Is your site usable? The irascible usability expert, Jakob Nielsen, has been preaching about usability on the web for years. While anything can be (and often is) taken to extremes, the findings of his research offer some very valid points about the functionality of sites and the importance of making a site user friendly. Homestead websites are easy to design, but the user needs to be aware that it takes effort to design a site that will be successful.
One of my favorite cases of non-usability is the site owner who asked us for a review of his site on the Homestead Connection Forum . He admitted he was quite proud of his work and stated he had a better than average grasp of design. Upon reviewing his site it failed miserably on a number of points both in design and usability. The most glaring was the fact that while this person is selling a customizable product he gave the visitor no way of ordering it.
Don’t strain your visitor’s brains or make them work at finding information. Slow site performance isn’t just about a slow loading page, but also how hard it is for the visitor to pick out the main points on the page and access the information they are seeking. Make them work or have to pause and think about how to do something and you can easily lose them to your competitor’s site who has taken usability into consideration.
By testing your site with people unfamiliar with it you can gain a lot of insight into just how well your site works. Find a couple of people willing to test your site. Give them a task. Let’s say you sell golf equipment. Tell your testers to find a specific product and then watch as they try to do just that. No cues from you! But tell them to feel free to talk aloud about what they’re experiencing. Do they hesitate? Backtrack? Ideally since this person already knows what they want, their journey should be a straight line, with little hesitation from the Home page to the specific product to purchasing. This holds true for any site whether it is a retail site or an informational one. A visitor shouldn’t have to wade through a maze to obtain what they want or guess how to find it.
Test your users again. The task is to find how to return a product. (Please tell me you have that information readily available – who buys something without knowing they can A. return it and B. how). If your site is informational give your testers the task of finding a specific piece of information. Again, watch and listen to the user. Don’t stop with just a couple of tests – make good use of your volunteers and test other aspects of the site.
Often the webmaster makes the mistake of designing a site based on personal likes or dislikes. We frequently see sites that have removed the underline from links because, “I don’t like the way it looks.” Seasoned web surfers and even neophytes are accustomed to that underline. Take it away and you may be taking away an opportunity to have the visitor travel to another part of the site for additional information or even to make a purchase. Bold it instead? No. Web surfers are so used to seeing bold text that they will probably skip right over it without a second thought that it’s a link. Use the underline – it’s the best and surest way of saying to your visitor, here is more information.
Make your Homestead designed site a simple, familiar and uncomplicated journey for viewers and potential customers and you will have a much more successful website.