So often people spend a great deal of time on making their site absolutely gorgeous, embracing the latest techniques and really making the thing pop visually. They treat it more like an art project than a tool. And that’s absolutely great. The only problem is that often these people forget one vital truth: it doesn’t matter how pretty your website is, if people can’t use it, can’t find what they’re looking for or get annoyed or frustrated when they use it, then it’s not a good site.
Unless you’re specifically creating a website for artistic purposes rather than usability – as in something that’s meant to be admired rather than searched for information, sales or the like – user-friendliness and efficiency should be your top priorities. For that reason, here are some strategies to apply to make both easier and faster to use.
Fast load times are vital
If your page hasn’t loaded within 2 seconds then you’ve lost almost half your audience. Now that can’t be what you’re after. So make certain the page loads quickly. Note that this does not mean that you immediately need to switch to a more expensive provider. One strategy that seems to work well is to load your page in stages. Give them the most important elements, such as the top and the central text, first and then load in the rest, like the supporting imagery along with the bottom.
Users use visual shapes to read pages
Based on eye-tracking software it’s been discovered that depending on how much information is on the page, users will generally scan it in either a ‘Z’ or an ‘F’ pattern, with the former for more visual pages, and the latter for more text rich pages. That means they all start in the top left and then scan across the top, then either go straight down or go across and down.
They will lock onto the first thing that seems to fit what they’re looking for and if it’s a link generally click on it. What that means is that your most important information should be along the top (that’s why the menu bar goes there) while if you’ve got a text rich page your text should be bullet pointed and easily scanned.
Users don’t read
They scan for what they’re looking for. They will first explore pictures and other visual cues to see if these contain the information they need. Only after that will they go for text. The denser the text, the more hesitant they are about approaching it.
Certain Fonts are easier to read
Particularly I’m talking about serif fonts, which are those fonts with the bits sticking out above and below the line. What’s more, instructions that are written in more accessible fonts are seen as more understandable and easier to carry out. That can make a real difference if you’re trying to get people to pursue your call to action.
Switch up your Typography
Your website is not a book and isn’t going to be consumed like one. As already mentioned, people scan it quickly and don’t go too far into depth. So to aid the user, use different types of text in different places. If something important, bold it, underline it or italicize it. That way it will be much easier for the user to spot. Similarly, make certain you use good headings that are easily understood, and bullet points wherever you can.
And use short paragraphs with spaces between them! On webpages, where space is virtually free, there is absolutely no reason to have big dense blocks of text.
Use Color (and know what different colors mean)
Don’t just use black and white unless you know exactly what you’re doing. Instead rely on color to mark different areas and get different points across. Of course, before you do so be sure that you actually know what the different colors do to your audience. Otherwise you could end up doing more harm than good.
People look at what pops
The bigger and more visually stimulating something is, the quicker it will draw eyes. What this means is that this should also be what is the most vital about your page. If you’re selling something, for example, don’t make the ‘shipping free’ or “sales” statement the biggest popper (like quite often happens in adverts) but rather the “buy” or “order now” button, like here LordOfPapers.com as that’s the most important point of the page for you and, if the user chose to come here, them.
It’s such an easy instruction that is so frequently ignored, with so many websites cramming far too many menu items into their top bar and too much text onto their screen. It’s much better to try to be a bit more minimalist and put text either further down, where they can scroll to it, or on other pages – provided they load up quickly of course.
Don’t deep-stack your pages
If people have to get through several layers to get to where your information is they’ll get annoyed and probably abandon the effort altogether. So make sure your page architecture allows them to get anywhere they need to within a few clicks. This isn’t just advantageous for your users either, but will make it easier for google to scan your page and discover the content that’s there, thereby helping people find your page more quickly. And is what we’re all after, right?
You can’t skimp on user friendliness for the simple reason that nobody else is. That means that people have expectations and if they’re not met that will almost inevitably work out badly for you. You can already see that now, with pages that haven’t been updated in a few years (like many university and government pages) looking staid and old and decidedly un-user-friendly.
The thing is that bad page design means people will have a low opinion of you and the information or product you’re trying to share with them. And that, in turn, means that you’re going to have a much lower conversion rate. So don’t fall into a so easily avoidable trap. Take the time to meet user-expectations or sooner than you’ll know you’ll have to take the time to file for bankruptcy. Now that can’t be what you’re after, can it?