Happy Friday, everybody!
Before I became a web designer *cough* many, many years ago, I worked in marketing research, where I had the opportunity to conduct website usability studies for clients. This experience has shaped the way I approach every web project to this day. Believe me, when you see users struggling — becoming frustrated trying to perform the simplest tasks — or when you watch a blind person navigating a website you’ve designed with screen reader software, you can’t help but become an advocate for usability (effective, efficient and satisfying user experience) and accessibility (usable by people of all abilities and disabilities).
Here are some things you may be focusing on that your users don’t care as much about as you think.
1. Your Home Page
Unless it’s a blog, I always tell clients to consider their home page an “orienting” page, used for brand messaging, a preview of important information found on other areas of the site and, of course, links to those pages. I see a lot of websites that have the bulk of their important content right on the home page, which I think is a huge mistake. A website isn’t used in a linear fashion, though when you’re designing your website, you’re probably thinking that way. In practice, people usually find themselves on an interior page of your website from a link that was emailed to them by a friend, through a Google search result or social media site linking to some specific information. These visitors might not think about hitting the “home” button, so it’s best to have important and relevant content on your interior pages, logically accessible from your main navigational system.
Years ago people might have thought about getting to the homepage and then figuring out where to go on the site. Now they will use search or external links to get closer to the place they really want to get to. So, for example, people are becoming less likely to simply type “Toyota” into a search and more likely to type “Toyota recall”.
Many marketers and communicators think their homepage is a giant billboard or megaphone. They become obsessed with its redesign and with placing lots of happy talk and smiling faces on it. That’s part of the reason customers are avoiding the homepage. They don’t see it as useful.
A tip for author websites: Don’t put information about your books only on your home page, instead, provide a sneak preview of your books on your home page and direct users to “more information” on another page.
2. The “Three-Click Rule”
You’ve probably been told that your web content should be found by web users within three clicks, otherwise they’ll get frustrated and abandon your site. It’s not a bad rule, it’s just a bit misunderstood. In this study, researcher Joshua Porter concluded that the complaints users vocalize about the number of clicks it takes for them to find something:
…aren’t actually about the clicks. They are really complaints about failing to find something. When users find what they want they don’t complain about number of clicks.
A tip for author websites: Rather than cramming a lot of content on to a web page for fear that you’ll make users click too much, think instead about creating a logical organization of your content, keeping your navigational links in consistent places on every page of the site, and clearly labeling your navigational links with conventional or easy-to-understand terms. (Don’t be clever with your language even though you surely can, in this case it works against you. If your page contains your author bio, label it “author bio” and be done with it.)
3. Your pretty words
You’re a writer, so naturally you want to have lots of wonderful words on your website. The fact is, people don’t read on the web. They skim and scan pages hunting for the information that’s relevant to them. They look for keywords, lists, subheads and bold content — anything to help them get there faster.
Tip for author websites: As an author, your audience may be interested in reading longer excerpts of your works. By all means, do make them available, but don’t put them right up front and center. Instead, provide short excerpts and “social proof” (reviews, press, ratings and testimonials), with a link to a longer excerpt in the event they’re sufficiently invested at that point to read more. (Hopefully a short excerpt will be enough for them to purchase your work, so be sure your “buy” links are unmissable.)
Creative people — writers, web designer, et al — like to be clever and original. But web users, they like a good, old-fashioned convention like nobody’s business. There is a place for being creative with your website, but there are a few things you shouldn’t monkey around with and get too artsy-fartsy about.
Tips for author websites: Your navigation should be intuitive and easy to understand. It may seem boring, but you needn’t depart from the standard “about the author,” “contact me,” and “books” language when it comes to navigational labels. Furthermore, keep your navigation in a consistent place from page to page as moving it around is very disorienting and causes frustration.
If you’re using graphics (e.g. buttons) for navigation rather than plain text links, make sure you know for certain that they’re 100% accessible.
Contact information — put it in your main navigation, and duplicate it in your footer and your about page too. There are several “conventions” users employ when hunting for contact information, don’t be afraid to hit all of them. (This is especially true if you’re shopping for an agent, am I right?)
5. Your Design
You’re probably thinking whaaaaat? A web designer saying design isn’t important? Well, okay, let me clarify. What isn’t as important to users is what many people confuse with design, and that’s decoration. Design is about form and function. Design should not only be visually appealing, but it should aid in communication and understanding, help the user feel confident and accomplish the tasks they’re there to do (buy? read? contact you?).
Tip for author websites: Don’t go overboard with your design elements if you’re not a professional (even if you are); there’s nothing more frustrating than a website that’s overdone, hard to navigate and difficult to read. Err on the side of readable, easy to navigate and provide plenty of contrast in the places you want to call attention to — but whatever you do, don’t call attention to everything. Pick two or three things that you want to really stand out and give those some visual weight, keep the rest simple.
I hope you find this helpful, please leave a comment if you have any questions. Have a wonderful weekend!