Be Nice to Your Visitors

- February 29, 2008

Everyone could benefit from  making their site more  visitor-friendly. User experience matters. Here are a few examples to illustrate why.

Scenario  #1a: Users can’t find what they’re looking for on your site.  The content on your site should be quickly found by your visitors and without a hassle. You don’t want your visitors spending half of their time on your site looking for content because they  may then spend  less time absorbing that information and more time remembering that they had a bad experience.  Consequently, navigation or organizational frustrations will likely cloud their  perceived value of your site.

Now consider scenario #1b: A particular visitor read and enjoyed some content in a section of your website.  He left your site without bookmarking the section’s main page because  he  didn’t have the time to do so. (This happens to me. I don’t bookmark every informative page I find, and even if I did, I may not want to spend the time to search my bookmarks for that page.) Upon returning to your site, the  visitor uses  your site navigation to quickly find the section  he is  looking for. The  process used to find that page was fast because your site’s navigation was clear and well though out. The  user didn’t have to think about the various ways information on your site could be organized, choose the one that made most sense to  him and then try to navigate through the site accordingly – a hit or miss option, to say the least. Instead, a logical organization scheme (information architecture) was provided and the user’s navigation was seamless — and therefore positive.

If the site owner wanted to know whether the returning visitor came from another site, a search engine or directly (i.e. clicking a bookmark in their browser or typing the web page’s address in their browser), Google Analytics and/or cookies could easily help.

Scenario  #2: Your on-site search functionality  doesn’t return accurate/comprehensive results.  Imagine that a visitor to your site, after reading and enjoying your content on a particular  topic, returns  to your site in search of a specific paragraph on a specific page. The visitor does not remember how she found that particular page or article, and tries to use your on-site search functionality (the search box usually on the top right of the pages) to locate the content only to  become annoyed and frustrated when that search functionality returns no relevant or close results. There are many reasons why your site’s search functionality failed, maybe you’ve embedded that content in a picture or in an Adobe Flash file – so it’s not crawl-able by external search engines or your site’s internal search functionality. Or maybe the search-feature itself is a poor one and its keyword search and retrieval capabilities are weak.

In addition to your site’s search functionality, the user could have attempted to use the browser’s own search functionality which will only search the page that the user is currently on. (The browser’s search functionality can usually be invoked by the Find command in the Edit menu.)

If you are using Google Analytics, and SiteSearch is configured, you can see reports of everything that visitors search for (and analyze the bounce rate for each search phrase). Google Analytics, by itself, cannot report when visitors employ the browser’s search functionality.

In this scenario, I would first highly recommend that the image be changed to text and use CSS for formatting/styling if need be. If that is too much work, my other suggestion would be to add alternate text to that image immediately. This provides a degree of SEO-friendliness and accessibility, though it will not solve the search problems. Another option could be to use text that’s automatically replaced with a flash version of it (aka, IFR). This technique, pioneered by Mike Davidson, is used by the likes of Nike, ABCNews and others, and while providing more control over typography while maintaining SEO-friendliness, it will not allow the user to find content using the browser’s own search functionality (unless JavaScript is turned off in their browser). Lastly, if your site’s search functionality provides less-than usable results, try using Google’s customized site search or removing on-search all together.

Hopefully these scenarios will tempt you to consider UXO (user experience optimization), and its benefits to your visitors and your word-of-mouth advertising reach.

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