If you’ve ever arrived on a website that is a mass of boxes, messages and pictures you’ll know what I mean by the patchwork quilt effect! Websites like this have many things to offer the visitor and the website owner is anxious to show all their wares up front. When it comes to usability it scores low.

The problem for most web visitors is that there’s far too much information, there’s often no single place that is dominant and the messages look very ‘salesy’ so some visitors can be a bit unnerved and run away to a less pressured environment – the usability factor is too much effort for them, they don’t want to have to bother.

If you have a wide range of products or services it’s tempting to try to present as many as possible up front, but please resist the urge! If your services are vastly different or if you are trying to target two or more very different market sectors, then have different websites for each so you can focus on what that sector or potential customer is looking for. good usability is based on simplicity and clarity.

Put yourself in the user’s shoes (or in front of their screen) – they’ve searched for something and your website has come up as a possible provider of that. They click the link and they get information overload – much of it not what they were looking for anyway, from a usability point of view the user will see your site as very low on the scale. Most of us are lazy and impatient when we’re surfing the net – we want instant gratification and, if it looks like we’re going to have to make an effort – we’ll go somewhere ‘easier’.

So how do you improve your website’s usability?

1. Have a focal point – a headline that’s bigger than anything else that attracts their attention and gives them a place to start.

2. Don’t give them too many choices – it’s much too confusing! It’s easy to choose between 2, harder between 3 and almost impossible when there are 6 or more options.

3. Think about what they’re looking for and make sure that the web copy addresses that and reassures your visitor that they’re in the right place.

4. If you have visual images make sure they work for their place; they must have a clear message, not be just decoration – for example, if you are providing services to the academic sector a picture of students in mortar boards and gowns won’t help you to make your point!

Remember the KISS technique – keep it short and simple – it will make your website usability factor soar, your message clearer, have more impact and get better results!
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