Stop Trying to Be Cool and Let Me Buy Your Product
Have you ever been to a website that looked “cool” visually but was difficult to use? A website, first and foremost, needs to help website visitors do what they set out to do. Yet, all too often, a website that the designers, developers, and clients thought was visually appealing with all the latest features ends up trying too hard to be “cool” or “clever” while preventing the user from doing what they actually want to do—buy/learn more about your product or service.
Recently I went to a few websites with the intention of purchasing a dress for an event. One of the sites I visited had amazing visuals, including a video that made the homepage load extremely slowly, and ended up with about 800 empty pixels at the top of the page. It made it seem as if something were wrong with the website until you scrolled down and saw the rest of the site. Was the video worth the slow load time? No. Did it tell me anything about the fit and fabric of the dresses for sale, which are some of the determining factors in my purchase? No. So why was it there?
The “trying too hard to be cool” issues tend to fall into the following categories:
1. The website doesn’t help users perform the tasks they set out to accomplish. What are the top three things a user needs to be able to accomplish/get out of a visit to your site? Sometimes there’s a difference between what your business wants and what a visitor wants (ad impressions is a great example), so think hard about this. There also might be different goals based on where the user is in the buying cycle. But, for the sake of simplicity: is it to purchase something? sign up for a webinar? find a local sales rep? Now, how easy is it for users to do that? How do you know? (Hint: you’ve talked to/usability tested with representative users).
2. The latest trends were incorporated to make the website look “cool”—but at the expense of usability. Parallax used to be my go-to when explaining this issue, but thankfully that “trend” doesn’t pop up (and have I told you how much I hate popups!?) as much anymore. Of course you’ll evaluate your competitors and other websites before a redesign. But that doesn’t mean you have to copy their mistakes. A trend is a trend and will fall out of style soon enough, making your site look dated. And you’ll be left with something that doesn’t function well and holds little meaning for your visitors. A few recent examples:
- Using video that spans the entire page, with text juxtaposed on it. Often the video is terrible, makes the page load slowly, and is completely meaningless. It’s almost always difficult to read the text on top of it. If it’s not adding value, why bother?
- Carousels (rotating images, typically on the homepage) taking up critical real estate. In usability tests, people tend to ignore carousels (they look like ads) and they are incredibly annoying on mobile devices.
- Lack of consistency. While it’s a fundamental design principle, it’s amazing how much it is ignored. This happens most often on large websites, where updates were made to the homepage and other frequently viewed pages, and the rest of the site was ignored. Users look for consistent visual cues to make sense of your site. For example, buttons on one page should look the same as buttons on other pages and navigation should be consistent from page to page.
- Lots of functionality but complete lack of feedback. It used to be that users could only navigate from page to page, with little interactivity. Now, websites can perform a variety of functions and there’s a much higher degree of interactivity. Help users understand what is happening throughout their experience with your website. As a simple example, if a user just filled out a form, tell them what happened (it was successful or not successful) and what happens next (an email will be sent to them with information on next steps or helpful suggestions of how to fix any errors that occurred).
3. The website doesn’t pass the five second test. If a website visitor only saw your homepage for five seconds, what would they come away with? With my dress shopping example, I knew the brands already and wasn’t searching for anything besides a specific style of dress. However, if someone lands on your site and doesn’t really know who you are or what you sell—the purpose of their visit to your site—will they be able to figure it out? Are they able to figure it out in five seconds? With ever decreasing attention spans, that’s about all the time you have. The solution to the five second test is incredibly simple: make sure people know who you are and why they should care. Additional copy should support your value proposition and invite the user to learn more. Now, the answer to retaining and converting the user is worthy of a separate blog post…
What’s the answer to creating a website that is both “cool” and functional?
User research and user testing. User research prior to a redesign will help you hone in on what tasks your users want to accomplish. User testing throughout the design and development cycle ensures your creative team hasn’t gone off the deep end—trading in usability and user experience for the latest fad.