Website Usability Issues Take Center Stage

Usability is a word that’s sneaking into web conversations more frequently these days, and frankly, it’s about time. Usability and content are two important components of web development that are often overlooked as design steals the limelight. Let’s face it—design is what captures people’s attention—it’s sexy and slick, colorful and bold. Yet how many times have you gone to a website, been initially impressed with the great graphics, but sorely disappointed when you find that more comprehensive information about a company or product simply doesn’t exist. The site is all about design, and it’s all superficial.

Ignoring content and usability means missed opportunities

It’s content that makes you look smart, content that positions you as an industry expert and helps your site show up in search engines. And it’s usability and intuitive navigation that helps users access information so they can find what they’re looking for. They’ll either be happy and continue to come back or leave and never return.

Organizing information: No one said it was going to be easy

When it comes to large service organizations with a lot of information to promote, developing an information architecture (IA) that’s smart and intuitive is extremely difficult. Since you can’t just list everything on the homepage, you need to think strategically and group information into buckets. The problem? Many large organizations really can’t agree on an organizational schematic that’s representative of their overall business.

Think about it from the users’ perspective—not yours

Employees often have difficulty thinking about the organization—not from their own perspectives—but from those of their users. In defining an IA, it’s important to be objective and think about how someone who doesn’t have a clear understanding of the organization would logically try to find a specific product or service. There is often disagreement and conflict; more than one project has completely stalled because it lacks an authority figure who will take responsibility for identifying the IA–fundamental to a project’s moving forward.

It’s hard to make a decision in a hostile environment

I helped manage a new website project for a large financial institution, so I know firsthand the kinds of internal issues that surface as organizations struggle with their IA. This project was complicated by the fact that it was the first website of a newly merged organization—two organizations coming together, represented in a new site. The two organizations already hated each other because at least half the employees were going to lose their jobs, so this was a battlefield on many levels–a test of wills and political might, they argued about just about everything.

top of mind marketing_image card sorting

We used Card Sorting to help identify an information architecture

Our solution: Card sorting

Our solution: a simple but very effective exercise called card sorting, a methodology for categorizing information for a website. There are two kinds of card sorts—open and closed, and we were using open card sorting. Participants are given a stack of cards and are asked to group them together in a way that makes sense to them. After they have group the cards, they are asked to name each group of cards, giving these groups an overarching name or label.

Solution: Put 8 SMEs in a room . . . 

We identified a small group of eight subject matter experts (SMEs) who had a broad understanding of all 25+ business units within the organization. We prepared a stack of cards for all SMEs—each card with the name of a business unit—Foreign Exchange, Credit, Cash Management, Leasing, etc. This group spent three hours on the card-sorting exercise, and we were delighted that it spurred a lot of healthy debate and some inventive ideas. For the first time, they were working together as a team toward a common goal. We learned that there were a lot of cross-sell opportunities that we needed to leverage, and we came up with creative ways to provide extra visibility for those business units wanting to promote a product or event.

The best part was that we’d peacefully arrived at a logical IA that enabled us to move forward with this project—a huge hurdle for an organization in search of unity—and a new website!

Are you struggling with the structure or content of your new website? Talk to us at Top of Mind Marketing. We’re writers and digital media experts.


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