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Lost in space: site navigation tips

Getting people to visit your website is only half the battle; it’s just as hard to convert them to customers once they’re on it.

Improving usability is about making it easier for people to do what you most want them to do on your website. 

This might be buying your product, calling your sales team, comparing your prices to the competition’s, or learning more about your operations.

Many SMEs struggle with website usability.

It appears that while they understand their customers’ needs on other fronts, this doesn’t necessarily translate to them understanding their customers’ needs in the online environment.

To understand what works for your potential customers, the unanimous response from the website experts we consulted is that you need to step into their shoes.

I’m in business because… ?

Good usability design pairs up the core aims of your website with a suitable information architecture (how the information is arranged) and clear navigation (how you move from place to place), plus other sensible usability practices such as short pages (just one or two-page scrolls in length).

But first, you need to know what your core aims are. Steve Baty, principal at Meld Consulting, recommends you answer the following three questions: What do I need my website to do? What can it reasonably support? And what will visitors to the site expect to achieve?

Once you’ve established your core aims, you need to know who is coming to your website and, more importantly, why they are coming to your website. In fact, getting customers to the site is only half the job.

“It’s easy to get excited when you see early evidence that your online marketing is working,” says Jones. “But ultimately it’s not about page views or visitor rates, it’s about converting visitors to customers.”

All paths lead to home

Shane Morris, Microsoft Australia’s user experience evangelist, points out that visitors usually locate your website through a keyword search and often ‘land’ two or three layers deep, leap-frogging the
home page. This has important repercussions for usability.

“Every page needs to be viewed as a possible landing page,” he says. “As such, two things need to be covered on each page: Who is this company? What do they do? You also need to let them know where they are inside the website and where they can go next.”

Your popular landing pages should reflect the keywords that got people there.

“If I search for ‘Annandale florist’ the two things that should immediately jump out on that landing page are ‘flowers’ and ‘Annandale’,” says Baty. “If they don’t jump out, you have a usability problem. When I land, does the site give me context very quickly? Does it give me the confidence it’s worth sticking around on and buying from?”

But I already have a website!

Starting from scratch is not always an option for businesses that already have a website. So how do you know if your current site is failing and bad usability is to blame? Your website analytics can help identify ‘red flag’ problems, according to James Breeze, chief experience officer at Objective Digital.

“If people are starting a process – like signing up to a mailing list or buying something – and they’re dropping off during the process, you probably need to make some usability improvements,” he says.

You can gather a lot of information from family, friends, and current customers, he says.

“Give them the top three things you’d like your customers to do and assess how smoothly they can do it.

“There are plenty of changes you can make without dramatic changes to the actual code. Fonts, copy, and colors can go a long way, as can removing old or extraneous content.”

Use a product like Google Analytics to define one or more conversion goals, recommends Jones, and see how your website scrubs up.

“This may or may not be an online transaction. It could be filling in an online request for information, sending an email, or following you on Twitter.”

Sussing out the experts

Even with all the help of well-meaning friends, there are times when it pays to hire a professional. However, assessing providers of website usability services can be difficult if you know little about the field.

A good first step is to find people who are attuned to your business needs, rather than trying to dazzle you with technology, says Jones.

“A business person probably shouldn’t try to design their own website or work with their nephew who knows a bit about the internet,” says Jones.

“They should ideally start with someone who knows and understands user experience design.” #
For more on-site navigation, read the full article.



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