websites with bounce rates over 60 percent. This means that 60 percent 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 percent for lead generation websites and under 30 percent for e-commerce sites. The recommendations in this book will help you lower your bounce rate and reach these targeted levels.

Website Usability Summary

This post is a brief overview of the fundamentals of website usability. This is a critical component of winning the website war. Consider these important guidelines as you build a new website or improve your current site. Focus on simplicity and ease of use to drive high conversion rates, lower bounce rates and increased sales revenues.

Action Items for Website Usability

  • Design a website that does not make visitors think about how to use the site.
  • Make sure there are few clicks and scrolls on each page.
  • Keep the navigation to no more than three levels deep.
  • Make sure your website users never get lost.
  • Keep users on your website so they never have to leave to another website for content or information.
  • Use captions on photos and scannable text.
  • Include easy-to-find contact information and locations.
  • 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 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 with captions.
  • Talk to your website visitors to confirm their needs.

Thomas Young

Thomas Young is the CEO and Founder of Intuitive Websites. He is a consultant, award winning Vistage speaker and author of “Winning the Website War” and “Sales and Marketing Alignment.” Tom has helped thousands of companies succeed online and has over 25 years digital marketing experience.