Do You Have a User Friendly Website, or are You Losing Customers?
You may remember from 6 Things to Consider when Designing your Website, that I argued your audience was one of the most important factors in web design. A website should always be user friendly, not a chore to use, because you want people to want to be there.
Why design a user friendly website? All the bells and whistles in the world can make your website as impressive or attention-grabbing as you want, but if people can’t or won’t use it, then the site is no use to you.
The 5-Second Test
Your message needs to be clear at a glance. Think of the average web user as a child with extreme ADD. You have five seconds to get their attention before they’re distracted by shiny cat videos.
Let’s try a little experiment:
An image of a webpage should have flashed for exactly five seconds when you clicked the above button. What did you catch? Do you know what is being offered? What do you have to do to get it? Where is it from? How much did you really read?
If the design is successful, you could answer all or most of the above questions, though perhaps not with too much detail. But the main points are there, and if your interest is caught, you’ll stay on the page.
Try this with your own website. Pick key pages — your home page, pages with major information or offers — and show them, briefly, to someone who has not seen them before. Can they pick out the salients in five seconds?
Becoming User Friendly: How to Pass the 5-Second Test
Location, Location, Location
Most people will scan a webpage in an F-shaped pattern. They will see the top, and the left side. They may jump down a little as well, to catch subheadings:
If people aren’t catching on to important parts of your site — if they don’t know what you’re offering or can’t find where they’re supposed to go next – then check the placement of that information or interactive element. It may be a quick scan doesn’t even see it, and easily distracted as web users so often are, they may not look further than that initial scan. Even if they do, you’ve made them work — and no web user likes that.
If we continue to think of visitors to your site as ADD children who refuse to do any work, it becomes clear why simple navigation is so important. People come to your site because they want something, and they want it now. The internet is driven by instant gratification – if what a web user is looking for on your site is not in the first place they look, they will leave. Google has many other sites they can try.
But how can you know? People may look in ten different places for something! How can you know which place it’s best to put it?
Well, the answer is: all of them. This doesn’t mean large, duplicate blocks of content. But it does mean multiple links that will lead to the same place – and basic information like an address or phone number everywhere. Common places for contact information are the header, the footer, a contact us page in the main navigation, and in the content on any page they may convince someone they want to call or visit.
Other information and how it’s handled depend on your business and what’s important to your customers – perhaps you’re a restaurant, and you have your menu on its own page. You needn’t repeat the menu, but link to that page everywhere: in the navigation, within the block of text confirming you offer take-out, on the side of the party room’s reservations page. Wherever a customer might think, “I want to see a menu,” point them to that page.
Classy, Not Flashy
It is, of course, still important that your site look good. But most of the time the aim should not be to impress — it should be to welcome. You may have come up with all kinds of impressive design elements, or even feel that the entire three-page essay you wrote on your community's local history is obviously relevant to your business, but beware of overcrowding the page.
White space is your most important design element. A clean page, with space between elements, is far easier to understand at a glance than one that has elements packed together. Short paragraphs are less intimidating than long essays. Make your content clear and concise.
Your website should be memorable, but for the right reasons. A little flash — a video, a cool animation, a fun design — is like an elegant, hand-painted sign. Using every one of these you can think of is more like overlapping flashing neon billboards. Which do you want to be?
User Friendly Means Accessible
Finally, you can have the best design ever, but that won't help you if people just can't access it. Remember the short attention spans. If your page doesn't load immediately, it's back to the seemingly endless supply of other websites that might. Test your website's speed, and make improvements if necessary.
Also remember that people may be viewing your website in many different ways. Just because your layout is clean and your navigation obvious in IE on a 12-inch screen Windows 10 computer, doesn't mean it will still work in Chrome on an android tablet, in Safari on an iPhone, or Firefox on an old Windows XP hooked to a 36-inch monitor. Run cross-browser testing, and make sure your design is responsive.