Over the past few years, expanded home page footers have become de rigueur for sites for their search engine optimization (SEO) benefits. If done correctly, the expanded footer can also play a role in enhanced usability of your website – that is, if basic usability principles are not thrown to the wind in the name of SEO.
There are multiple usability benefits to the expanded footer driven by the ability to provide your visitor access to content that may not be easily accessed or addressed in your main navigation.
- The footer can provide links deeper into your site and to particular content areas of interest to visitors
- By doing this it can take the place of an outdated concept of a site map and reduce the need for visitors to turn to the search engine to find specific content of interest.
- It can also be an area to place links (such as a store locator), short forms (such as for contact) or icons (such as for social media) that do not have a place in the main body of the page and may be crowded in the utility link area in the upper right.
- The footer can also be used for showing a little more personality, providing links to frequently updated content like a blog or events and a quick way to contact a company by providing detailed contact information or a simple form.
However, in order to gain these benefits, the footer must be executed correctly. Following are the top five usability do’s and don’ts to think about for the expanded footer on your site:
TOP 5 DO’S
- Do remember any element of the page can and will be viewed by visitors – not just search engine crawlers
- Do apply a hierarchy or categorization of the links and functionality provided in the footer
- Do make the area readable and easy to scan
- Do provide clear visual separation of the footer from the main content on the page
- Do utilize different font types, icons, etc. to make the links standout and provide visualize interest to draw visitors to this area of the page
TOP 5 DONT’S
- Don’t just repeat your main navigation at the bottom of the page
- Don’t use the footer as a solution for poor site information architecture
- Don’t include content below the footer
- Don’t create a visual barrier above the footer that would prevent visitors from viewing it as a value-added section of the website
- Don’t overfill the footer – edit it to key information and functionality that is easily categorized and set out in a well-organized manner
Below are some examples of sites both employing and ignoring some of the do’s and don’ts above.
The expanded footer on Horchow.com is a great example of using the footer to drive traffic to compelling site areas that visitors may not find via the main navigation, if only there weren’t a visual barrier above it:
On our own site, we took our own advice to create this footer:
On the other hand, Kayak.com takes no advantage of their footer as a help to visitors, but just fills it with terms for SEO:
Match.com offers a footer which at first works, but then follows it with content that is cluttered, difficult to read, and generally appears more like a document than a website:
Just because the footer is the tail end of your page and you may be utilizing it primarily for SEO, doesn’t mean you can’t use it to also enhance the customer experience on the site. Expanded footer usability can be important and useful in optimizing your site’s usability and SEO.
Read more about the basic usability practices you should be employing everywhere on your site in our Web Usability 101 article