Top ten things you must do for a good user experience
Provide search: No site is too small for a search engine. Unless it’s only a single serving site.
- Provide search: No site is too small for a search engine. Unless it’s only a single serving site.
- Site maps: Some information architects will argue that if a visitor needs to resort to a site map or site index, the navigation has already failed. Whether or not that’s true is really not important. What is important is knowing that a large chunk of visitors jump to the site map without bothering to look at navigation. Don’t disappoint them.
- Target your content: Unless your site is a blog or news site, there’s no reason to keep your users on the home page very long. Send them off to the content they are seeking as quickly and simply as possible. It’s likely that visitors to your site do not all have the same reasons for visiting. Why give them all the same content? The same entrance links? With one simple question, you can tailor a decision tree that guides your visitors to the content they are looking for. Something as simple as “Are you X or Y?” is often all that’s needed to point visitors the right direction.
- Keep your navigation simple: A visitor should not have to guess what your clever link title means. If they spend more than one second; you’ve failed. We know you think your link names are clever. Stop it. Clever only confuses. When navigation is simple and easily translatable, visitors can find desired content quickly and without thinking. Stick to known navigation names that even non-English speaking readers will recognize: Home, About, Contact, Blog, Portfolio (or Gallery), Careers. Save clever for the content.
- Prompt for link types: If you have lots of link types mixed together (PDFs, Word docs, HTML, downloads), let the visitor know that. Provide icons to non-HTML links. If icons are not an option, then describe the link: [PDF, 75 KB]. Providing the size often increases the number of people who will download your file! If they see it’s only a tiny PDF, they are more likely to wait, rather than force-cancel a download the second the browser’s PDF reader kicks in.
- You are here: Always let a user know where they are. This is so obvious and back in the early days of the Web (I’m talking pre-CSS), you knew. Designers created colors for not just links, but active and visited links. With the advent of CSS, the floodgates are open for better design, however designers seem almost averse to active and visited link colors. This is inexcusable and annoying to visitors, especially when there are dozens of similar links to go through.
- How much farther is it: Similar to letting a visitor know where they are on a site, is letting them know how many steps are in a process. Good shopping carts show you how many steps are left. This sets expectations and prevents the dreaded feeling one gets when forms seem to have no end to the number of pages to fill out.
- Clear, concise titles: If every page on your site has the same title, your pages will disappear in search engines, and give your visitors one less visual marker of where they are. Make each page title unique and representative of its content. While you’re at it, make sure the headline of each page matches the title. Doing this solidifies a search engine’s understanding of the page’s content.
- Splash intros are dead: Do we really need to explain this? Go to any usability test and you’ll see firsthand: users universally hate splash intros. Stop creating them and argue against them every time your coworkers suggest them.
- Pay attention to analytics: It’s not enough to look at just how many visitors you get. That number is generally misleading anyway. Look closely at exit pages. Exit pages are crucial. If everyone leaves after your homepage, clearly your homepage is turning people off or confusing them. If they are exiting in the middle of filling out a form, maybe the form is broken, too long or frustrating your visitors. Study of the exit patterns can lead to some of the best usability fixes on your site.
This post originally appeared on Campbell Ewald’s discontinued “The Next Engine” blog.