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Don't Make People Think: 4 Intuitive Tips for Improving Your Website Usability

Don't Make People Think: 4 Intuitive Tips for Improving Your Website Usability Blog Feature

Ramona Sukhraj

Managing Editor, Strategized Initiatives That Increased IMPACT’s Website Traffic From ~45K to ~400K

November 23rd, 2016 min read

As marketers, we’re always trying to craft the perfect, clickworthy headline or publish the most comprehensive offer to help convert leads on our websites

All too often, however, we forget about one of the most important aspects of our website and other marketing materials – usability.

User-experience is an important component of a successful inbound marketing strategy because it allows people to get the most value from your content as well as making your content more enjoyable and memorable.

Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug is widely considered the bible of usability for those of us who aren’t experts in design. This book covers a lot of ground, from web design to writing for the web, and Krug offers detailed, concise information for everything.

Steve Krug is a usability consultant with over 20 years experience as a user advocate for companies like Apple, Netscape, AOL, Lexus, and others. He is also a highly sought-after speaker on usability design.

Whether you’re a marketer or a designer, Don’t Make Me Think is packed with useful advice to improve usability.

What Does Usability Mean?

Usability refers to how easy your product, service, websites, etc is to use; how well an average person can utilize it with minimal instruction to achieve the intended results.

That being said, when a user lands on your company’s website for the first time, it should be immediately clear who you are and what you offer.

The user should also be able to navigate effortlessly to find the information they need or that you want them to see.

This is why simple web design and vocabulary tend to convert higher than complicated websites that use jargon and technical terminology.

With that intended result in mind, as creators we have to identify and eliminate all potential question marks. Anything that makes the user pause and think about what to do next is an obstacle between their current state and them making a purchase.

The Role of Usability in Conversion

Our goal as marketers is not only to make websites easy-to-read and understand, but to also provide a clear path towards conversion.

If a user gets to your website and understands what you offer, but doesn’t know what steps to take next, your site has failed. 

Users don’t want to solve puzzles or spend time figuring things out. Some users will brave to navigate a complicated site and make a purchase, but the amount of people who won't is significantly higher. 

Usability & Web Design Tips from Don’t Make Me Think

This is the type of book that you should keep in your office as it's packed with tons of actionable advice that can’t possibly be summarized in one article without rewriting the entire book.   Below are some of the key things you can do to improve your website’s usability and effectiveness.

1. Keep Reading to a Minimum

When writing for the web, less is more. Keep your messages concise, simple, and to-the-point.

Too much text on the page creates noise and ends up doing more to distract, rather than instruct, users. According to Krug, instructions are often useless and it’s much better to make things self-evident as much as possible. 

This applies to your core web pages and your marketing materials – the exceptions to this rule would be blog posts, whitepapers, and other things that require more text to be comprehensive and provide detailed information.

2. Show, Don’t Tell.

As mentioned above, pages should be designed for scanning, not reading, because that’s what most users are going to do first. Once they’ve scanned the page, they’ll choose a section to dive into and start reading more closely. 

To make it easy for users to scan, every page needs a clear visual hierarchy. Otherwise, the page will look cluttered and disorganized, making the user feel overwhelmed. 

There should also be a clear distinction between things that are clickable and things that aren’t . You can accomplish this by adding buttons, using visual cues to direct attention towards links, using contrasting colors to make clickable items stand out, or even simply underlining linked text

3. Pass the “Trunk Test”

Navigation is crucial to the user experience. One thing we especially have to keep in mind is creating a clear, concise navigation bar/menu for desktop and mobile. 

Krug suggests using “persistent navigation” where every page shows a display of the site ID, sections, a homepage link, and a search box.  

On that note, Krug repeatedly stresses the value of having a search function on your website, noting that many users immediately look for the search box upon landing on your website. 

Interestingly, Krug says breadcrumbs can be a useful tool, but he says they shouldn’t be necessary because the navigation should “show at least the top two levels without having to resort to breadcrumbs.” 

Each page needs to pass the “trunk test” – which means if you were blindfolded and locked in a car trunk, you would be able to immediately answer the following questions when your blindfold is removed:

  • What is the name of the company?
  • Which page am I on?
  • What are the major sections of the website?
  • Where can I go from this page?
  • Where am I in relation to other locations on the website?
  • Where can I perform a search? 

This is an area where recent minimalistic design trends don’t always align with Krug’s theories, but that’s why we test!

4. Optimize Your Homepage

Your homepage is probably the most difficult to design as it is in many ways, the face of your company. So often acting as the first impression of your brand to visitors, there are many things you need to accomplish on this one page.

For example, your homepage needs to deliver big picture messages, but also focus on specific tactics, like generating leads and moving leads further down your marketing funnel. 

Following Krug’s suggestions, your homepage could include:

  • Your brand identity and value proposition
  • A clear hierarchy
  • Current promotions
  • Shortcuts to popular pages
  • Search box
  • Content teasers
  • Login (if relevant)

But this is all subjective. 

When designing your homepage, ask yourself, what does your audience want and need to know when they first learn about your brand? What would you need to show them right-off-the-bat to catch their interest?

Make it a No-Brainer

In the end, usability is about not creating ambiguity for the user.

You want your marketing and website to ask and answer all of the right questions in regards to your product or service. You don’t want to leave prospects wondering if you are the right choice for them, but rather, show and tell them why you definitively are.

If you’re targeting the ideal audience for your business and getting the right people on your site, these messages will resonate and naturally guide them down your marketing funnel.

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