Usability 101: You are one of the smartest people who will ever use your website, application or product. You already know more about your business and your vision than most people will ever know, and you also understand your interface perfectly because you have used it over and over (and perhaps you even designed it). Your audience, on the other hand, is going to come in with little to no background knowledge. In fact, when it comes to websites your audience even includes dumb robots like the crawlers used by Google and Bing to find and index your site for search. This article covers five essential things that are missing from or hard to find on a surprising number of websites.
|Contact Information If you are a brick and mortar business, and especially if you are a consumer-oriented business like a shop or a restaurant, people are going to come to your website in order to find your address. If you ever use the phone to do business or to talk to the media, people are going to come to your website to find your phone number. If you do any sort of business at all, people are going to come to your website to find your email. These should be some of the easiest details to find on your site. Ideally they should be available on your home page or in a footer displayed on every page. It is also still a good idea to have a prominent contact page which can include extra niceties such as maps and directions. What you must never do is bury the contact information multiple levels deep: So if a visitor arrives at your home page they should not have to search for and click an About Us link and then search for and click a Contact link on that page before finding your details. You may decide against including your email address for fear of spam. In that case, make sure to include a form on the contact page which people can use to submit an email inquiry instead.|
|Hours I am always amazed at how often I cannot find a business’ hours on their website. The only times you can get away with not including your hours are if you do not want to be contacted and/or visited (if you are brick and mortar) at all or if you are available and working around the clock. Make your hours as easy to find as your contact information and keep them up to date. Make your audience even happier by including update notifications when there will be a temporary change for a holiday or other special event.|
|Elevator Pitch Remember, a large portion of your audience likely has no idea who you are or what you do. When they land on your site they are going to expect to have those gaps filled immediately. Prominently feature your “elevator pitch” – the one or two sentence version of your mission statement – on the site. If you offer specific services make sure to list those as well. Make your intro as short, as punchy and as specific as possible. Go into greater depth elsewhere in the site. For example, delve into your services on pages describing what differentiates each service you offer from similar offerings and show off your company culture through bios or on your blog.|
|Menu or Price If you are a restaurant, include your menu. If you are selling goods or services, include pricing details. If you simply cannot do this, make it easy to request a quote. People are likely searching for your website to find exactly this kind of information. They are far less concerned with the history of your business (something I see on almost every small business site) than they are with the practical details they need to make a decision.|
|Text! I have brought this up before. On the web a picture is not worth a thousand words, and one of the biggest mistakes you can make is replacing large quantities of text on your website with images. When you use images in place of text you need to make sure that you mark them up properly to make them accessible to search engines and assistive devices. You also have be aware that people will be frustrated if they go to copy and paste a phone number, address or other piece of information only to find that it is an imagine. Finally, if you include photos or video or icons which help visually illuminate your message (which is, by the way, a great thing to do) you should always make sure to pair that with descriptive text.|
Many applications, devices and services, including Google, are built to take advantage of the rich tagging and metadata provided by microformats. Microformats are not meant to change the display of the content on your website but are rather intended to allow machines to properly interpret and use that data. An example of this is Google Places, where you can improve the quality of your local listing simply by using a few common Microformats. There is a very standard microformat for marking up your contact information and you can even use a generator to help you get started. A related microformat deals with your hours and yet another with events that you are promoting. Microformats are definitely a more advanced topic but once you get started you will find that they are both powerful and surprisingly easy to implement.