Usability Testing – Avoid Front Page Overload

I learned many web design tricks in graduate school. Many of them seem rather obvious in hindsight, like putting the most important information at the top of the web page. After all, the more scrolling viewers go through, the less likely they will see all of the information on the page.

Web Design Rule #1: Web page visitors are very impatient. Don’t make them think.

The obvious solution to preventing scrolling is to eliminate scrolling entirely. Well, some scrolling is inevitable (I certainly cannot write blog posts that short!) but the key idea remains the same: put your key information front and center. Yet this is a double edged sword. While users should see the most valuable information first, cramming too much information in that limited initial space is very dangerous.

Since I happen to work in medical equipment sales, I’ll use two medical equipment manufactures to demonstrate this point. Take a look at Sklar Surgical Instruments. See anything interesting? That’s the problem, there’s too much interesting to see. This little three column layout is not only crammed with so much information, the information is badly prioritized. While the “what’s new” header in the left has some interesting new information, technically the middle and right columns also present new information.

In the end, the average visitor will have difficulty focusing on one section of the site. I admit the layout holds some merit for frequent visitors who want to quickly see what is new and exciting with Sklar. Yet this overload of “new” is quite unfair to first-time visitors interested in what products Sklar sells. That little yellow products link is not easy to spot.

Quick Aside: I’m not a big fan of three column layouts, though I admit it holds value for e-commerce stores. The company I work for, Medical Device Depot, happens to use one rather effectively. Then again I might be biased. 🙂

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Clinton Industries utilizes a very effective front page. New information cycles through the middle, while easy navigation to their products other details are easy to spot. You simply cannot get lost when looking for products when it leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for you to retrace your steps.

One more fun fact: serious usability testing utilizes eye tracking. Technology actually exists which allows testers to track where a person first focuses their eyes on a web page.

This is why a high Google pagerank is important.

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Filed under Technical Writing, Web Design

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