Guest blog by Jack Aaronson, Clickz.com
Last year, I participated in the annual shop.org meeting as a "doctor" in "The Doctor Is In" session. Basically, a company reserved 20 minutes of an industry expert's time, and the expert critiqued its sites or helped it solve specific problems.
Based on my experiences with that conference, I wrote "Three Reasons Your Site Sucks." I once again played doctor at the shop.org conference in Las Vegas last week. Here are a few observations.
Stop Screaming at Me
One common problem with many of the sites was a lack of focus on home pages, with every element on the page screaming for attention. While every promotion and every ad is important, they can't all be the most important thing on the page.
One issue is that each ad or module is designed by itself, without regard to what else will be on the page. So while each is probably fine by itself, mayhem ensues when they're put together.
Your creative director needs to look at creative elements individually when they are designed and the entire page once all the elements come together. Is there a clear focus to the home page? Is there a place the user can rest his eye, or is the page too busy and frenetic?
Finally, does the brand shine through, or have all the little promotions, ads, and moving parts obscured the brand? Is your home page acting the way a home page should?
Just like last year, sites suffered from a lack of a clear, hierarchical navigation. But I also found another navigation issue: many sites used attribute filters (like Endeca) either on a category or search results page.
I love these kinds of tools, but they need to be designed right. Many companies put the filtering mechanisms far away from the content it affects. Or, if it was near the content, the design made it look like it was another feature and disconnected from the content it was affecting.
Visual design does more to enforce the notion of "this thing goes with that thing" than anything else on the page. If there is a content block (like search results) and a box that shows filterable attributes for that content, make sure they're visually connected in some way. Otherwise, an incredibly useful feature won't be used or understood.
At least two sites I looked at suffered from inconsistency. This is a common problem sites face. Always treat the same types of things in the same way.
For example, one site showed a list of accessories you could buy along with the product you were looking at. The list of products appeared as "accessories" on the product page. The same grouping of products appeared in the checkout process as a cross-sell during checkout. Additionally, the same grouping appeared later on the personalized home page once the site got to know you better.
In some cases, the products were displayed as a text list with no photos; a link brought you to the product page. In another case, the list was text with thumbnails and links that brought you to product pages. In another case, the list was just thumbnails and clicking popped up a quick view of the product.
Not only is this a colossal waste of some poor developer's time, but it also confounds the user. Unless there is some great reason to be inconsistent (I'm listening...), make sure the same ideas are presented the same way. Decide what actions happen when a thumbnail is clicked on (or hovered over), how product groupings are displayed, and so forth.
When you make the same things behave in the same way, you make it easy for users to understand your site. They don't want to have to figure out how things work on each page. Plus, the site itself is easier to maintain and build when there are defined rules like this.
The sites I looked at in the "Doctor Is In" session had lots of unique issues as well, but these were some of the common themes. Take a look at your own site and see if you have fallen into one of these traps. If so, realize there are easy, quick fixes for these issues. You could make changes and see improvements to usability and conversion in time for the holidays if you fix the problems now.
Questions, thoughts, comments? Leave a message below!
Until next time...