How to Lock the Door on your Customers
Top 10 Website Usability No-Nos
Although none of these points are new, they’re worthwhile reminding ourselves about because it’s easy to become focused on our message and miss some basic rules about delivery. For the purpose of this article I have included a number of different points under the one umbrella point of “accessibility”.
- Splash Page – Unless you have many different, country specific, websites, you have no need of a splash page. Anything that stands between a user and the content he wants serves only to exasperate. Moreover, splash pages often forgo text for pictures, so the first thing that a search engine spider finds conveys little value.
- Too Much / Badly Written Text – The web is not print. It’s a totally different medium and needs to be treated as such when writing content. With short attention spans, and a different way of reading, web users need text that is chunked into bite-sized pieces of easily scan-able content. Resist the urge to keyword spam. Make it fluid to read. Eschew verbosity, and talk in an active voice. Poor grammar, spelling mistakes, and clumsy typos have a direct representation as to the quality of your service or product.
Note: We find that content writing is the part of the website design process that gets neglected. Clients typically prefer to do it for themselves, but end up not having the time, and rushing it, often deciding to reduce the number of pages in favour of getting “something” up there. Since it’s the text itself that engages, draws in, and sells you to the visitor, shouldn’t you consider hiring a professional to write your content?
- Make me find your contact information. – The ability to contact a real human can make the difference between someone buying, or not buying your product. If you have to search for this information, you’re more likely to give up and go somewhere else. Website visitors are used to the convention of having contact information easily available. For example, shoppers are used to the eCommerce convention of having a phone number provided top-right in the header. Failure to provide it can affect your conversions.Give as many avenues to contact as possible .i.e.
- email address(es)
- contact form
- phone number (including free-phone number AND local numbers)
- Mailing address
- Physical address
- Only looks great in one browser – Non Cross-browser compliancy can be a real issue. The website looks great in the browser you most often use but little known to you, it doesn’t look right, or worse, function correctly in a different browser. You could be losing a large percentage of your potential customers due to technical glitches. Is your website attractive, and fully functional in all the browsers used by your target market? (likely these – http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp)As new browser versions are launched, make sure you check that your website works (IE8 introduced some changes that affected a lot of websites. Make sure you uncheck “Compatibility Mode” to test what your site’s going to look like).
- Accessibility is a last minute thought:
- No Alt Text – missing the Alt Text (Alternative Text) on your images shows that you don’t consider the large percentage of people who have accessibility needs. The visually impaired still buy products and services. 21% of over 65’s suffer from some sort of visual impairment …consider that they make up 36% of the adult online population in the US. It’s also bad for search engines.
- You dictate font size – a tiny font size can be really hard to read. Tests have shown that 12pt is the minimum font size that can be seen by the majority of web users but you still might be missing a large portion of your audience. Most browsers can get around absolute font-sizes now but don’t hard code it anyway. Make sure the size can be changed to the user’s personal preferences.
- Poor font choice – serif fonts work great in print because the serifs help lead the eye and define the letter. Pixels do not have the same level of detail and serif fonts therefore have the opposite effect, making it harder to identify letters. Pick a common, sans-serif font (like Arial) to ensure that the content is as accessible as possible.
- Disco design – flashing gifs, light text on a dark background, poor contrasts: all of these things make it very hard to read a page and will frustrate your target market. Unless your target audience is techno-sado-masochists, avoid these things.
- W3C Compliancy – websites with non-compliant code make it very difficult for those with accessibility issues, such as visual impairment, to view the site. Braille and audio readers can get totally confused by code that would otherwise produce the right visual graphics in a standard browser. If that isn’t reason enough for you, consider that search engines favour websites that use compliant code. Okay, you’re not going to be penalised for non-compliant code but if two websites have identical page rank and keyword density, Google’s going to rank the one with compliant code ahead of the other. Also note that heavily non-compliant code might stop search engine spiders indexing your site whilst it looks fine in a browser.
- No Meta Description – Without a Meta Description, you are leaving it to Google to decide what to write about your page in the search listings snippet. Google comes up with its own suggestion by combining different excerpts from the webpage. The results are, at best, of little value and at worst, portray your business badly. Why leave it to chance?
- Non Descriptive page title – “Home” or an overly general phrase (like the name of your company and nothing else) provides little value to search engines, and doesn’t help users when trying to filter search results. If you’re looking for a Kymco Vitality 50 4T gas scooter, which link are you likely to click on, the one that says “Scooters” or the one that says “Kmyco Vitality 50 4T Gas Scooter”?
- All in Flash – It might look slick but a website designed all in Flash will present some people with accessibility issues, and can be almost invisible to search engine spiders.Web users don’t like “loading” bars. If it’s a movie trailer website they might be prepared to wait but they won’t for a business website. The waiting doesn’t stop there either. Highly complex Flash often has a large file size causing it to load slowly. Admittedly, a really good Flash designer will be able optimize his movie to load pretty fast, and to reuse and pre-load elements to reduce waiting time, but we see too many websites that have been built by designers with a high appreciation of design and a low understanding of function.If that’s not enough to put you off, consider that the text in a Flash movie is Flash and not HTML (there are some exceptions) so search engine spiders can’t read it.
- Mystery Meat Navigation – This one should really be filed under “accessibility” but is such a common issues that I decided to give it its own bullet. Some designers strip the default usability of text links with styling that doesn’t identify them as links. We’re used to seeing these links as blue with an underline, and a different colour when you mouse-over. When you remove all three of those features, the links become invisible.
You knew “channels” was a link right?
Fortunately most website designers have learnt that users don’t want to hunt around the page for a button that a) isn’t obvious, and b) doesn’t have a clear label on it. However, there are still many websites that group content under navigation whose label is not clear. For example, “Contact” being under the “About” page, or naming all the sections based on features of your business (we once had a client suggest naming each section after an animal. Suffice to say that the business had only a tenuous link with animals and we recommended a different course of action). Make it clear, intuitive, and succinct.