Articles in the Optimized Website Design & UX Category

What are the best practices for optimized website design and user experience? How can you design an attractive, user-friendly website that maximizes your ability to be found in the Search Engine Results Pages and drives conversions? Read our expert tips for optimized design and user experience, compelling aesthetic design, website architecture, usability and more.

April 1 2008

Site-Search Usability: General Thoughts

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Have you ever considered optimizing the usability of your site-search? If so, first consider why visitors would use the search box on your site. I can see two general reasons why they would use it:

  1. Right when the visitor gets the urge to find some content, they have already decided that using a site-search, opposed to clicking and reading around, will find that content faster.
  2. The user tried reading around and clicking to find that content, but gave up because they couldn’t find that content (fast enough) so they started using the site’s search feature.

There are three types of visitors when it comes to site search: search-dominant, browse-dominate and a blend of the two. Search-dominant users think they can get better results faster from searching the site. The fact that visitors have less time to look through all the potential websites to which Google points them and the ever-increasing amount of content in them supports why this type of visitor is becoming more prevalent all the time. The second visitor type is probably motivated to click and read though a site more than searching because they know where to find the content and think they can do so fast enough for their needs. Maybe they value the experience of exploring or perhaps they’re just ‘Feeling Lucky.’ The third type probably thinks they can find some content faster using a site-search and other content faster by browsing.

Sometimes, when new users come to your site, they’ll use the search feature, and in becoming familiar with the navigation on the pages to which your site-search directs them, they will become better at knowing where to find content on your site in the future. Therefore, returning users may use the site’s search feature less than new users. This probably means that your site’s overall usability and information architecture is effective.

My colleague, Joe, blogged about an increasing phenomenon in which users who have arrived on your site from search engines will then use your site’s search box, but will often search for terms so broad, it defies your understanding. He said that users may be using more precise (‘long-tail’) searches on Google to find your site and using broad search terms once on your site because they expect that it’s Google that needs the more precise search term. This makes sense because Google has billions of pages in its index and your site may only have 50 total pages.

In order to optimize the usability of your site-search, you have to get in the visitors’ heads. Sometime this is extremely difficult. This difficulty can be overcome, however, by reading usability reports and any psychological reports remotely related to this subject.

So, when you consider site-search optimization, realize that search engine traffic to your site (SEO), your own site-search and your site’s navigation are all inter-related. When you adjust one of these items, another one may be have to be adjusted in order to give your site the best usability possible.

Consider these suggestions:

  • Assume the user may want to use site-search on your site, especially if it’s any larger than a typical ‘brochure site.’ Therefore, be conscious of this and provide this feature.
  • Always seek to create a better site-search experience for your users by comparing the terms searched for against the results your website returns. Secondly, since you know the content of your website well, analysis of site-search usability will probably be much more reliable if you use small-group testing methods composed of those not familiar with your site.
  • Learn and use your analytics services.
  • Don’t assume that all visitors arrive on your site from the home page. Also, don’t assume that your home page receives the most traffic (you can validate this for your site using analytics services). Place your search box on every page, in a standard location (usually top right or top center) and make the search box stand out some way.
  • Always analyze your site-search analytics (and adjust your site as necessary): compare percentages of visitors that use site-search with those who do not; see if visitors are leaving your site right after they see the search results, or if they stay, how long they stay; compare the amount of pages site-search users view (known as depth) with that of the site’s visitors’ average depth to see if your entire site needs work or the just site-search’s relevancy of results needs your attention. Feel free to come up with additional areas of site-search usability analysis.
March 17 2008

Usability Resources for optimal user-centered website design

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I would like to share a few usability resources I have found that can quickly get you on your way to understanding your visitors and employing Best Practices for usability design.

www.useit.com
Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D., is a patent holder and renowned usability guru. You can find invaluable reports as well as all the content from his free AlertBox newsletter.

Don’t Make Me Think (Book)
This book provides an easy to follow, non-technical, yet revealing perspective into what goes on in visitors’ minds when they see your site, from the first impressionable seconds to the interaction with navigation elements minutes later. It details many case studies and guides you with Best Practices for designing for visitors so that you won’t have to teach them to use your site–they’ll know instinctively and will not have to think. It’s a short, but thought-provoking read with suggestions that you will soon want to implement.

www.uxmatters.com
This organization produces an e-zine about usability and design issues. Some of the content is a theoretical, but you can take something away from every article. This site contains a glossary of usability-related terms and abbreviations, conference reviews and access to archived articles. Though they have been around for just two years, there is a lot of useful content.

www.usability.gov
See your tax dollars at work. Uncle Sam has compiled research and guidelines for developing usable web sites. They include topics on everything from planning to designing to testing and refining your website. You can also find newsletters, articles and events related to site usability. They also sell their Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines book, which includes contributions from ‘experts from across government, industry, and academia.’

www.challishodge.com
A blogger with a large archive talks about ‘the user experience, design and strategy’ while applying news of current events in a broad range of topics from art to nanotechnology to Word of Mouth Marketing. In addition to the informative and interesting blog posts, lists of organizations, other blog sites, books and resources can also be found.

www.poynterextra.org/eyetrack2004/index.htm
Poynter Institute runs tests on visitors’ eye movement behavior while reading multimedia and news-related websites. This site, as well as http://eyetrack.poynter.org/, gathers the findings and helps you understand what design decisions can help your site visitors look, and then hopefully click, where you want them to. Though this information is specifically pertaining to news websites, you should be able to apply the findings about images, font size and information recall to your design.

www.webstyleguide.com
Originally published by Yale University, Webstyleguide.com presents a logical, prioritized approach to Best Practices in web design with an emphasis on user-centered design. The guidelines start with a discussion on the design process and design goals, and continue with interface, site and page design, and then delves into visual elements and editorial style.

psychology.wichita.edu/optimalweb/default.htm
This resource’s goal is to assist you in designing a website for user, and does so by combining and presenting knowledge gained from many researchers on human interaction with interfaces. The Software Usability Research Laboratory, the laboratory responsible for this site’s content, includes research from the previously mentioned Poynter University and Neilson. In this resource, along with its sister site, surl.org, much of the text is supported by parenthetical notations so you can find the original publication of a researcher’s findings. Though this site was last updated in March 2003, and some of the suggestions are no longer in use, surl.org’s newsletter is current as of July 2007.

March 11 2008

IE 6 Reluctant friend and frequent foe – Part II

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Part 2 – A few tips on improving your relationship with ie and its bugs

In part 1 of this series IE 6 Reluctant friend and frequent foe – Part I, I did rant just a bit about the myriad of downsides to Internet Explorer 6 and how much this frustrates me on a daily basis. I am often tempted to pin the logo to a dartboard and let rip! However, from the hours of trouble shooting, re-coding and incoherent, angered mumbling, a few small gems of knowledge have emerged, that help me cope.

Since it looks like we will have to live with ie6 for a while, let’s cozy up and make friends. Here are some things that make ie6 happy.

  1. Fix ie Stylesheet
    For larger sites and many bugs, using an ie6 specific stylesheet helps you troubleshoot for ie6 alone.
    All you need to do is add the following code underneath the link to your regular stylesheet
    <!--[if lt IE 7]>
    <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" xhref="fix-ie.css" mce_href="fix-ie.css"></link>
    <![endif]-->
    The code in fix-ie.css will only appear in ie6 (or as the code says; less than ie7) and over-ride any identical code in the regular stylesheet.
  1. The miraculous double-margin manifestation
    It is a well observed phenomenon that if you have a floating div with a margin, ie will take that margin and double it! Now that’s generosity! But if you meant what you coded, then all you need to do is add
    { display:inline; }
    to the floated div and you are back on track.
  1. More Padding and Margin drama
    While I haven’t got a full list of all the phantom margin additions in ie, I do know that it doles them out quite liberally. My advice: if you are having any margin, padding, or placement issues, set all paddings and margins explicitly. Do not leave any of it up to the browser’s defaults. If you want padding only, then set {margin:0;} just to be sure!
    I have observed that ie6 adds a lot of default padding to elements like <ul> <p> and <h1> and <h2> tags, so be sure to state all padding and margins on these elements.

Hopefully this may help clear the ie fog, or at least assist you in extending an olive branch to ie6. If not, then all we can do is wait and cross-check. In my next post, I will share all our MoreVis browser cross-check and testing secrets. Hint: it involves a lot of desk hopping!!

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