A good website can often take a back seat these days – and I can understand why. With the flashy offers and imagery of an ever evolving social universe, the attention to detail that can make your website grow and continue to thrive are often left on the bottom of the to-do list. However, as innovative and exciting as the social boom has been for businesses small and large, old and new, keeping your website usability up to date is still something you should be checking as regularly as your Facebook feed. And here’s why…
Think of it like this – if your business is a tree, your website is one of the many fruits of your labour (yes, I’m on a health kick this week, bear with me). Sure, most audiences are naturally more attracted to the refined, easily digestible fruit juice that is Facebook or more excited by the fun, spontaneous, nicely packaged alcoholic beverage that is Instagram, but if the fruit you ferment to supply to your audience has gone bad? IT SHOWS. Trust me.
Social media content that is half-hearted, badly linked or inconsistent with your ‘brand voice’ has more often than not, been copied and pasted straight from your website. And if your website is rotten? Then it bruises the whole bunch. Poor/irrelevant content, broken links or slow click-throughs are being shared the world over and are a direct reflection of a weak site – it’s like the cheap pear wine that you take to the house of someone you don’t really like so much. Of course, there is a market for that cheap wine! But unless you’re Big Bob’s Discount Clothing Warehouse (no offence Bob) you want your content to be squeezed from the sweetest, freshest, ripest fruits on your ever-thriving tree.
Consider Your Loading Times
Now, I’m a patient woman (when the moon is blue) but nothing will make me leave a website quicker than a slowly loading page. A lot of small businesses will go gung-ho on the content, making everything LOOK great without giving much thought to loading times. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and you will see why quick loading times are so important for your website usability.
Let’s say you own a deli that bakes home-made, super-sized, triple-chocolate, toffee-surprise, multiple-orgasm cakes (yeah, my health kick didn’t go well) and you want to share the recipe and all it’s gloriously gooey pictures with the world – because you know it looks good and people will share it, bake it, interact and feed back. Do you think that you’re audience are going to loyally stand in the kitchen, wooden spoon in hand, waiting patiently while your webpage loads? No. They’re going to retreat back to the safety of the quick-loading Google home page and find another chocolate cake recipe. No matter how pornographic your picture looked on Instagram.
Keep it concise
Just because your business website is often your most formal platform, doesn’t mean that each page has to be loaded with paragraph after paragraph of stuffy, lengthy content. This is your fruit! You can still brag about it in short, sweet and crisp sentences that get straight to the point and pack a punch to even the shortest attention span.
A good practice is to make sure one person writes the content for every page. This way (if you have a good writer of course) your content will shine across the board. Where this isn’t possible – sometimes you will need specialist content from a number of different professionals – you must make sure to have at least one person to proof read your entire site. This proof-reader can then comb through every page (it’s laborious – but it’s worth it!), cutting out any unnecessary information and ensuring content remains clear, concise and user-friendly throughout.
Styling and Text Formatting
Going hand-in-hand with clear and concise content is clear and concise formatting. This is what will make key information available to a time-conscious audience. You have to remember, not all visitors to your site will be die-hard fans (yet!) and the majority will actually just be skimming the site searching for particular ‘chunks’ of information. So you’ve got to chop up those chunks!
Some of the best ways to do this are:
- Use bullet points (ahhh see how I did that?) and lists to highlight most important points you want to make
- Use short, punchy headings to cut up big blocks of text and section off different bits of information so that your end user can skim through your site and find what they’re searching for in a matter of seconds.
- Don’t be afraid to format your text – a lot of people will quickly copy and paste and have done with it, particularly if they have a deadline to get their site up and running. If you take the time to format each block of information, you’ll be surprised at how much visual difference a little bit of bold and italics can make
- Position your most important, most impactful text or information towards the top of the page. Waiting to display your most important messages, links or calls to action towards the end of a article, for example, could mean a lost sale or sign-up if the ‘skimmer’ is feeling particularly distracted.
Make Calls To Action!
Which leads me nicely into calls to action.
Think about the main goal of each page or even for your website as a whole – is it to sell your book? To get more email subscribers? Or to invite people to indulge in your wittier, prettier, less formal social platforms? Whatever your goal may be, you need to make this as clear and simple as possible – after all, website usability is really just about making life easy for your audience!
For example – if you want more email subscribers, you could consider prompting the user with a simple, pop-up subscription form instead of just leaving ‘sign up to our newsletter’ in a small hyperlink at the foot of a page. Or, if you want people to buy your recipe book full of fruit smoothies (because we’re being good again now) make sure ‘BUY THE BOOK!’ is made clear at the top of your page.
Fix Those Hyperlinks
Of course, all this information and calls to action are fruitless (ha!) if you’re hyperlinks aren’t carefully managed. Much like the rotten fruit being used to make your wine, bad links will always be accidently shared again and again across your different platforms if you don’t get them right on your site in the first place and make an effort to keep them updated.
Take the time to test your site – click through the different links on each page to make sure that:
- They actually go somewhere! When building a site, a lot of temporary links will be put in place that just refresh the current page. The user then has to take the time to find another way to get to the information they’re seeking – and they won’t stay long.
- They go to the correct place – promising to link to one page and coming up with another is also a pain for the end user that will require them to spend more time searching your site.
- There are no dead/broken links – sometimes sites are updated, pages are shifted around and/or renamed. This inevitably leads to broken links so it’s worth finding a good, automatic link-testing tool to keep your customers clicking through your site with ease. If not, make sure you at least have a really, REALLY cool error 404 page to fall back on.