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Website Usability Best Practices: Simplicity & Scannability

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Website Usability Best Practices: Simplicity & Scannability

One of the challenges most sites face is that there is an excess of information they need to convey – value proposition, marketing messaging, product information, social media and more. When trying to fit this all into a single site – and, often, on a single page – sites can become cluttered and difficult to read, frustrating customers and prospects visiting your site. So how do you balance the needs of the company to convey a wide variety of information, but still provide your customers a good experience on the site where they are able to easily accomplish what they have come to do?

Walking the line between these competing needs will be easier of you keep the following usability guidelines on simplicity and scannability in mind.

Simplicity & Scannability

    1. Writing / verbiage is understandable, succinct, easy to scan, appropriate to users, and not redundant
      • While keeping the writing and verbiage used understandable may seem very basic, too often we as companies and experts in our area of focus forget that a prospect or customer may not have any base of knowledge in our space with which to place our products and services in context
        1. So, while the use of acronyms or industry-specific terms may convey exactly what we are attempting to communicate, the end user may not understand – the site needs to address all potential audiences with the language used – both someone who is new to a specific industry or product set as well as those who may need more detailed and technical information
        2. Providing overviews at a basic level with clear links to definitions of any industry-specific verbiage used will help newcomers; clear links to more technical information will satisfy the needs of those with more knowledge and experience
      • Additionally, the tone and level of the writing should be appropriate to your target audience
        1. For this, it is key to understand who is coming to your site and what they are seeking. This information can help you determine whether you should be writing at a 6th grade level or a high school level
        2. You want to make sure all users can understand your site, but that users do not feel as though they are being talked down to
        3. This balance can be particularly difficult for sites like corporate pharmaceutical websites where the needs of both a consumer and a healthcare professional must be addressed. Thinking ahead of time about the level of the writing can make the site more applicable to both audiences
      • Keeping the writing on your site succinct and easy to scan is imperative
        1. We see over and over again in testing that most users do not read sites, but rather scan for what they are looking for
        2. Most writing on a site should be in short sentences or bulleted lists – this allows users to scan the page to find the information of interest and focus only on what they are seeking, while also putting other messages that might be important to you as a company in front of them /li>
        3. As a user navigates the site, they will tell you by their actions when they are seeking more detailed information (by navigating more deeply, clicking on the links designed to provide details, etc.) which is when longer paragraphs may be appropriate to provide the depth and breadth of information the user is expecting to find
      • Finally, the writing on the site should not be redundant
        1. For most companies the issue is not having enough content, it is having too much content; Given this, you do not want to clutter your site with redundant information
        2. Utilize cross-linking and contextual linking to help users discover other site sections, products or pages, rather than talking about them in multiple places on your site

2.Categories are organized intuitively and are mutually exclusive

  • Categorization of the information on your site is vital – if users do not understand the categories you are using they will not find what they are looking for and they will go elsewhere – even if your content, products or services are better than the competitions’, users will never know if they do not understand how to access it
  • This is another area where it is important to think about how a prospect or customer is thinking about your company, rather than how your company is organized
  • While it may make sense to organize your site according to the divisions of your company, it may not match the mental model a user has when shopping for your product or service, so it is more important to match that model rather than your company organization
  • Avoid the type of terminology we talked about above, such as industry-specific acronyms or technical terminology that may not be understood
  • Utilize a categorization in which it is clear where all the content will fall; do not have any overlap in categories
  • If an overlap is unavoidable, provide easy cross-links to drive users from the each of the categories that could contain the information of interest to its location; do not make users move from their first choice to their second, etc. seeking the information

3. Appropriate amount of pagination at product list level; limits number of clicks to view products

  • While this guideline calls out product lists specifically, this applies to any key content sought from your site, be it products, articles, quotes, etc.
  • If you have long lists on your site, be sure to offer an easy way to sort, filter or move through the list to the specific item of interest; however, using multiple pages without a navigational method that allows pinpointing of the item is not a solution
  • Users need to be able to access items quickly with as few clicks and as limited scrolling as possible; this can mean utilizing tab structures or strong filtering or sorting tools that provide easy access without traversing pages of options

4. All navigation shall appear above the fold; pages limit scrolling and contain anchors if lengthy

  • All of the primary navigation you expect a user to discover and use as they move throughout the site should be visible without any scrolling
    1. This is especially important on the first page a user encounters on your site, which increasingly, is not necessarily the home page if entering from Google
    2. This does not mean you should not include any navigational elements lower on the page. For example, if users are reading content of interest which forces them to scroll, navigation to the next step in the process or to a call to action, such as “Book Now” should be offered at the bottom of the page; however, this is in addition to the navigation offered at the top of the page, i.e., “Book Now” should be offered for those who do and do not scroll
    3. This also may not be true for steps in a process which require scrolling, however all of the main navigation should still be above the fold
  • Lengthy pages requiring users to scroll extensively should be avoided whenever possible
    1. In situations where long pages are necessary, users must be given an alternative to scrolling
    2. Ideally, this would be tabs or some other structure that does not require a full page load, but in other cases anchor links can be used
    3. If anchor links are utilized, it must be clear to a user what is happening, i.e., they are being moved down the same page, and they must be given a clear path back to the area on the page where they made the selection. If this is not clear many users turn to the “Back” button and get lost in the site or have to make more clicks than necessary to navigate

5. Product details / descriptions are easily understandable

  • Not only does writing about products need to be crisp and easy to read, it must be organized in an easy to understand manner
    1. Again, limited scrolling is key and tabs can be a very clean way to organize all of the information a user has come to expect from the product details
    2. The top of the page should contain a photo and a brief overview of the information available
    3. Additional information should be clearly accessible and all of the information should be easy to scan
    4. For more detailed information on product page do’s and don’ts, See Sabrina’s blog on product detail pages in retail

Thanks for reading our guidelines on Simplicity & Scannability. For more information on improving your site, please see our previous stories on best practices according to usability guidelines: Communications and Relevance and User Control. Also, stay tuned for our next installment of the series: Navigation Feedback.