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Top 10 Tips for a Visitor-Friendly Web Site

Posted on : 05-08-2008 at 2229 hrs
Author : Rif Chia

Make things clear for your visitors  

Make it clear what you do
It may be obvious to you, but your site needs to spell out to visitors what it's about. You'd be surprised how many sites seem to make the assumption that visitors will know the company, understand their products or services and are familiar with all the latest jargon. Make sure your home page states clearly, in a paragraph or less of readable copy, who you are, what you do and what you've got to offer.

Fulfil your visitors' expectations

Another simple way to make your site more visitor friendly is to make sure it reflects what people are expecting to find when they reach the site, whether through a search engine, a banner or pop-up ad or a link from another site. You can do this by first looking at the search engines' search logs to find out what people want and how they ask for it (try Free Wordtracker Suggestion Tool), and then ensuring that your navigation and site messaging and content use those same keywords

Put things where people expect to find them

Familiarity is a big part of usability. Research has shown that people expect site features to be in a certain place on the page. They look for the search box in the top right hand corner, the products or services down the left hand column, the check out in the bottom right hand corner, the main navigation along the top and the small print (i.e. terms of use, privacy) along the bottom.

Minimise the clickstream

More than 83% of Internet users are likely to leave a website if they feel they have too many clicks to find what they're looking for. So, for example, instead of splitting copy across several pages, with a click to move forward to each page, put it on long, scrollable pages with quick navigation links so that people can jump to the content they want, while staying on the same page.

Have an About Us and Contact Us page

Credibility is fast becoming a key usability issue. If people are going to entrust you with their credit card details or consider you a serious contender for their business, they want to be sure you really exist. We've all come across web sites that don't even have an address, never mind a telephone. That's why it's essential to have an About Us and a Contact Us page - to not only reassure people you're a proper business, but to give them a choice of contact options, including phone, email, directions and a map.

Increase your download speeds

Studies have shown that the average web site visitor will wait less than 9 seconds for a page to download - and the days of universal broadband are still a long way off. So instead of tedious Flash intros or bandwidth-hungry graphics, make your site as lean and nimble as possible. By stripping out the superfluous code, which is often created by web design software such as Dreamweaver, your site can be faster to load, even during peak traffic times, such as immediately after an advertising campaign. What's more, there are estimated to be 743 million people worldwide accessing the net by phone and PDA, so anything you can do to make your site faster and more accessible, will help ensure your availability to this huge new market.

Be search engine friendly

Search engine optimisation, because it focuses on making sites more appropriate to visitors' search queries, more content-rich and better-connected to other relevant sites can make a site more visitor friendly, as a natural by product of the process. In addition, a site map, breadcrumbs and descriptive text links (rather than just 'click here') are search engine friendly features which also enhance the visitor experience.

Know your weaknesses

As well as knowing where your visitors are coming from (ie. which search engine or link from another site), it's also worth knowing where your visitors are leaving from - the quit spots, in other words. If you check your server log files, and see that people are regularly quitting the site at a point where you don't expect, such as between two related pages, you can identify and fix errors in your navigation, download or transaction systems.

Create escape hatches

Conversely, you need to give visitors the opportunity to make a quick getaway. For example, every page should have a clearly marked link back to the home page. Likewise, your transaction process should offer people the chance to empty, as well as fill, their shopping baskets or opt-out from on-site processes, such as downloads, registrations or subscriptions.

Give a warm welcome to disabled visitors

According to the Disability Discrimination Act, web sites must be accessible to all members of the online community - including disabled visitors. Using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) separates presentation from content, which not only makes the site accessible to people using assistive technologies such as voice browsers, but also enables visually impaired visitors, including the elderly (a growing online population) to resize formatting effects, such as colour and font size, to be easier to read. Other easy ways to improve your site's accessibility include ensuring links indicate content (i.e. not just 'click here') and giving informational images ALT descriptions and decorative images null ALT descriptions or alt="".

Fortunately, if your site is search engine friendly, you're already part of the way there. Assistive technologies work in a very similar way to search engine spiders, as they 'spider' the site, read the content and links and present it back to the user in a visitor-friendly format. Therefore, a site that's search engine friendly is already a good way towards being accessible to disabled visitors, as well as people using their phones or PDAs to access the net.

Tags: SEO, Web Design

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