06.15.09

Help lost visitors find what they're looking for

Much like how my husband feels about my moving around the furniture in the living room quarterly, some of you may doubt the need for a regular look at your site's home page content. I'm sure you've received a phone call from someone looking for a particular thing and referred them to your Web site where you know it's posted front and center. Their response is disheartening -- "I've just spent an hour on your Web site looking for it." 

It's time to consider some options to help site visitors self-service:
 
   1. Merge two bulleted sections into a single listing. Visitors won't have two similar options and mistakenly look in the wrong list.
 
   2. Rename the existing sections. Different labels could make the distinction between areas more clear. This is particularly true if the original labels were industry lexicon and they are replaced with familiar words that people understand.
 
   3. Explain the choices. Pictures or icons, or a line of text for each option can help explain what they mean.
 
   4. Move information around. If folks are looking in the "wrong section," you could simply move it to the place where they looked for it.
 
   5. Add cross-reference links. The Internet is supposed to be a Web of information. There's no reason to restrain yourself. If you know many users are going to the wrong site area, add a cross-reference link.
 
The best solution is typically a combination of changes, such as renaming the labels, moving some features around, and adding a few cross-reference links to alleviate the remaining problems. Other times, you can come up with a brilliant master plan to restructure the entire site and help everybody in one swoop.
 
With these types of design dilemmas, usability comes to the rescue: instead of spending endless time in expensive team meetings arguing over what to do, simply mock up 2 or 3 paper prototypes of the most promising solutions and test them with a new set of users. That's a quick and easy way of finding out what solution works best for your specific circumstances. Properly arranged content means you'll only have to move the furniture around when you get a new piece.

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