The Goldilocks Guide to Making Your Website User Friendly

website navigation tipsRemember the story of Goldilocks and the three bears? The first chair was too big; the second was too small; the third was just right. She also had to try three bowls of porridge before finding one that suited her.

Goldlilocks was very patient (if also a housebreaker).  Your visitors won’t take the time to try three different buttons or search through five pages for your contact information.

I’ve talked a lot about the perils of putting up barriers to your customers (Flash, logins to comment on blogs, complicated contact forms, etc.),

Sites can be too easy, or too hard, but how do you get it just right and get a website that’s easy to use?

The site that was too easy to use

A client wanted me to update his Lexis/Nexis directory listing (not my usual thing, but he’s “technologically challenged”).

He said all I had to do was hit an update button and make the changes. This seemed way too easy (what, no login? no password?). Sure enough, he was right.

NOT SO FAST; it was also too hard

There was only a tiny box to enter three pages of text, and no way to tell what it would look like “live.” Then, I got a message saying the changes would go live at their next update (no indication of when that would be).

I called and was told it would take 7-10 days to go live. They review each entry individually, retype it, and then upload it!!

When I asked them to send me the changes, they wanted to fax them.  Then they emailed the client (who doesn’t use email). The changes were sent in plain text, so I couldn’t see the formatting and was unable to tell how it would look when it was uploaded to the site.

After that, I received a second email saying my listing was too long (they had a 300 word limit, and the listing had 682 words). No sign of this on the site anywhere.

I spent three hours talking to the client, making changes, checking them, several phone calls back and forth, reading emails, and getting strange messages, only to end up with the same inaccurate and misspelled listing I had when I started.

How to make your site just right

First, make sure you Include basic security measures.  If you allow users to update listings, set up a login and password system. Use security questions, but please don’t use the same 5 questions everyone else uses, or questions that can be answered by anyone, in a few minutes, by checking someone’s Facebook page.  Even better, use two-factor authentication.

Make data entry easy

If you want people to add data, include a preview window so that users can see what they’re doing. And, if they might need to click away, say to check a URL or get some other information from their computers, don’t clear the window and remove all the text.

Explain the rules

If you have a word limit or other requirements, outline them in the edit section. If there’s a delay or a waiting period, spell it out.

Don’t expect your customers to know your policies without being told.  I recently wanted to reserve a  library book and kept getting an error message saying there was a problem with my record and to see a librarian.  Turned out the “problem” was a new limit on the number of reserves, which I’d reached.  Why not just say that?

clear navigation

People expect navigation bars to be on the top of the page, or on the side.  Don’t make your visitors hunt for them.

Don’t load it up with every single topic on your site.  Put a few primary categories, and keep the drop downs to a minimum.

Give the categories descriptive labels; a name like “products” doesn’t really help much, try “iOS apps” or “email marketing services” instead.  If you have help buttons, or a page with common questions, make them easy to find, and put links on every page.

Easy to contact

Your contact information should be easy to find.  It should be easy to call, email, or physically send you something.  Add a pop-up chat button (in a bright color) so your visitors can get help right away.

Have you ever been frustrated by a website that was too hard to use?  Share in the comments.


Photo: James Emery

One thought on “The Goldilocks Guide to Making Your Website User Friendly

  1. Thanks for the tips. Driving people to your site by having a nice video on YouTube, AdWido, Vimeo, and other video sites doesn’t help much if the presentation of the site doesn’t make people want to stay.

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