In recent weeks, I’ve begun exploring the concepts of usability and how they relate to the web. While we constantly evaluate sites for clients for ease of use among other things, I hadn’t spent much time discussing the concept of usability on our blog.
In short, a site with good usability is able to answer four important questions in a matter of seconds without the user having to think. Three seconds is a good rule of thumb. Those questions are:
- Where am I?
- What can I do here?
- What do they have here?
- Why should I be here and not somewhere else?
Websites who do not answer these questions immediately do not experience their potential. If someone has to think very hard about how to navigate or even have to expend mental energy trying to figure out what you’re about, they’re most likely going to leave and never return.
Good web usability also makes it easy for a person to find out where they are in a site. Say for instance a visitor is on a product page deep within your site but wants to start over at the beginning. Good usability allows them to do that in one click without having to put much thought into it.
Speaking of the homepage – it’s very different than the rest of the pages on your site – different in that it must address each type of prospective customer that visits your site in a short space.
For homepages, the following guidelines are a good place to start. Remember, guidelines are more like suggestions so these are not meant to be all inclusive. Some may not work for the type of business you’re in or you may find yourself needing to add something else.
Regardless of that, below are some of main elements your site’s homepage needs to have in order to answer the four questions above for any type of user.
Site Identity and Mission – Include a unique tagline and value proposition in the top left area of your page. A person who reads this should be able to figure out what you do just by reading these few words.
Site Hierarchy – Make your site’s hierarchy is clearly visible and navigable. Top or side navigation helps users find out what you offer and channels them to the place they’re looking for.
Search – Some people just like to search rather than click links to get from place to place on a website. Like a search engine, a site search box allows you to type in a keyword phrase and find all documents within the site that include those words.
Teasers, promos, etc. – Encourage users to interact with your site and spread the news to their friends. Teasers, promos and discounts draw readers’ interest and provide them with a tangible benefit to choosing you over someone else.
Timely Content – Farther down the homepage, you should also include snippets of relevant and timely content. Doing so builds your credibility as a trusted source as well as gives users not too familiar with what you offer the opportunity to learn more.
Include Shortcuts – Shortcuts can be used to provide users easy access to popular pages. Perhaps someone already knows what they’re looking for. Give them the opportunity to get it in just one easy click.
Of course, there are many other usability conventions you have to be aware of for all of your pages. Clear, clickable links is one example that comes to mind. Links must be clearly identifiable or else a visitor will search around for a link and then leave your site.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be adding more information about usability and how you can design a website that’s easy to navigate, figure out and requires little to no thinking. We’ll also provide some names and resources for you to learn more.
Until next time!