Why Your Website Needs to Feel like a Comfy Couch

November 6, 2013 Amanda Bloomfield

online marketing

Think of websites that you visit daily. Now think about the ones you actually enjoy. There are reasons some sites make you feel comfortable enough to visit often and it’s not just the content.  Websites that load quickly, possess intuitive navigation, with inviting colors and easy-to-read typography make visitors feel comfortable. It’s like sitting down on a comfy couch. It just feels right. But most importantly for the savvy marketer, it also encourages them to look around and take action.

Let’s look at the most important aspects when designing a user-friendly site:

  1. Navigation

    Good navigation stands between the user and the user’s goal. A good marketer will make that distance as short as possible. With this in mind, design your navigation that makes sense to your website users. Help your potential customers reach their goal with the least amount of work. Why make your user click three times, when clicking one is so much easier? If the user's goal is to locate your services page, make sure they can get to it with as few clicks as possible.

    Here are a few navigation mistakes to watch out for:

    • Hard to find navigation. Being creative is one thing, but don’t make user shouldn’t have to hunt for a way to navigate through the site. Navigation needs to be clearly visible. Its purpose should be obvious. Have a lot of mobile visitors? Make sure your navigation scales accordingly for different resolutions.
    • Too many items in your navigation. This mistake is common. You want to have everything at your visitor's fingertips, but this can become cumbersome. The general usability rule is no more than seven main items in your top-level navigation. By removing a menu item, each remaining items becomes more prominent.
    • Getting the order wrong. The "serial position effect" describes how list items that are first and last in a list are more likely to be remembered than the items in the middle. So put your most important items at the beginning of the navigation and the least important items in the middle. "Contact" should be the last item on the list, putting it at the far right in top-level horizontal navigation. This is now considered a web-standard location.
    • Uncommon navigation labels. Make sure to use terms that your visitors can easily recognize. You might know what an acronym stands for, but your audience might not. Stick with the common terms, like Products, Services, Contact, etc.
  2. Readability

    Readability is another key factor that makes a website user-friendly. Studies show that most readers don’t actually read all the information on a website. They scan it. According to a study from the Nielsen Norman Group, most information that a reader is likely to read is 28%. Make that 28% count.  The user should be able to grasp the information on the website quickly and with as little effort as possible.

    Here are some design factors that contribute website readability:

    • Color. For a website to be readable, there should be enough contrast between the color used for the text and the color used for the background. Words should be easily read.
    • Font. In general, the simpler a font is, the easier it is to read. Most design experts agree that san serif fonts work best for online body copy and serif fonts are better for print design. Avoid using too many different fonts in the same design. 16-pixel text may seem big, but is about the same size as text printed in a book or magazine; accounting for reading distance.
    • Formatting. Besides making sure you have formatting for headers, bulleted lists, bolding, etc, make sure to take into account the line-height. This can make a huge difference with the readability of your site. If the text is too close together it makes it difficult to read and too far apart makes it easier to lose your place.  Also, make sure to break up large chunks of text since smaller chunks will increase scannability.
  3. Load Time

    How long does your site take to load? If your site takes longer than ten seconds to load, most readers won’t stick around. The Associated Press has statistics that show the average user’s attention span is decreasing, not increasing. Yikes!  That means if your website loads quickly, you’re probably gaining an advantage over the competition. Who wouldn’t want that?

    Some are tempted to spice things up with video, large images, and other types of multimedia. We forget most web users are in a rush. A slow-loading home page video isn't the best way to create a user-friendly website that makes users comfortable.

As the saying goes, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." Navigation, readability and load times contribute to this first impression. Make sure your website does all three well. If you set up a nice comfy couch for your guest, who wouldn’t mind sitting and relaxing for awhile.

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Abstract: 
Websites that load quickly, possess intuitive navigation, with inviting colors and easy-to-read typography make visitors feel comfortable.

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