The best way to make a page better is to be an advocate of your target user. What they want most is to complete their top tasks as easily as possible. A happy user trusts you more and is more likely to grant you the halo effect. This establishes is good relationship between you and your user, making interactions more successful.
How to make top tasks easier to do
- Remove content. With a big website and numerous content authors coming and going, content tends to add up rather than filter down. This results in a lot of low-quality content.
- Don't overdesign. Overly graphic pages can be overkill and make it harder for your user to complete their top tasks.
- Don't use text in images. This is inaccessible and scales poorly in mobile. Your user has to be able to read your messaging on all screens and with potential disabilities. Put text in text fields and let the web framework automatically adapt it to different situations.
- Use your target user's language vs. institutional language.
- Use headings and lists to make scanning easy.
- Write as succinctly as possible. It's easy to hammer out walls of text. It's hard to find out exactly what's important to your user and use as few words as possible. Same principles as Copywriting 101.
How to test
Usability testing is easy: Time your test subjects on how fast they can complete your top tasks. You may also listen to their feedback while they're doing it. You may opt for formal usability testing, but fast top task completion is the most important part.
Include your cornerstone content. Remove the rest.
Imagine with me for a second . . . someone has just arrived at your website, and this person has no idea what you’re talking about. And this is an important visitor.
Pretend further that this single visitor could make the difference between success and failure for your business. She has no time to waste poking around your site trying to figure out what you’re all about, so she immediately picks up the phone and calls you, demanding an explanation.
What do you tell her?
You’d probably give her essential information about how you understand her problem, options for solving the problem, examples of how you can help, and explanations of why you perfectly meet her needs, right? And I’m betting you’d want to explain it in the most compelling fashion you could, given what’s riding on the deal.
This is what should be on your website.
When in doubt, go for friendly, conversational, easy-to-understand language. Make your voice consistent throughout your pages.
Order of Reading
These are the specific page elements, ordered by when your user sees them. Define them correctly and your user will be happy.
- Page Title. If this matches the link they clicked on, it confirms they're in the right place.
- Leading Sentence. This tells the user in a sentence or two what this page does for them, or summarizes your page. It further confirms that they're in the right place.
- Contact / Highlight Box. Contact is usually a top task, so it's at the top in its own box. Highlight Box is also available for you to edit if you have a top task you want to include there.
- Local (Left) Menu. This contains links related to your page. Keep this short and the titles highly relevant. Learn more about refining the local menu.
- Body / all other fields. This is where the bulk of your content is. If your user has made if this far, your Page Title and Leading Sentence have done their job, and you give the user what they came for. Put your most important content at the top.
Define Goals First
To make a page better, define goals first and contact Jimmy Hansen to talk about these goals. He usually has ways of measuring them. This will allow you to measure, improve and repeat.
The Nielsen Norman Group are the authorities on web usability/user experience. They perform rigorous research on every aspect of web user experience. Their findings inform the FACS web standards.
Bob Johnson Consulting is a marketing research company specializing in higher education. Bob Johnson commonly promotes "Top Task Completion" as a cornerstone of a good website.