today’s biz ladies post is dedicated to a topic that’s near and dear to my heart- website design and user experience. as someone who looks at least 200-300 websites a day via submission emails, i can tell you that there are some definite do’s and don’ts when it comes to creating a site that entices people to visit, learn, and shop. today lawyer (and craft lover) diana van helvoort will be sharing her expert tips for creating a website that gives your users an ideal experience. no matter what sort of business you run, it is always good to know the tricks of the trade to create a site that provides both what you and your customers need.
CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!
WEB SITE USEABILITY AND USER FRIENDLINESS
Hello DS readers! Before I jump to today’s Biz Ladies topic concerning web site usability and user experience, I’ll tell you a bit about myself.
My name is Diana van Helvoort, and although I’m a lawyer by profession, I spent most of my working years as a project manager in the IT world, managing projects in the area of web content management as well as web shop and portal set up. Two years ago, I was ready for something else, and decided to take the plunge by leaving the corporate world and becoming an independent small business owner in the crafting and design area. Old love revived.
My knowledge and experience in the field of internet and the setup and managing of web sites, certainly helped me a lot to get my own business started, and today I’m very happy to share some of this experience with you. Hopefully I can give you some good tips to help make your site a successful one. One that sticks to people’s minds, not only because of the products presented, but also because it enables them to find what they look for in a quick and pleasant way.
To get started, I’d like to tell you about three core elements that influence web site usability. For each of these key topics I’ll try to give you some tips on how to get started as a small business owner (knowing about limited time and budget resources from my own experience!), and I’ll close off with a check list that will hopefully help you assessing your current web site, or getting started on a brand new site.
Core Elements of Usability
All of these three elements are equally important.
2. Look and feel
3. Stability and functionality
When it comes to designing a web site, many site owners put a lot of thought and energy in the way a site looks (The so-called “look-and-feel” of a web site). Something just as important however, is the site’s structure. It is key to the user-friendliness of your site that people know at a glance what they can expect, and, as a next step, where they can find the details. They are not going to dig through a labyrinth of links, as surfing time is short. Even if they decide they don’t need it now: A site that clearly conveys its content is quicker to grasp, more easily added to a “favorites” list, and more likely to get recommended to a friend.
Site structure is about how the single pages within your web site are grouped and how they link together. To get a user-friendly structure in place, it is vital to bring two things together: Your target group and the key message of your site.
For instance: Is selling hand-made products directly to end-users your primary goal? Do you want to provide an inspirational platform for local/international readers on a specific topic, or is your web presence a virtual business card that functions as a service portal to a brick-and-mortar distribution system?
Your core content is where you need to built your site around.
1. Making a mind map is a good tool to translate all the above to your own situation. Start by putting the core goal for your site in the middle of a blank page and add pieces of related content around it as you think of them (keywords will do). After an initial brainstorm, you’ll need to start grouping all these pieces in logical segments. Also check competitor’s or your own favorite web sites for important content bits you might have forgotten.
2. Leave the results for a few days, then come back and rigorously shift through all the categories you put together. It’s very important to keep it simple. Don’t overload your site right from the start. Once you’ll have a picture of your content groups it will be relatively easy to pull your site navigation together. This will show you how many pages need to be created, and how they should be linked. In case you decide to involve a web designer for the actual site creation – this is an excellent preparation for your first meeting.
To summarize the steps:
* Establish your core content: What is the goal of your site?
* Check other/competitors sites for content
* Group all the found content pieces logically
* Rigorously select keeping your target customers in mind.
* Use these findings as a basis for your navigation structure.
3. Draw out your complete site. Only this way you will catch most of the required navigation links from the start.
4. Keep it simple: Don’t create too many pages. This will make your navigation list too long or too cumbersome for your users. As a rule of thumb for small businesses: Four to five levels deep, and 3 to 4 levels broad is enough
5. Remember: Core content (e.g. the landing (=entry) page of a web shop) should never be more than two to three clicks away from within any point of your site.
2. Look and feel
This part is about the way your site actually looks and the lay-out of its pages. It encompasses things like color schemes, font types, pictures and page size. If the structure discussed under point one (Structure) forms the bricks, this is the wall finish. There are many subjective choices that can be made here, but there are some objective facts that help making the site attractive as well.
In most cases help of a web designer (or friend) is most welcomed here. Color schemes, and web fonts are relatively easy to manage, but resizing pictures, creating and managing style sheets and setting up a page lay-out in a web page programming tool are not always easy.
Fortunately many web hosting providers also offer free web building tools. These will give you a gliding scale of freedom on how to create your web site, depending on your skills or willingness to dive into this subject matter. If you have no budget for a web designer and have no experience yourself: Stick to the given templates of these tools for starters and tweak them to your liking. They might not lead to the most original web pages, but you won’t go wrong with them either if you keep your list from point one (Structure) at hand.
* The design should be fit your navigation and core content as established under 1 (Structure).
* Again: Keep it simple. Flash intros are great for Prada, B&B Italia and the new Harry Potter but don’t do a lot for most other websites. Same for music, and overly creative fonts.
* Text should be short and simple. Have your spelling checked.
* Use any colour scheme you like, as long as it fits your product/style, and ALL text remains visible.
* Use good pictures. Invest in (product) pictures!!
* Be consequent throughout your site when it comes to lay-out, font, color schemes etc.
* Use a statistic tool. Not only to keep track of the amount of visits, single visitors and their location, but you can also have the tool track how often specific areas of your site are being visited and for how long (e.g. via Google Analytics, which is for free).
* Once you have your web site ready (or your web designer has) make sure to get a couple of friends/family members/trusted colleagues to look at it. It easier for them when you prepare a little questionnaire with some concrete questions like:
o “Which browser do you use?”
o “Does the site show properly on your screen?”
o “Do you find all text easy to read (font, font size, font color, line breaks)?”
o “Do the pictures load quickly?”
o “Are the product descriptions clear and do they convey enough information on the product?”
o “Can you find information on payment and shipping easily?” or “Is it easy to locate a reseller in your neighborhood?”
o “Do you miss specific content or information on the site?”
3. Stability and Functionality
Stability: Worst thing that can happen to a site is when it is down too often. Therefore: Choose a stable provider, with a clear service level package, clear communications on down-time, and good accessibility when there are issues (email, telephone). 100% site availability does not exist, but 98% is close enough.
You can change the “look and feel” of your site sometimes to give it an upgrade or a fresh impression, but don’t dabble too much with the navigation unless it’s a clear improvement. Returning visitors and customers will thank you for it.
Functionality: Product specifications, language choice, store locators, newsletter registration, payment options, product views, downloadable files, polls. The list is endless, and it’s good to keep yourself informed about the possibilities and what your competitors offer, but in the end let your core content and targeted visitors give you your direction on what to add and what not. For example: Picture galleries are excellent for art work presentation, but only form an overhead to manage for a web shop. Adding a “print this page” icon is great for a list of events or products with technical specifications, but not required for a simple product picture with pricing information.
1. Use a link checker tool! Here’s a list that compares some of the tools: http://www.cryer.co.uk/resources/link_checkers.htm but there is many more on the web. Just google on “link checker”.
2. Add only functionality that makes sense in relation to your core content and target visitors. E.g. Payment options, available languages, “print this page”, newsletters, polls etc.
3. Be careful in choosing your provider and always opt for a system that makes it easy to add or reduce functionality. You don’t want to run to your web designer for every little sentence change, copy and paste of standard code or picture upload!
* Is the focus of your web site clear enough? All “roads should lead to Rome” in this aspect!
* Have you put all your content and functionality up with your target group in mind? Look critically at your existing or planned site? Are you really using the newsletter feature regularly? Do you need another language maybe?
* What is the “depth” and “width” of your site? Does it exceed the “4 to 5 levels deep and 3 to 4 levels broad”-rule of thumb for a small business site? Remember: the deeper/broader you go the more complex your navigation gets and the more content you have to maintain!
* Do you have a link checker?
* Have you checked your site with different browsers?
* Do you have a site statistics tool activated that can track the amount/duration of visits to different areas of your site?
* Are you entirely dependent on a web designer for adding content/pictures/bits of standard code functionality? If yes: think about ways how you can make yourself more independent, otherwise the cost of maintenance could become a burden.
Good Luck to you all with your web pages!