Do It Today: 10 Minute Usability Touch-up

by Kimberly Krause Berg September 14th, 2010 

Web site usability reviews are like going to visit your dentist every six months for a checkup. Even if youre not experiencing any pain, theres always room for improvement.

enthusiastic kids

With web site usage, user habits change. Search engines are well aware of this. They purposely track what you like the most and are curious why you click where you do. There are thousands of studies on human-computer-internet behavior where researchers look for usage patterns by groups of people or the affects of certain designs on our emotional state.

Any web site can be touched up and polished, and its a good idea to do so. You may discover a broken or dead link; find spelling errors or find information that should be brought up to date.

In addition, search engines like signs of fresh content, so while scouting around your site, note places where content, headings, sub-headings and text link anchor text can be re-worded or optimized for clarity and momentum.

In fact, lets start with momentum. The following ideas are suggested because they create user confidence, inspire browsing, keep the momentum going and most importantly, trace back to your goal of increasing site conversion rates.

Review Global Navigation

global navigation

For the purpose of illustration, our imaginary company is called Groovy Goodies. At Grooveygoodies.com, we scour the world looking for anything groovy, be it products, news or services. Because were so groovy, we can get away with using lots of colors, photos and graphics on our web pages. Because we find so many groovy things to share, our information architecture is a constant headache.

One of the first indicators web site visitors like to see are signals from the site that theyre the focus of attention. Your visitors want to feel like welcomed guests. Theyll look for signs that theyve arrived at the right place for them.

Therefore, avoid making your very first navigation link About Us. At Groovy Goodies, were going to let go of our ego and put our What Are Groovy Goodies? page as our first link in our global navigation. Well put the About us page near the end.

Standard Pages

Since learning about companies is rather boring, try to spice things up with your site navigation.

Add a verb, for example, so your link might say Learn About Us. Or, try About [your company name] or Get to know [your company name].

Some companies arent large enough for a separate about and contact page. With scarce content, the 2 sparse pages end up looking more like a brochure. Try Learn About or Contact Us, Meet or contact us or Meet and Contact [your company name].

Labeling Your Links

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The link labels you choose should contain a verb and a descriptive word.

Millions of web sites send people to their products and services.

The most common link labels are About Us, Contact Us, Products, Services, Solutions, Our Process, and of course exciting pages such as Sitemap, Privacy Policy, News and Search.

Most call to action prompts are labeled Buy now, Buy, Order, Call Today, Add to Cart and Learn More.

When you put those labels on your web site, it will look like millions of other web sites.

While its fairly obvious where About and Contact will take site visitors, less is known about generic terms like our process and products.

In your 10 minute site review, consider spicing things up:

  • What type of services do you offer? Real estate, consulting, accounting?
  • Can you describe your products better? It may come down to not using products as a jump off point.
  • If you work with brand name items or categories that can be grouped together well, these can be alternative top level links.

The more complicated your offerings, the more confusing your entire information architecture will be. And yet, it can offer more possibilities for pages your target users want to get to.

Understandable and Jazzy Navigation

site navigation

Consider your site visitors frame of mind and feelings for a moment. They may be frazzled. Perhaps they just arrived via Googles new instant search that suggested a new phrase to find your web site.

First, your user wants to be sure Google didnt take them on a wild goose chase. Be sure your header contains a calm presentation of no more than eight global top level links. Less links means theyll remember more. More links means you get more chances to confound them.

So, in addition to offering a logical order sequence of links based on where your visitors need and want to go first, plus more descriptive and vibrant labels, you want to limit the number of links and make them easy to remember.

At Groovy Goodies, we face the issue of having gobs of cool stuff. Our top level links go to groupings of pages (I call them hubs) that must break out into sub-groups, child pages and other IA nightmares.

Be sure that no matter where on the site you take your visitors, theyll know where youre taking them. Its important to truly understand what THEY call your products, for example.

Just as vital is understanding how they shop, or like to sort, or how they prefer to prioritize their needs. By making sure every word you choose describes where they will end up if they click on it, theres a much stronger chance they will follow along.

Jazz up the task of browsing your site by offering reasons to do so. If you list items in a drop down menu, indicate which ones are on sale. A list of services can be sorted by most popular or by price range. News can be inside a hub containing Todays News, Yesterdays News and We Save Everything News or Our News, Your News and Their News.

You Care

you care

Marketers and web designers have a different set of web site guidelines and interests regarding your web site. Theyre looking after your best interests. Theyll explain that your unique selling proposition should be stated clearly and early and your call to action prompts should be beveled green or orange buttons. All the focus on your requirements, conversion goals, page rank and customer satisfaction is part of your daily routine.

It may seem unusual to want to care so much about creating user confidence or fussing over adding a verb to a link label. If your web site is intended to be competitive, people have to want to use it and refer it to others. How well you communicate with your web site visitors and how creatively you create user confidence and understandability will be a positive experience for both them and your company.

Kimberly Krause Berg

Kim Krause Berg’s long background in web design, search engine optimization and usability includes software application functional and user interface testing, accessibility, and persuasive design. Human Factors and Usability and how it blends with Search Engine Optimization have been her passion for over a dozen years. Kim founded Cre8asiteforums in 1998 and was a self-employed usability and search engine marketing consultant for Cre8pc.com since 1996. In the fall of 2012 she sold her forums to Internet Marketing Ninjas and retired from private consulting to join their Executive Management team where she continues her work in usability and persuasive design in her role as Usability and User Interface Analyst.

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2 Responses to “Do It Today: 10 Minute Usability Touch-up”

  1. Brian Rogel says:

    Hi Kimberly, Great tips on usability. Navigation is extremely important in usability. I've seen many sites that overly complicate this area which can quickly confuse visitors and decrease conversions. It's important for people to be able to answer "Where am I?" and "Where do I want to be?" when they look at the page navigation. Thanks for the helpful info!
    .-= Brian Rogel recently posted: 10 Tips For Maximizing Your Site’s Usability =-.

  2. Ken Sherman says:

    Great post Kimberly. Engaging visitors in new and creative ways that bring them back can make a huge difference in conversion and rankings. I'm curious about your thoughts on mobile phone usage rates.

    It's estimated that in 2013, there will be more local search on mobile devices than on desktops. Most website are not yet mobile optimized and provide a poor user experience that leads to lost sales and connection opportunities.

    With mobile technology being the clear leader in the future, It will be interesting to see how the usability and site architecture play a part in the success of websites being able to generate leads. Obviously, simplification becomes an even more important element; where information is just a finger tap away.