Communicating Your Site’s Purpose
This is the second in a series of three articles that focuses on how you can make a big impact on usability with small changes to your website.
There are a few elements critical to creating a good user experience on any website:
- Users have to be able to find what they are looking for.
- They have to understand what you offer and how you can help them.
- They have to be able to complete their tasks easily.
In this second part of the series, we will focus on how to help users understand who you are, what you do, and how you can help them. If you missed it, read Part 1 of this series on Helping Users Find What They’re Looking For.
Imagine walking into a store, looking around, and thinking to yourself: “I have no idea what goods or services are available here.” This is often the experience of users on a website that fails to communicate, at-a-glance, what that website can do for its users and customers. Internet users have short attention spans and high expectations. When it comes to understanding your website’s purpose, you must communicate clearly and quickly what the focus of your website is. Make sure you are not losing potential customers within those first few critical seconds by following some of these best practices.
Business Name & Logo Placement
Visitors to your site should be able to locate your logo quickly. It needs to be a reasonable size and appear uncluttered by other elements in the header. Top left is the expected placement for most website logos, so if you choose an alternate placement, be sure that it stands out clearly from the things around it. Consider also how your logo appears on the mobile version or rendering of your site.
If your business name does not explicitly describe what you do (e.g. “Bob’s Plumbing”), you should consider adding a descriptive tagline to your site header. This will help your visitors “get” what you’re all about in just a few seconds. The exception to this would be if your business is already so well known it is a household name (i.e., Target, Amazon, etc.)
The following examples, from Beardbrand.com and Ifixyouri.com, show uncluttered logos that are easy to locate, read, and understand. Users will have a pretty good idea at-a-glance what these websites offer, just by looking at the easy-to-find logos and taglines.
Many business websites use messages that are business-focused, rather than customer-focused: “We sell widgets X, Y, and Z. We are the best in the business and have been doing it for 40 years.” That may be true, but this is a message that will fall flat with your customers.
The following example from Myfinancex.com has a headline that communicates two of the benefits of its online money management tool —“easy and effective”— but it starts with “we” and does not tap into users’ emotional issues and frustrations with trying to manage their money. Still it is a message that is focused on the business, not what the consumer needs.
That headline is probably not going to convince a lot of potential customers that this is the best tool for them. However, if your messages connect emotionally with users by telling them how you’ll solve their really big problems, they are more likely to hear you and engage with you. In the case of someone searching for an online money management tool, a person’s true frustrations are likely to be:
- I am not a bookkeeper. I have no idea how to budget or track money.
- I don’t know how I’m spending my money or where it goes.
- I don’t have money to spend for an online budgeting tool.
- I’m not a spreadsheet person.
- I should be saving money, but I don’t have enough left over after bills.
- I need access to my finances on the go, through my mobile phone.
Mint.com, another online money management tool, has a headline that taps into the frustration most people have with money: They don’t know how they’re spending it!
Once again, users are being sold on the ease of use of the tool, but this headline goes so much further by addressing people directly and solving their big problem of not understanding what’s going on with their money.
The text following the headline goes on to tell users the other ways this tool can help solve their really big problems. The images reinforce that the tool has easy-to-read charts and works across devices. The short sign-up form lets users know that it is free to get started. Everything on this page is laser focused on communicating the benefits of using Mint.com’s product.
Get Rid of Clutter
Two of the core qualities of website usability are simplicity and clarity. Clutter makes people uncomfortable and can give the impression that your site — and therefore, your business — is disorganized and unreliable.
Avoid the following things that can clutter your site, distract users, and prevent them from understanding your purpose:
- Unnecessary, flashy animations, which can also cause slow load times
- Distracting audio
- Overuse of multiple, bright colors
- Inconsistent, mix-and-match visual styles
- Too many links, especially those that lead users offsite
- Overwhelming advertising
Test, Test, Test
There is no better way to find out if users understand your site’s purpose than to test it with actual users.
Five Second Test
Five Second Test helps you understand people’s first impressions of your existing web pages, designs or wireframes. By finding out what a person recalls about your design after looking at it for just 5 seconds, you can ensure that your message is being communicated as effectively as possible.
Five Second Test will provide you a detailed report of results from your test showing a breakdown of the interactions each tester had with your design.
UserTesting.com allows you to “look over the shoulder” of your target audience while they use your website, so you can see and hear where users get stuck and why they leave. You will get to watch videos of participants using your site, and hear them describe their impressions of your website. You can run tests with participants from UserTesting.com that match the demographics of your audience, or with your own customers
Every business can make website improvements that will help users quickly and easily understand what you have to offer. Eliminating clutter, having a clear brand identity, and speaking directly to users about how you can solve their problems will have a big impact. Can you identify one or two things listed here that you could do to improve your site? Make these small changes, track your analytics data, and conduct user tests to see if they improve your site’s user experience and move your business toward meeting its online goals.