1. Technology

Cool Sites Aren't Usable

Find Out Why “Cool Doesn’t Cut It”


Usability on the web is crucial if you want to have customers continue to return. Usability expert, Jared Spool has found that 42% of web users find what they need on any given web page. This means that 58% do not find what they need. And if they aren't finding what they need, then the website is not very usable to them.

This means that usability of websites, is crucial in order to get sales and make money. If your customers can't find what they want, they won't be buying, and chances are, they won't be coming back. It doesn't matter how new and innovative your site is, the fact is that cool doesn't cut it.

The Good News

You can ignore this entire article. While there may be value in any study, you should test your site with your readers. Unless your site was one of the sites tested, the results may not apply to you.

BUT . . . while these suggestions might not apply, they will probably help.

What People Want from Websites

When people visit websites they are looking for content. And most of the time that content is some form of information. And the easier you make that information retrieval the more usable your site will be.

The following web design features can help make information retrieval easier for your customers.

  1. Graphics neither help nor hurt information gathering
    Many people feel that graphics make the website more usable. Another contingent feels that they make sites unusable. Neither group is right. According to a study by Jared Spool, the amount of images on a page had no visible effect on the gathering of information, with two exceptions. These are:

    • Animation
      Users found it annoying and “several users covered [the animations] up with their hands.” In fact, one animated image had the answer to one question in it, but the users simply didn't see the answer there.
    • Download Time
      This was not generally an issue, except with a page that had a lot of small images and poor alt text. The image had the answer, but users would navigate away before the image had downloaded.
  2. White space makes sites less usable
    When searching for information, users wanted information, not fancy, artistic sites. In fact, in direct conflict with an accepted rule of design, this study stated that "the more white space, the more users say the site is complicated, over-detailed, visually confusing, not clear, and not enticing." In fact, users in this study felt that sites with less white space were easier to use and had more information available.

    I think this means that readers who are looking for information want to find it quickly. They don't want to have to navigate through several layers of the site simply because there is a nice design that is visually appealing. The more information that is on the first page they come to, the more likely they are to find what they are looking for.

  3. Content and navigation must be handled together
    One common format for sites is what Mr. Spool called a “Shell Site.” These sites are where the navigation is developed and then the content is shoved into that format or shell. What he found was that when a user is looking for information, shell sites are very hard to use. Because the links are the same on all navigation within the site, they don't add anything new once they have been reviewed. Thus, when a user is looking for information, the navigation shell is usually discarded as an information source immediately.

  4. Search engines (on sites) don't work
    If a user doesn't click on the Search button, they are 50% more likely to find the information they are looking for than if they do. This is disconcerting until you think about how most search engines handle searches and results:

    • Many sites have several different search engines for the website. These may be intuitive to the web designer, but often the user doesn't know what the difference is (or even perceive that there is a difference).
    • Users don't know what they are going to get when they search. They may be getting a list of pages on this site, the web as a whole, a sub-set of this site, or something completely different.
    • Results were confusing and hard to understand. Often the search results were something apparently unrelated to what the reader searched on. Or, there was no text to clarify the search results, simply the title or file name.

What can you do?

In order to make sure that your site is usable, your best solution is to test. But here are some specific suggestions:

  • Test your site's usability with your users.
    If you do nothing else to improve your site, this would be the best thing.
  • Focus on your content.
    Content will get people to your site and give them the information so they keep coming back.
  • Put lots of links on your site so that your readers can navigate as easily as possible.
    What is intuitive to you might be unclear to me, so give your readers a lot of different ways to get to the information on your site.
  • Don't believe everything you read or hear.
    Just because I've written this article and UIE did their study, doesn't mean that the results will apply to your readers. Find out, from them, what works for your site.

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