Every site is created with a purpose, most commonly to provide information, generate leads or sell products. Unfortunately, your website could be its own worst enemy. An astonishing number of websites contain critical usability errors that actually prevent users from completing the very task for which the site was designed. This article should help you avoid some of these online roadblocks.
Tips for Providing Information
Whether your intent is to exhibit "thought leadership" in your industry, provide an educational resource for researchers, or create a repository for product documentation, the overall purpose of your website may be to provide information to users. In this case, the most common roadblocks between your users and the information they need are poor information architecture and poor content design.
Consider the relative priority of each content item, keeping the most important information higher up in the site's hierarchy. Don't bury your content beneath numerous layers of vaguely labeled navigation. If users can't find what they're looking for on your site, they'll turn to your competitors instead.
Once they've found what they need, the last thing users want to deal with is a massive wall of text. Break information into paragraphs, use bullet points where appropriate and include descriptive section headers. Use an adequately-sized font and increase the line spacing for more comfortable online reading.
Tips for Generating Leads
The primary call to action on lead-generation websites is to submit contact information. Sometimes incentives are provided such as white papers or other downloads. The biggest roadblock to capturing leads is the length and complexity of the submission forms. Whether the form is for general contact and questions, requesting a quote, or downloading a white paper, the reward must outweigh the time invested in the task.
Consider the required fields on your form. Could some of these be optional? Then look at your optional fields. How many of these are really necessary on this form? Also, try to design the page so that no scrolling is needed to view the entire form. A shorter form that demands less personal information is less daunting to users, resulting in a higher completion rate.
Tips for Selling Products
On e-Commerce websites, there are many places where roadblocks could occur in the buying process, but the checkout process is the most susceptible.
During checkout, users are at a point where they've spent significant time making decisions and filling their shopping cart. They do not want to jump through hoops to purchase their items. Registering for an account now may save them time in the future, but should always be optional. The "Checkout as Guest" option should be prominent so as to avoid abandoned shopping carts.
The Importance of Browser Compatibility
Regardless of the purpose of your website, there is one over-arching topic that needs to be covered. If you want to be successful, do not try to force users to upgrade or change their software.
Users will not download separate browsers just to view your site. Messages instructing them to do so are unproductive at best. Allow users to view the site in any browser, even if it won't display perfectly. Thoroughly research the most common browsers among your users before creating functionality that won't work in all browsers. Whenever possible, make your site accessible in as many popular browsers as possible.