Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Optimize the User Experience

We have only moments to grasp the attention of visitors to our site. What we do with those precious moments may determine how that user feels about us for years to come. It’s the old “first impressions last a lifetime” cliché put to use. At the bare minimum of your site design, should be the desire to optimize the user experience. Time is valuable, probably the most precious commodity we have and we should treat it as such. Aside from the obvious importance of delivering engaging, useful content, it should be delivered as quickly and effieciently as possible.

There are a number of tried-and-true considerations outlined by numerous usablity resources. I’m going to focus on three in this article:

  1. Skip the annoying pop-ups
  2. Give your site creditibility
  3. Consistency is golden

Skip the annoying pop-ups
Pop-ups were novel in the beginning, but quickly grew as the top most annoying features of Web sites. Nothing is worse than reading an article on a page and getting interrupted by, “Learn how to increase your income now.” No thanks! It’s completely disrupting to the user’s focus. I don’t think this feature is helpful even on sites that are well intentioned. I recently visited and was immediately faced with a screen that grayed out and a box that asked if I wanted to chat to a live person. This box completely hindered my intentions of reading the page. If that’s what I wanted to do, I would have clicked on your link or even called. I mean, give me a chance to even look around first. I go to the Web to do research to make informed choices at my own pace and in my own way, don’t try to force something out of me I don’t want or I’ll go somewhere else. Not only do they annoy, but in my opinion, they seriously diminish a Web site’s credibility. They give a cheesy, sleezy impression. Like a pushy used-car salesman approach whose only interest is to sell you not to inform you.

Give your site creditibility
If you want to keep your users coming back for more, nothing is more affective than giving them timely, reliable information they can trust. Stanford has put together a top-ten list of creditibilty guidelines compiled over three years and based on 4,500 users input.

  • Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site.
  • Show that there's a real organization behind your site.
  • Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.
  • Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.
  • Make it easy to contact you.
  • Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).
  • Make your site easy to use -- and useful.
  • Update your site's content often (at least show it's been reviewed recently).
  • Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers).
  • Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem.

Additionally, government usability research states “the most important Web site-related actions that organizations can do to help ensure high Web site credibility are to:

  • Provide a useful set of frequently asked questions (FAQ) and answers;
  • Ensure the Web site is arranged in a logical way;
  • Provide articles containing citations and references;
  • Show author’s credentials;
  • Ensure the site looks professionally designed;
  • Provide an archive of past content (where appropriate);
  • Ensure the site is as up-to-date as possible;
  • Provide links to outside sources and materials; and
  • Ensure the site is frequently linked to by other credible sites.”*

Consistency is Golden
A site is easily learned when the actions required by a user are consistent throughout the site. For instance, it is vital to place the navigation in the same place throughout the site so a user can easily navigate from place to place. Also, it is particularly helpful to follow standard practices that users have become accustomed to such as top and left navigation panes. Shopping cart processes also have a flow that users are familiar with. Straying from the norm will only frustrate users and drive their business away.

Further, large sites typically offer different applications with unique functionalities. Valuable time is wasted if the user is forced to re-learn every application he chooses to learn. The more applications a user is forced to re-learn, the less a user desires to venture into new applications. However, if the applications have a consistent interface, a user can easily adapt between them, making for a seemingly transparent transistion as far as the user is concerned. This familiarity results in more willingness to examine additional offerings.

Web sites should faciliate user interactions by encouraging efficiency, credibility, and consistency in order to reach top-notch content. Keeping these key optimization techniques in the forefront of any site plan is a great start to successful Web design.


No comments:

Post a Comment