10 Easy Steps to a User Friendly Website
By Kalena Jordan of Web Rank
As a busy search engine optimization consultant, I
don't have a lot of time to manage my website. But
recently I learnt the hard way about the fickle nature
of website visitors and the damage that having a user-
unfriendly site can do to a business. Now I give my
website usability much more priority than ever before.
Here's what happened. I had written a research report
late last year and was selling it as a downloadable e-
book via the site. However, I was relying on an offline
press release and links from other sites to lead visitors
to the specific page from which the report could be
purchased. Although this report resulted in considerable
press attention, much of the media coverage did not
include a link direct to my report page, or in some
casese, even my website, meaning that interested
parties were forced to conduct a search for my site.
It wasn't until I received an email from a potential
customer advising me that he had searched my home
page and couldn't find a link to the report that I had
my "Duh!" moment. I had forgotten to include a link to
the report page from my home page!
My old website had no site map or site search tool
either, so potential customers finally arrived at my site,
only to click away in frustration after not being able to
easily find information on my research report. Goodness
knows how many sales I missed out on due to this
oversight. Embarrassed, I quickly added a link to my
home page and made a mental note to study up on
website usability, pronto.
Since then, I've learnt that improving your website
usability isn't time-consuming, it isn't expensive and it's
certainly not difficult. It simply involves common sense
and dedication to the task. Here are 10 easy steps
that anyone can implement to make their website more
1) Create a Site Map
No matter what the size of your website, you should
include a detailed, text-based site map, with a link to
every page and preferably, a short description of what
each page offers. An excellent example of a site map
can be found here. The advantage of using a site
map is that you don't have to link to every page from
your home page, but you should link to your site map
from every page. Not only are site maps useful for
visitors looking for specific information on your site, but
they are great "spider food", meaning they allow search
engines to easily find and index every page on your site.
2) Use a Logical Navigation Structure
When designing your site navigation menu, use logical
headings and link descriptions. For example, web
site design services is much more intuitive to a
visitor than Internet services. Use Cookie
Crumbs to show visitors where they are on your site at
any point. These are headings you often see at the top
of websites and search portals showing what category
and page you are currently browsing (e.g. Home >
Travel > UK > Bristol > Bed & Breakfasts). Guide Visitors
to specific pathways throughout your site. You can do
this using Call-to-Action links instructing visitors what
page they should view or what action they should take
next e.g. Click Here to Order, Bookmark This
Page, or View Our Catalogue Now.
3) Check for Errors Regularly
There's nothing worse than browsing a site or following
a link only to find it leads nowhere. Make sure you
check your site at least once a month for any broken
links. There are low cost link checking tools such as
Link Defender available to help you keep on top of
this. Make sure your HTML code is designed to display
correctly in different browser versions. Also ensure that
your site hosting provider is stable and reliable to avoid
any unnecessary downtime of your website. Services
such as Internet Seer
can help you monitor your site uptime.
Make sure your site does not contain spelling or
grammatical mistakes. If you're not the world's best
speller, have trusted friends and colleagues check your
site copy for errors. When proofing your site, remember
to take into account regional spelling usage for
different audiences worldwide, e.g. British versus
American English. A webmaster service such as Net
Mechanic can be used to check for many of these
errors via the one location.
4) Use a Consistent Design and Layout
Common sense rules here - make sure you use a
consistent design and layout for each page on your
site. This means using the same general colour scheme,
logo, consistent navigation menu, header and footer in
the same location and consistent link attributes (e.g.
always underlined). This way you never alienate your
visitor or cause them to become confused and lose
their momentum to keep looking.
5) Include a Site Search Tool
A user friendly website provides the visitor with the
ability to search the site for specific keywords.
Thought this one was too hard? Me too. Until I
discovered Atomz Site Search. This is a software program
that provides site-wide search for websites of 500
pages or less, for free. It's a quick and painless way to
setup and customize your own site-wide search tool.
They also offer a paid version for larger sites.
6) Ensure All Forms Work
It sounds obvious and it should be. If you're going to
make your site interactive with feedback forms,
newsletter sign-ups, guestbooks and the like, then
make sure they work! Double check each form field is
large enough to accomodate even the longest of
names. Think about your international visitors when
creating fields such as Zip Code. Make it clear which
fields are required by marking them with an asterix.
Test the form to make sure it submits correctly and
displays the right confirmation message upon
7) Ensure Shopping Carts are Functional
This is vital for any type of e-commerce site. Ensure
you have adequate product descriptions, pictures,
specifications and crystal clear pricing. Include
information on shipping and freight costs and integrate
any taxes within your price list. If selling internationally,
include a foreign exchange calculator such as the free
one provided by XE
for visitors to compare costs in their local currency.
Make sure your shopping cart pages are protected by
SSL or a secure certificate to give visitors the
confidence to reveal their personal and credit card
information without threat or risk. Provide simple
instructions for completing the online transaction, give
them the ability to back out easily and provide a help
email address or phone number on every page of the
process in case they get stuck. For instant
transactions, provide a receipt immediately and confirm
their transaction was successful. As with your online
forms, test, test and test again. It only takes one bad
experience for you to lose a potential lifetime customer.
8) Include Obvious Contact Details
With all the scams proliferating the web these days,
people are understandably sceptical when it comes to
online business. To build trust, you absolutely,
positively need to display contact details prominently
on your site. If you're not willing to provide a way for
people to contact you, why should anyone be willing to
buy from you? You should include your business
address (preferably your street address and a postal
address), a telephone number and at least one email
address. If you are concerned about spam email
harvesters, you can either hide your email address
within a HTML encoder such as
Natata Anti Spam Encoder or use a contact form
for people to submit to contact you with (although
many people, including me, find the latter annoying).
9) Use Easy to Understand Language
The Internet is no place for verbosity. People are in a
hurry - they want to find what they seek quickly and
easily with the least hassle possible. You can help them
in this quest by ensuring your site pages use simple
language and easy to grasp concepts throughout. For
example instead of brand-building web information
architects, use website designers specialising in
brand promotion. Keep the text on each page to a
minimum, using bullet points and sub-headings to get
your main points across or to demonstrate your product
benefits. Use the old WIIFM (What's In It For Me?)
adage when composing your body copy to keep the
user's interests at top of mind. Remember your
international visitors by avoiding regional word usage or
technical jargon that could alienate. Want your visitor
to take a particular action? Spell it out for them in plain
10) Make it search engine friendly
Last, but by no means least, make sure your site is
search engine compatible. A user friendly site is
generally a search engine friendly site too. Use body
text and headings in place of graphical text. Use a
text-based navigation menu instead of a graphical or
code that could trip up a search engine spider trying to
index your site. Use logical Title and META tags for
each page, tailoring these to match the content found
within. Scatter target keywords and search phrases
throughout your body copy to give your pages better
ranking potential on engines and directories for related
searches. Don't compromise the readability of your
copy to achieve this - hire an expert copywriter to
strike the right balance if need be.
So there you have it. 10 easy steps to making your
websites more user friendly. Now you have no more
excuses for avoiding usability. Implement one of these
per week and your visitors will repay you with loyalty.
You'll notice that the newsletter is a loooong one this
month. That's because I'd written an article on website
usability and I wanted to include it in full. The good
news is that the length of the article permitted news
items to be included in their entirety this month,
without any links to the "full story" as usual. So those
of you who hate having to click on a link to read the
rest of an article should have no complaints.
I admit it, this issue is well overdue - almost a month
overdue in fact. My apologies, but things have been
very, very busy around here. Not only has our SEO biz
taken off locally but I decided October was the time
was right to drag my husband off on a whirlwind tour of
the South Island here in gorgeous New Zealand. After
all, a girl's entitled to a week off every now and then,
right? We had a wonderful break and even found the
time to buy a holiday home near
Queenstown ready for the
Upon our return to the office, the 3rd edition of
Buyer's Guide to Search Engine Optimization Firms
was released internationally and I'm pleased to say
we're in it! The latest edition profiles 120 SEO firms in
North America, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New
Zealand, including our very own SEO firm Web Rank. More
importantly, the Guide compares and contrasts the
methods used by each firm, helps webmasters calculate
how much to budget for optimization and explains the
basics of how SEO works, how it's priced, and
what "dangerous tactics" to avoid.
I bought the PDF and read it cover to cover and am so
pleased to be associated with such a responsible
publication on SEO. In an industry which is so often rife
with mis-information, it is refreshing to read a guide
that offers accurate and easy-to-understand advice to
webmasters and marketers considering investing in
SEO. Well done Marketing Sherpa!
Meanwhile, the search engine space has been abuzz
with gossip that Microsoft held talks with Google over
the past few months about some kind of buyout or
partnership possibility. Rubbish, claims Bill Gates, who
has gone to considerable trouble to
deny the rumor. Does he
protest too much? I'll let you decide.
Speaking of rumors, this week I heard one from a very
reliable source that a large online retail company in
Pakistan has just launched a lawsuit against Google for
alleged violation of their own TOS via the closure of the
company's AdWords advertising accounts.
According to my source, if Google doesn't respond
within 7 days, the Pakistani firm will apply for a ruling
from a local court restricting Google from operating in
Pakistan, including denial of access to Google search
sites (and their partners sites such as Yahoo. AOL etc)
from within Pakistan. I've asked Google to confirm or
deny the rumor and I'll post more details to my blog as
soon as I receive them...
Enjoy this issue and remember to visit our daily
Engine News Blog for the latest industry news and
Till next time - wishing you high rankings...
|Google Launches Desktop Search|
Google Labs continue to pump out useful tools for
webmasters, this time launching the
Google DeskBar, a free search application that
enables PC users to conduct Google searches at any
time from any application.
Once downloaded, the Google Deskbar appears as a
search box in the Windows taskbar at the bottom right
of most Windows-based PCs. Now you don't need to
open your browser to search the net. Just enter
keywords directly into the search box and your results
are automatically displayed in a separate window.
The beauty of the Deskbar is the ability to conduct a
search from any application, such as email or a word
processing package, without having to launch a
separate program. You can access all your favorite
Google tools direct from Deskbar, as well as stock
quotes and other web resources.
Forward and back arrows in the Deskbar window let you
click through results pages quickly, or you can launch
your browser from the program to view results in full
screen. You can also customize Deskbar links using the
options menu, including choosing which regional Google
domain to search by default.
|Lycos Dumps Overture and Files Lawsuit|
Search portal Terra Lycos has dumped Overture paid
listings from their U.S. sites after a disagreement over
their contract, signed just 3 months ago.
Terra Lycos are apparently attempting to resolve the
dispute in court, having already filed a lawsuit against
the Yahoo-owned Overture, according to
"We understand a lawsuit has been filed by Lycos,
but we haven't yet been served," said Jennifer
Stephens, a spokeswoman at the Yahoo unit. "As a
result, Lycos has removed Overture's listings from its
site. We do not believe that Lycos has the right to
take down our listings, and we're currently evaluating
Terra Lycos also confided to MarketWatch that it had
begun integrating Google results on its U.S. properties
late last month, in lieu of Overture listings.
"We switched over to Google late on Friday," said
Kathy O'Reilly, U.S. spokeswoman for a Terra Lycos.
|LookSmart Launches Bid For Placement|
LookSmart has changed their search model once again.
This time they've introduced an auction style, bid-for-
placement service similar to that offered by their major
competitor Overture. LookSmart is claiming the move
sees it become the first search engine to offer paid
inclusion and bid-for-placement in one integrated
LookSmart Sponsored Listings will enable
advertisers to bid for various search terms, resulting in
their site listing appearing when persons type searches
for those terms in the LookSmart network of sites. The
higher the bid, the more chance their site listing will
appear. For now at least, the existing fixed-price
LookListings will apparently still exist in tandem with the
The company will also be distributing the new
Sponsored Listings across a network of partner sites
including CNET, Road Runner, InfoSpace,
LookSmart.com, Cox Internet, Mamma.com and Alltel.
More information on the service is available
The move by LookSmart is clearly motivated by the
huge success companies such as Overture have had in
the bid-based search market and the projected growth
of this market over the next several years. But it is also
likely a knee-jerk reaction to the news that their long
term paid listings partnership with MSN will be coming
to an end shortly.
With Google the clear industry leader, Microsoft gearing
up to launch their own search engine and a combined
Yahoo / Overture way already ahead of LookSmart in
terms of the paid search market, it remains to be seen
how well LookSmart can compete.
|Google AdSense Goes Multilingual|
Google rolled out a major update to their
AdSense program last month. Changes include:
>> Expanded language capabilities - AdSense publishers
now have the option of placing their ad code on pages
with content in French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
>> New 'Settings' tab
>> Ability to specify a payee name
>> Expanded payment history
>> 30 character limit for address fields
More information about the changes can be viewed
|Your Ad Here!|
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|LookSmart Loses Microsoft Partnership|
LookSmart confirmed last month that Microsoft has
decided not to renew its distribution and licensing deal
with the company.
LookSmart had been providing Microsoft's search arm
MSN with paid search technology that allowed
advertising to be displayed along with search results.
MSN apparently decided to end its licensing agreement
on 15 January 2004. In response, LookSmart admitted
that the loss will adversely affect their earnings
outlook, with the deal previously accounting for 65
percent of listings revenue and all of their licensing
revenue for the second quarter of 2003. LookSmart
sharply at the news.
The deal loss puts in perspective LookSmart's move last
month into the bid-based pay per click market. But
starting out at such a disadvantage will not help them.
Click here for a full text/print version of this newsletter...