Shake out your web site’s welcome mat

The best way to make your web site welcoming to visitors isn’t a big “Welcome” mat on the home page. The trick is to put yourself in your visitors’ shoes and make your site easy and enjoyable to use. Simplicity, ease of navigation and consistency are the key words here.

I recently visited the Herald Scotland site (The Herald and Sunday Herald newspapers) because I wanted to contact the paper. Nowhere on the home page could I find the “Contact Us” link. I’m interested in web usability, and fairly persistent, so I clicked away until I found that contact form. You access it through three different tabs/links, none of which says “Contact Us”. They are:

"Go Away" welcome mat

More casual users would have given up and left.

Why does Herald Scotland make it so difficult for visitors to get in touch? Why are they so unwelcoming? User interaction is surely a key asset to newspapers in these straitened times.

Web users usually want to carry out a task (book a flight, buy a book), find information or, we hope, read interesting content. They don’t want to waste time looking for standard features that web designers have decided to hide away under misleading headings.

It ain’t rocket science.

Make your site easy to use. Label your pages clearly. Put things where users expect to find them, with the names they expect (Contact Us, FAQ, About Us). Follow standard practice – don’t be so clever and innovative that nobody can find their way around the site. Be consistent. If the main menu is on the left-hand side on the home page, make sure it stays there on every other page of the site. Take the needs of less abled users into account. And take a step back from the site and try to view it through a user’s eyes (better still, bring in an outsider and ask them to carry out key tasks. Watch them and take note of how easy/difficult they find those tasks).

Keep it simple, not fancy – that’s how to make your web site welcoming.

Photo courtesy of LexnGer / Alexa Clark

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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  1. Excellent advice. Clear & to the point. Put yourself in the user’s shoes, and see how easy you can make it for them to accomplish what they came to do at your site. It’s as easy (and as difficult, since we don’t always know our users) as that.

    1. Thanks, Heather. Yes, it can be hard to distance yourself enough from your site. The usability experts’ advice is to create “personas” representing different types of users (but you probably already know that!).

  2. OMG you are so right – just been trying to find details on a BAA website this morning. I was hunting everywhere for the contact button. Are they trying to make it difficult or what?

    1. I know! My bugbear is when companies hide their phone number. I know they prefer us to contact them by email or through forums/FAQ, but sometimes you just want to phone them up and speak to somebody. I’m more interested in saving my time than their money.

  3. I totally agree, the simpler the better! At first I was worried my website was TOO simplistic but feedback has been that people find it easy and honest… The way all business should be!

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