How to Evaluate Your Website: Branding and Homepage
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A lot goes into making a good website, so you want to make sure that whoever visits your site has a good experience.
But how do you know if the website you’ve created or use is effective? You can do a usability test, which requires you to find several prospective users of your website and evaluate how they use your website. Doing a usability test is important and highly recommended, but you don’t have to conduct a full-on usability test to get a general sense of whether a website is any good. In fact, you don’t need to be website expert at all.
Below, I’ve created a checklist below of the most important (and easy to identify) usability guidelines for evaluating a website. Even if you know relatively little about web design, you can follow this usability checklist and evaluate your website.
Branding and Homepage
As simple as it sounds, the most important thing a website needs to communicate is what the website does. There should be clear indications (through text, images, etc.) about what the site is. Is it a news site? A blog? An e-commerce site? Some combination? What industry is it? Mortgages? Pharmaceutics? If a viewer can’t tell within three seconds what the site is, they will probably leave.
Your visitors will want to know what they can do with the site. Can they buy stuff or just read news? Can they comment and post reviews? Can they play games or just learn about them? Visitors also want to know how large the site is. When you walk in a department store, you can get a sense of scale. When you “walk into” a website, it’s sometimes difficult to tell how large it is. Help viewers know if there is a lot to offer by giving them clearly marked sections of the site.
3: Starting Point
Strangely enough, some websites are hard to figure out where to start. Give your visitors a focal point (or a couple focal points). Don’t let them guess where they need to click first. Visitors have a specific reason for going to your site, so make sure they know where to begin. If they start down the wrong path, you may lose them forever.
4: Visual Appeal
Aesthetics matter! As much as we would all like to believe that all visitors care about is is the content, it’s not true. The visual appeal of a website has been repeatedly proven to make websites seem more credible. People also believe that the website works better (even if it doesn’t!) if the website looks nice.
You have total control over your website’s personality. How do you want it to present itself? Informal? Serious? Fun? Excited? Professional? Funny? Every word, image, and color you choose will impact the personality. Keep the personality consistent in your headings, colors, and word choice throughout the entire site. This is an important branding consideration.
6: Color Scheme
Run your color scheme by a professional designer. Or, at least ask several people what they think (and you can’t ask your spouse or mother!) You shouldn’t have more than 3 or 4 colors dominating your design and all the colors should match. Also, recognize that about 9% of all men have some form of colorblindness, so you may need to accommodate for that, depending on your content.
7: Site ID
A Site ID is, more or less, a logo. Your site should have a clear ID–visitors should know the name of the site, no matter what page they land on. Site IDs are most commonly placed in the upper left-hand corner of every page. In most cases, you won’t want to break this common convention. Also, your site ID should link back to your homepage.
Taglines are short, pithy phrases that tell visitors what your site is all about. A tagline IS NOT just a company slogan. While taglines can function as a slogan, they need to do more than just state something nice. Taglines need to tell users what the website/company does and why people should be there and not somewhere else. So, a website that sells baby furniture should NOT have a tagline that says, “Because Your Baby Matters.” That might be a nice slogan, but it could be used for a women’s clinic, a pediatric office, or a diaper company. A better tagline for a baby furniture company would say something like this: “Furniture almost as Cute As Your Baby.” Taglines should be between 3 and 8 words.
9: Welcome Blurb
Similar to a tagline, a welcome blurb quickly (in a sentence or two, or even simple phrases) should elaborate on the tagline. “We don’t just sell baby furniture. We well sell the cutest stuff out there.” DO NOT let your welcome blurb turn into “Happy Talk” (See #29). Welcome blurbs are not always necessary, but they can help clarify the purpose of a website. And they should be very short.
10: Ability to Satisfice
The term “satisfice” means to make a good decision after quickly making an assessment of the best decision. Visitors should be able to look at your homepage, scan it within a few seconds, and feel confident about clicking the right thing. Visitors won’t necessarily click on the first thing they see, but they won’t spend a lot of time weighing all their options. They’ll satisfice. So make sure that your important links are easy to find and understand.
Utilities are links or pieces of your website that don’t affect the page structure/navigation of your website, but are important for visitors to feel comfortable on your site. Utilities are often things like shopping bags, search bars, member logins, A-Z indexes, site maps, and so forth. They are almost always in the upper-right of a website, so don’t break that convention. Your visitors will be happy knowing where to find that information.
Noise refers to the amount of stuff on a page in relation to the amount of white (empty) space. People don’t like visual noise. In fact, noise is so aesthetically unpleasing that people tend to think websites (and the comapies who produce them) aren’t credible if they appear busy. Remember: white space is good. Don’t be afraid to make your design simple.
13: Peer Comparison
Chances are, your visitor has been to your competitors’ websites. You should get a feel for what others are doing what you think is a good idea. Sure, you want to be different than your competitors, but that doesn’t mean that everything your competitors is doing is bad. Make sure that you are fitting in with your industry conventions and providing your visitors what they need and expect.