Is your website as helpful as your best employee?

Bright Ideas & Strategies for Improving Business Websites

Is your website as helpful as your best employee?

You expect your employees to be friendly, professional, articulate, and helpful to customers—and your website should be the same.

When users come to a website and discover difficult navigation and overwhelming text, it’s like getting a clueless rep on the customer service line. Users will be turned off immediately and be less likely to use your services. For these reasons and more, it’s crucial that you have a user-centered website that follows the best practices of (cue the booming voice) usability.

Usability?

When we say usability, we’re talking about the ease with which users are able to use a website. For example:

Clear Navigation
Users won’t guess their way through a website. Simple, clear, and consistent navigation tells users exactly where they are, where they can go, and what they can find on your site. The main navigation should be easily identifiable and contain a reasonable number of links. Seven links or less is a good rule of thumb, but use your judgment—does the navigation seem disorganized or jam-packed?

Scannable Text
A big part of creating user-friendly content is scannable text. Text needs to be scannable so users can easily find the one thing they’re looking for (and they often are looking for just one thing). Imagine a user comes to your website to find a specific step in a set of instructions, and they’re met with long unlabeled blocks of text that describe each step. Users could spend a great deal of time reading through the text to find the one section or they could take a few seconds to find a website with easier reading. Users value short paragraphs with a decent number of headings and subheadings. These headings help users jump quickly between content and skip the stuff they don’t need.

Important Messages Above the Fold
Just as newspaper editors ensure the day’s most important news is above the fold, we make sure users see your most important information first. We don’t trust users to scroll down the page to see what could possibly be there. Users only scroll down if they are sure they’ll find something good. By organizing content strategically, you help users find what they want and deliver your message to them.

Great design isn’t always easy to use.

You can make design decisions that add to the visual appeal of your website, but the wrong ones can negatively impact your site’s usability (and its ability to generate sales). For example, designers often use drop-down menus to hide menu lists in an effort to remove visual clutter. Usability research shows that drop-down menus, though solving the clutter problem, introduce another (worse) problem. Because the menus disappear once the mouse is moved, users have difficulty remembering their choices—they just can’t create a mental map of the site. They’ll end up lost and—you got it—leave.

That’s why, at Bright Orange Thread, our devotion to creating lead-generating websites goes beyond visual appeal. We continually study best practices and seek out the latest research in usability to make sure your website stays on top. We build sites that not only wow users, but also help them do whatever it is they want to do (so they’ll always come back).

Test usability in a wireframe.

A large step in our design process is creating a functional wireframe prototype that clients can click through to test the usability of their website. They get to experience what their users will experience, before design and programming. Representative users can also test the prototype and changes can be easily made. The wireframe lacks any real aesthetic design, but it allows us to plan out structure and functionality based on actual testing. Only with a wireframe can we fully optimize a website’s design and capabilities.

About the Author
is the Lead Strategist of Bright Orange Thread. Reach him at hfrancke@brightorangethread.com
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