There are two types of users that visit a website. The first group consists of the informed users. These individuals already know what it is that they’re looking for on a given page, and are visiting to obtain something specific. The second group is the curious users. They reach your site through a search engine or a series of links from another page, and want to see what you’ve got going on. It’s important to optimize your site in such a way that you tailor to the needs of both groups without making it difficult to move around.
When the informed user loads the page, their eyes will more than likely go straight to your navigation bar. Oftentimes this leads to the idea that everything should be placed in the menu for easy location, but in reality it’s much more difficult to find what you’re looking for in a sea of links. Assume we visit the website of a dog breeder, and we want to get information about poodles. (Fig. 1)
We’ve now read through all of those poorly organized links only to discover that there are no poodles. It would be much easier for the informed user if we had our navigation sorted out in a much easier to read manner and slimmed down to make important information easy to find.
Of course, the curious user may not look at your navigation bar first. They want to know what your site is about and why they should be there. A streamlined front page that clearly outlines the purpose of what they’re viewing goes a long way towards comprehending what they see. The first step is, of course, an introductory paragraph with an obvious title. Explain, without getting too verbose, what they can do.
All too often, webmasters are guilty of actually trying to do too much. Yes, it sounds strange, but the more things that are put on the front page, the more they detract from the introduction that curious users need. It’s much more beneficial for them to know what they’re viewing than to have 10 widgets on the front page. Let’s look at our dog breeding site again. (Fig. 2)
At a glance, any curious user will have a general idea of what the site is for. Now, if we take these practices and combine them, we can optimize our site for all users. (Fig. 3)
These are just a few steps that can be taken towards facilitating user experience on a website. Subtle things to note include alphabetically organizing all of our navigation sections and having two separate sections in our introduction. One that welcomes the user and explains the site, and another that provides a little bit more detail if they are still curious.
The most important thing to take away is that usability is not an exact science. There are a thousand and one small tweaks that can provide huge improvements, and the best way to discover them is to just experiment until you find what works.