Losing Customers Because Your Website is Difficult to Use?

Is Your Website Difficult to Use?

Have you ever struggled to find an app or function on your mobile phone? Ever struggled with the settings on a microwave or found someone else’s television remote control difficult to use? Most of us have and these are examples of poor usability. When we encounter something that is hard to use we feel confused and frustrated. This is also true of websites. Your website should be easy to use because if it’s not your potential customers will be confused and frustrated and will leave your site.

Here are some tips for ensuring that your website is easy to use

Navigation Menu

Your navigation is key for helping visitors find content on your website and making their way through your site. The navigation should be styled consistently and look the same on each page. The navigation should be in the same place on each page and should contain the same links, each in the same place within the menu.

The navigation should be obvious, positioned towards the top or top side of each page. You can duplicate the navigation at the bottom on long pages but never use just bottom navigation as it will be difficult for the user to find.

Ensure that each link in the navigation menu is clearly labelled. Use specific terms that make it obvious to the user where they will be taken when clicking the link.

It is tempting to put all links into the navigation menu but if you have more than 8 or 9 links the user will be confused and will have trouble finding the menu item that they are seeking.

Signposts

At all times the user should know what page they are on. Firstly re-assure the user that they are on your site by having consistent branding from page to page. It is likely that the user will have many tabs open, each with other websites loaded so when they are on your page it is important that they identify your brand. A page title is important as this appears in the browser tab when the user has multiple tabs open (the title is also important for search results, but more about that in another post).

A page heading immediately locates the user within you site and summarises the page content. Sub-headings are also important for longer pages where the user may have to scroll.

Breadcrumbs is the term used for a list of links showing you where you are within the site. The breadcrumbs may display something like:

Website Name > Products > Nike > Nike Air Trainer

This tells the user that the Nike Air Trainer product that they are looking at is in the Nike category which is on the products page, which in turn is a subsection of the website. Each of the links in the breadcrumbs navigation should be clickable so that the user can decide to go back to Nike or Products or the home page with one click.

Visual Hierarchy

What is the goal of your website? As the site owner what is the most desirable outcome of each users visit to your site? What does the user want to find or do when they come to your site? Answer these questions and you have identified the most important elements of your website. Now you must place these items in the most prominent place on your site. Generally this is towards the top and center of your page. Make these items stand out a little more by using strong colours or by increasing the size.

As you move down the page, or to the sides the content that is displayed is gradually less important than those at the top center, but may still be of interest to some of your visitors.

This is your visual hierarchy.

Content Organisation

Having well organised content is important. Divide long passages of text into paragraphs and use headings to describe each paragraph.

If you have loads of images or videos on your website create multiple galleries or albums of related images or videos.

Use proximity, and/similarity or colour to group items together so that your visitors understand the relationship. For example, if you are listing your services on the home page you would put these close together, use similar size boxes for each and use the same colour for headings and links, whereas other unrelated content would be separated from services and a different size or colour.

Clarity

Don’t clutter. Use plenty of whitespace in your layout. Whitespace is not wasted space. It gives the users’ eye a place to rest and it separates out sections of your page from other sections.

Compare this to your garden. You wouldn’t plant a forest of trees in your garden. A grass lawn complements gives breathing space and allows the eye to focus on the flowers and plants in your garden. Obviously the eye will be attracted to the brightest, most colourful and largest plants in the most prominent locations.

Clarity in your message is also important. Use simple text and don’t confuse the user. Unless you are dealing with a highly technical subject and you know your website users are PHd graduates keep the language simple and easy to understand. State you message in as few words as possible.

Error Handling

Another frustrating experience for users is when a web page is broken. We are all familiar with the 404 Error – Page not found. This is annoying and confusing for the user and they may think that they have done something wrong.

There are a couple of approaches we can take. The first is to prevent broken links by using a plugin such as Broken Link Checker to notify us when a link is broken. We can then find and fix the link easily.

A second approach is to use a custom 404 page in place of the browser default. You can set this up in your cPanel or in your WordPress theme. This page will be branded the same as other pages on your website but should first apologise to the user for the missing page and then offer alternative links so that the user can find the page they were looking for or a similar page.

No Surprises Please

There are many conventions in web design. For example, we expect links to be underlined, and probably blue. We expect that clicking on the company logo will take us to the home page. We expect that if we go to any page the navigation menu will give us a way of jumping quickly to another page.

The user visits your site to find some information or buy something. They want to do this as quickly and as easily as possible so stick to the conventions that make it easy for the user to use your website and they will have a good experience.

Ecommerce

This leads us to Ecommerce usability. Make it easy for users to checkout. Reduce the number of steps that they have to take. Allow guest checkout without registration – not everyone wants a relationship with your business, some just want to make a quick purchase and leave. Allow them to do this.

If you do require a user to register on your website, whether for Ecommerce or for another reason, make the registration process as easy as possible. Only require the user to enter the minimal amount of information to successfully register. They can always add further information at a later time.

I see this commonly where website owners want really long registration forms, asking the user a load of unnecessary questions. They focus on what they want and ignore what the user wants. The excuse is “we really need that information” even though it is clear that the form fields should be optional rather than required. The end result is less signups because users are unwilling to complete all of the required form fields.

Testing

In summary, an easy to use website leads to happy users who are more likely to become happy customers so it’s a win-win situation. It’s always important to carry out user testing on your website and I will explain the best ways to do this in another blog post.

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