Building Websites for the Smart, Fickle User

If there is one thing Web users have become, it is smarter. Gone are the days of typing in a URL, visiting a homepage, and rooting around using site navigation and search. Usability guru Jakob Nielsen shows people are becoming less patient when they go online.  Many users simply want to reach the information they desire quickly or to simply complete a task and leave. They use methods like search engine results and direct links from blogs and social networks that bypass the homepage to find the sub-page that contains the information they need.

How does this affect our projects?

We must now build for the smarter, more fickle user where every page is a homepage.  We must now ensure that every page has a goal.  We must now gain the user’s trust so they return to our homepage and see more of the site.  And we must keep content relevant and information interesting without inundating them with pop-ups, advertisements, and useless widgets.

So What’s Your Goal?
This is the easy part.  Doing it well is the hard part.  A goal might be to purchase a product from a merchant site or to enter an email address to sign up for additional information.  Or maybe it is to click on a link to get closer to one of the above.  Either way, every time a user completes one of these goals, the bond of trust grows stronger and builds the correlation of your Web site to their satisfied need.  We spent much time with our clients helping them understand what these goals should be before the design or architecture of a page is even discussed.

But gaining the user’s trust is just as critical as keeping and growing their trust.  Here is how it’s done:

Content Relevancy
If you want users to return to your homepage, it will need to offer relevant and updated content. Users have little patience for content that does not help them.  Give them only what they need to know and nothing more.  Too little information or too much will bore or confuse users.  Global navigation is a critical content component and needs to be kept simple and intuitive, yet informative enough to be useful. Links should be strategically placed within the page to provide additional avenues of movement for related content.  And always remember that every page in your site is a “homepage” for users who land their directly – a compelling product detail page, for example, may be necessary before users will even give your homepage a chance.

Banner Blindness
Banner blindness was discovered in the late 90’s and shows users do not focus on and advertisement when too many existed for a given page.

That same phenomenon still applies today, but also now includes widgets and embedded applications.  While widgets can be great additions to offer relevant information, keep content fresh, or showcase a product or benefit, abusing them can be devastating. Irrelevant widgets take focus away from your content, while also consuming potential advertisement space.  Too many widgets reduce site performance and may even come to a halt if just one of those widgets fails.

Reason to Return
If we want users to return to our site again and again, we will need to give them a reason to.  Content and design is important here by providing users with culture and a sense of community.  Leveraging social networking widgets, blogs, and RSS feeds are just a few ways to achieve this.  Inversely, users that see your site appear frequently on their social networks will build an implicit trust with the added bonus of increased search-engine relevancy. Offering weekly promotions or contests is another great way to keep users returning for more.

Know your audience well.  If your site caters to iPad or iPhone users, avoid using incompatible flash format as that will only frustrate users and prevent them from viewing a potential source of relevancy.  If your website statistics shows a high volume of Internet Explorer 6 users, make certain your site displays appropriately or the visual discrepancies will ensure they do not return.

Google.com is Your New Homepage
Search engine optimization (SEO) plays a very critical role especially since the search engine results page is now effectively your “new homepage”.  You have created a compelling experience with relevant content and useful widgets.  But if your “new homepage” doesn’t know that content is on your site, users will never arrive there in the first place.

Acquity Group bakes SEO directly into our coding standards.  By writing HTML strategically and appropriately, the various search engines will understand what your site is about and serve it to interested users.  HTML leverages content relevancy using tags that determines its hierarchy to each other.  So content and links found below a headline tag will tell the search engine that content is related to headline content above it.  When the user enters keywords into the search engine that correlates to the relevancy of content on your site, your page is returned.

Bringing it All Together
So now you have your page goals, an elegant design with relevant content, and a properly coded solution.  The Web has changed and you are ready to receive users from desktop applications, social media blogs, mobile texts, search engines… the list goes on and sure is growing.  We understand our clients must be prepared for this evolving landscape.  Staying on top is critical to the success of your Web business and the retention of your users.

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