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Small Usability Changes That Have a Big Impact, Part 2

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.

Instant Recognition

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.

Tagline

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.

Beardbrand.com:

3-Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 2.15.30 PM

IFixyouri.com:

4-Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 2.27.37 PM

User-Focused Messages

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.

Myfinancex.com:

2-Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 2.52.15 PM

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!

Mint.com:

1-Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 2.50.27 PM

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

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

Parting Thoughts

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.

Small Usability Changes That Have a Big Impact

Part 1: Help Users Find What They’re Looking For

Sign "You Are Here"This is the first in a series of three articles that focuses on how you can make a big impact on usability with small changes to your website. The thought of completely overhauling a website can be daunting: so daunting that it can cause inaction on the part of businesses, web teams, and marketers. However, even small changes will improve users’ experiences on your website, perhaps more dramatically than you might expect.

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.

This series of articles will explore these issues one at a time, and look at some simple solutions that you can quickly implement. Let’s start with helping users find what they’re looking for.

User-Friendly Navigation

Your website navigation is one of the most important ways users get around on your site. People expect navigation systems to be easy to use and well organized. While your website should be unique and creative, the navigation should be standard enough that users don’t have to search for it or question how to use it. This is not the place for wildly unconventional thinking.

Here are a few things you can do to help users find what they are looking for with your navigation. Making one, two, or any of these improvements will enhance the usability of your site.

Make it Obvious

Users should easily be able to find and identify your primary navigation. Use standard placement, either horizontally across the top of your page, or vertically down the left side. If your main navigation is too small, in a non-standard location, or too crowded by other elements, your site’s bounce rate is likely to be high.

Here are two examples:

Horizontal Primary Navigation
Sample of horizontal navigation

Vertical Primary Navigation
Sample of horizontal navigation

Keep It Consistent

Your primary navigation should remain consistent, visually and structurally, from page to page so it’s always there when your visitors need to access it. If your primary navigation varies between sections or pages of your site, is it beneficial and helpful to users? Might they be better served by consistent navigation? The answer is usually, yes.

Home Link

About half of users expect that your logo will link to the homepage. This is a standard industry practice that your site should be following.  But what about the other 50% of users? Many of them don’t know that logos typically link to homepages, and then they become frustrated trying to get back to home. For those users, it is best to include a “Home” link in the primary navigation. In order not to take up too much space and clutter the navigation, many sites successfully employ a home icon to help users navigate to the homepage.

sample of prominent logo=link to home page nutrisystem

Use Relevant Keywords

Your primary navigation is one place to tell people and search engines about what you do. This is accomplished by using navigation labels with top-of-mind keywords and phrases for users, which you can identify within your analytics data or by using Google Keyword Planner.

Make sure that navigation labels reflect the keywords that users are looking for. Avoid obscure or less-used terms, jargon, and clever wordplay. For example, most people planning a trip search for “Hotels” rather than “Lodging.” Navigation should reflect that.

Keep It Simple

The fewer items in your primary navigation the better. Six or seven should be the absolute maximum number of top-level items. Did you know that human short-term memory cannot handle more than seven chunks of information at a time? It’s true. Also, place the most important items at the beginning and the end of the navigation list, or highlight them to draw attention.

Example of Consistent Navigation

Avoid Dropdown Menus (Most of the Time)

Most regular dropdown menus are annoying and rife with usability problems. They’re hard to read and difficult to use. According to usability studies from Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), dropdown menus create a less efficient and less pleasant user experience, making people more likely to abandon your site.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. NNG’s usability studies have found that “mega drop down menus” often test well and overcome the downsides of regular dropdowns. Be sure you’re following best practices if you feel that your site is well served by having dropdown menus.

Example of mega dropdown menu

Let Users Know They’re in the Right Place

Whether users have arrived at a page on your site from Google or through your site’s navigation and internal links, you want to reassure them that they have indeed found the content are looking for.

Page Headers

The headline text of a page has proven time and time again to impact the page’s potential conversion rate significantly.  The headers should stand out on the page and be the first thing a user reads when they arrive. There should be only one primary headline, with <h1> coding tags. Secondary <h2> and tertiary <h3> headlines can be used as needed.

Consistency is important: it builds confidence in users, and makes them feel at ease. Page headers and the navigation links to them should match. For example, the “About Us” link in the navigation should take users to a page called, “About Us,” and not one called, “Meet Our Team.”

The following image shows a page with a nearly invisible page header.

Example of invisible header

Users will have trouble understanding both what content is on this page, and where they are within the site.

In contrast, this next page has a large header and non-cluttered layout that assures users they have found the content they came looking for.

Example of prominent navigation

Highlight Active Navigation

Another way to let users know they’re in the right place is to use highlighted active navigation. Active navigation allows users to understand where they are within the site and confidently get around using the different navigation elements (primary navigation, secondary navigation, breadcrumbs, etc.). Active navigation states are something can be implemented fairly easily with CSS styles.

Helpful Error Pages

What happens when a user mistypes a page URL, or clicks a broken link on your site? They are taken to a 404 Error Page.

The absolute worst thing you can do is send users to an error page like this one:

example of unhelpful 404 page

This is not helpful at all. Rather, the error page is your opportunity to engage users, help them find what they’re looking for, and keep them on your site.

You should have a friendly custom 404 Error Page on your website like this one:

Example of useful 404 page

Smashing Magazine has a is a useful article about how to decrease your site’s errors and optimize error pages here.

Parting Thoughts

Every business can make usability changes to improve their website so that users find what they are looking for quickly and easily. We must try to think like our users, understand their frustrations, and make changes that will enable them to feel confident navigating our websites.

Can you identify one or two things in this article 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. Let us know how it works for you!

Make Your Phone Number Bigger, Damn It!

Here’s a quick website optimization tip for you: make your phone number more visible to users.

A good number of businesses have the ultimate goal of getting people to contact them. Yet, on many business websites it is difficult — sometimes impossible — to find a phone number. There are many reasons why it is important to give users easy access to your phone number, even if calling you isn’t the #1 action you want them to take.

Visibility Is Important

Quick! Go to your website and find your business’s phone number in fewer than 5 seconds.

If you found it easily, there’s a good chance that your online customers can find it, too. If you had to dig around on multiple pages, or scan tiny text in the footer to find your phone number, you are making life too difficult for many of your users.

We conduct a lot of website audits here at Sixth Man Marketing. A surprisingly large number of the websites we analyze don’t have highly-visible phone numbers. We always suggest that this be remedied.

Putting a prominent phone number in the header of your site is a quick and easy site-wide fix. It will increase your chances of getting leads from potential customers. It also helps build trust, which can lead to more online conversions.

Here are two excellent examples of websites with prominent phone numbers in the right-hand corner of the page:

SCC with phone number highlighted

 

Hotstart page with phone number highlighted

Increase Conversions for Online Actions

There have been numerous tests conducted on websites which show that trust is an important part of the decision-making process. Those tests have shown that highly-visible phone numbers increase conversions. In fact, the increase in conversions (online sales, form submissions, etc.) is almost always larger than the increase in phone calls. For users, the fact that a phone number is readily available is reassuring in their decision to take an online action.

circle of trust - you

Are you concerned that showing a phone number will drive calls that you can’t, or don’t, want to handle? Making a phone number easy to find does not necessarily cause users to switch from an online action to a phone call. It does, however, make things easier for users who already have the desire to call and talk to a live person. Shutting down phone options for users is rarely a good idea, as it limits your ability to serve customers in a way that best meets their needs.

Mobile Considerations

A 2012 Google-Nielson study found that when people are searching on mobile devices, we’re on a quick path to action (phone call, purchase, etc.). In fact, there is a growing contingent of marketers that refer to mobile optimization as utility marketing. Check out this great supremely awesome article from our favorite analytics crush, Avinash Kaushik, to learn more.

Mobile Searches graphic

  • 73 percent of mobile searches trigger follow-up actions
  • 63 percent of mobile search-triggered actions occur within 1 hour of the initial search
  • 45 percent of mobile searches “are conducted to help make a decision” (in a store, that number goes up to 66 percent)
  • 28 percent of mobile searches result in conversions

Source: http://searchengineland.com/study-55-percent-of-mobile-search-driven-conversions-happen-in-one-hour-or-less-151432

To make it easier for mobile users to call you, be sure that your phone number is prominent and clickable on mobile devices. This is coded in the following way:

<a href=”tel:15091234567” class=”phone-link”>(509) 123-4567</a>

Notice that the number in the actual link starts with a 1, which is the international U.S. country code.

Tips & Best Practices

Here are some guidelines for including your phone number on your website. As with all changes you make to your website, it is wise to conduct A/B Testing to definitively see how the changes are working for your audience.

  • Make your phone number easy to find on every page of your site. The top right corner of your site header is where users will expect to find it.
  • Code your phone number as text rather than a graphic. This will make it accessible to search engines and visually disabled users.
  • If you have multiple phone numbers, choose one main number to include in the site header. You can post a list of your many department/location phone numbers on the contact page relevant to their need.
  • If your business uses call tracking, be sure to follow these best guidelines to ensure local search data integrity as well as this guide from Mary Bowling.

After that, consult your web team to make sure your phone number is big enough: we did!

Do You Need A Mobile-Friendly Website?

Power to the people smartphone - red

Photo Credit: upshot.net

Business owners often ask if they need a mobile website. The short answer is a resounding, unequivocal:YES!

If you use the internet to serve existing customers, and you want to attract new customers, then you definitely need a website that renders well and is easy to use on mobile devices. This not only includes smartphones, but all sizes and makes of tablets.

You may ask yourself, “Why do I need a mobile website?” Again, the short, unequivocal answer is: Mobile is where your customers are.

Over 50% of mobile phone users in the US now have smartphones, and 80% of them say they don’t leave home without their phone.

Smartphone Penetration By Age Group

Google reports that mobile search queries on its search engine have exploded by 500% in the past 5 years.  It also indicates that 20% of all searches for phones and phone services take place on mobile devices, along with 25% of all searches for movies and 30% of all restaurant queries. Enormous numbers of searches for retail products, travel, financial and personal and professional services are also completed from smartphones.  (Do you hear that foot traffic? No? It’s the sound of people going to your competitors’ places of business, the ones that have mobile websites.) If you are in one of these industries, and your website is not mobile-friendly, you are losing out on a huge chunk of potential business.

This chart breaks out what kinds of mobile searches Americans are doing, and explores how on-the-go people shop online:

US Mobile Shopping Behavior 2012

In the United States, an estimated 25% of internet users do so only via mobile devices.

This trend is strongest among younger people, whose power-use of their smartphones keeps them wired 24/7, no matter where they are or what they’re doing. They communicate via voice, text, video chat, photos, as well as email and social networks, like Twitter and Facebook. They also get their news, weather and time from their phones instead of other media. They use their phones for searching, mapping, banking, shopping, and all kinds of entertainment: from gaming, to listening to music, to watching the latest movies.  (If you doubt this claim and need further proof, check out this colorful photo essay.)

If attracting and interacting with younger people is important for your business, you needed a mobile friendly website yesterday, not tomorrow.

If you operate a global business, mobile is even more important to your future.

There are more than 6 billion mobile subscribers in the world: more that 87% of our global population. Over 30% of those subscribers are in the rapidly-expanding Asian markets of China and India. Studies show that over 40% of online shopping in Brazil and Australia takes place on mobile devices. In the United Kingdom, the US and Canada, that number is about 30%.

There is a huge gap between those who or do not use mobile devices in terms of their access to information, timeliness of communication, and the ability to interact with others.  There is also an ever-widening chasm between businesses that get mobile marketing, and those who think otherwise. Check out Google’s Mobile Playbook: The Busy Executive’s Guide to Winning with Mobile if you are ready to get going.

Your customers and potential customers are rapidly moving into the future. Are you going with them or will you be left behind?

Tine Reese Design Case Study

It’s human nature to try to appear bigger and stronger than we really are. It’s served us well for thousands of years. In ancient times we would thump our chests, wear huge plates of armor, and give the appearance of size and strength. It intimidated our enemies, kept fights and battles from starting in the first place, and ultimately, kept us alive. Today, many small businesses take that same chest-puffing approach to gaining clients and growning their business.

I’m here to tell you it’s a big mistake.

It’s the wrong thing to do for a number of reasons. However, for the purpose of this post I’m going to relate it to the Local Search side of Sears in a case study about Tine Reese Graphic Design.

Tell your prospective clients exactly what you offer.

Tine (pronounced “Teen,” short for Christine) only wants to work 2-3 days/week at the moment. The rest of her time is dedicated primarily to her family (son, dog, cat, and husband, plus prepping kiddo 2.0 that’s due in early March). She doesn’t want to pretend she’s a big design agency and quite honestly doesn’t want the stress of one. She’s a part-time freelance graphic designer with a passion for arts organizations and non-profits. Talk about a niche market! By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m the husband in question listed just after the cat and dog (hey, at least I’m in the top 5).

So why does she need search engine optimization, anyway?

Too many small businesses think they need huge leaps in search traffic. While this may be important to some businesses, most small businesses should really focus on getting the right traffic. In Tine’s case, because her desired niche has such a small search volume in the Spokane area, she needs to have a laser focus to ensure that any local arts organizations or non-profits can find her online and view her portfolio.

The importance of relevance.

From a local search standpoint I made sure that her descriptions and categories were consistant, descriptive, and accurate in her Google Local Business Center (GLBC) as well as the many web citations I created. Many small businesses don’t take the time to add a complete description in the GLBC and local directories. And even if they do, many are listed under inaccurate or non-relevant categories. Don’t let this happen to you!

Tell it like it is – SEO

Her web site is very graphics driven with little text, so my options were a bit limited in terms of on-page optimization possibilities. I chose to focus on the term “freelance graphic designer.” While it has a much lower keyword search volume than “graphic design,” or “web site design” it much more accurately describes the search for an individual graphic designer. I also focused on the type of work she wants; web design, print, logo design, and invitations. Again, relevance was given much higher priority than search volume.

Tell it like it is – About/Description

She wanted her web site to primarily serve as an online home for her portfolio. However, I think she did a great job with the about page that really connects with her desired audience (I had nothing to do with this).

“Tine Reese is an experienced and passionate graphic designer who understands the communication challenges faced by nonprofits, foundations, arts organizations and small businesses. With a knack for simplifying complex ideas and conveying messages clearly and elegantly, she creates targeted communications that consider a client’s organizational objectives and, most importantly, budget.

Over the last 14 years Tine has worked at design studios in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco and co-founded a highly successful marketing communications firm whose clients include many of the most outstanding nonprofit organizations in California.”

I’m pretty confident that if a local non-profit, small business on a budget, or arts organization found her web site online that she’s going to get some serious consideration. Conversely, a big corporate entity would easily know that hiring her is probably not the right fit.

So what are the results?

Her web site hasn’t even been live a month yet and I’m already quite pleased with the search results. Here’s a list of Local Search results for her in the Spokane area:

freelance graphic design spokane
freelance design spokane

freelance print designer

But a couple of things just blew me away. The first was gaining an authoritative one box for the term “freelance graphic designer Spokane.”

I seriously doubt this will stay there very long (especially after this post). Another big surprise this early in the game was ranking 2nd overall in Google Maps for the term “freelance logo designer.” These results are certainly nice from an SEO standpoint (especially this early in a project) but the real results come from gaining new accounts. On that front, I’m happy to report that she has three new clients since her web site has launched and is really excited about the work. I honestly can’t take much of the credit, though. Her portfolio is awesome! That’s what really gets the work. Some people think that SEO’s have some secret sauce (I heard this from a client in a meeting last week) for success. We don’t. But we can expose your business to as many of the right people searching for your product or service as possible. The rest is up to you.