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Simple usability tips for small businesses

Alyce Former UX Consultant 18th Mar, 2014

To most of us working in digital, it seems that having a good web presence is more than common knowledge; it's a functional necessity – much like having a phone number, ABN or a logo. I was recently doing a search for a few different tradespeople and I was horrified at the web presence of many of the small businesses I came across. From scrolling marquee content, horrendous auto-play audio tracks, flashing slideshows, rigid layouts that rendered incorrectly and keyword stuffing; I felt like I was back in 1997!

The death of the physical Yellow Pages has only further cemented the importance of having a good web presence. Admittedly, I didn’t even think to look at the online version of the Yellow Pages, but I found myself yearning for the simplicity of small printed advertisements in alphabetical order, after I was faced with a hundred-odd websites with an awful experience that left me somewhat bewildered, confused and a little bit disappointed.

Rather than naming and shaming the worst offenders, I thought I would compile a quick list of our top tips for all small business websites, regardless of industry. Please, pass these on to your friends, relatives or acquaintances who run a small business, or the next bad small business website you come across, so we never have to deal with a scrolling marquee or an auto-play jingle ever again.

1. Keep it simple

Avoid ‘flashy’ content, or a heavy reliance on gimmicky content (scrolling text, flashing animations, image effects etc.). Don’t ever auto-play audio or video, ever. Not even if you have spent a fortune on a fantastic radio jingle or YouTube video. In a nutshell, clearly describe who you are, what you do, show some examples (if relevant) and how to get in touch with you. Write articles if they are relevant, and you have something unique and interesting to say. Don’t force yourself to write articles or content just for the sake of producing content.

2. Avoid large image-based sites

Although they can seem like an attractive and easy option, simply implementing a large image instead of a properly coded website is only going to annoy your users when they can’t click on anything, highlight and copy text, or worse if they can’t access it due to a disability. And if that image happens to go down, the entirety of your site content is lost.

3. Good SEO is imperative

By good SEO, we don’t mean stuffing keywords (such as suburb names) in to the footer of every page or duplicating content so it appears across multiple pages. Use transparent, good SEO practices including accurate metadata, well-coded and well-written content, and using relevant, accurate keywords.

A particularly deceptive example I came across a few times, was a single page website with a list of keywords masquerading as links within a main navigation menu. When you hovered over the keywords, they appeared as active links, but were not clickable. This made the site appear to have much more content then it actually did.

4. The main navigation menu should be accessible on every page

Users should be able to navigate your website quickly and easily. This means ensuring your main menu is available from every page of your site. Use sensible labels for pages. Finally, make sure your navigation menu is actual text, rather than images, lest this should happen:

5. Make sure your contact information is visible

Include a contact us page with an email address and/or a phone number that is accessible from every page. Don’t rely on a contact form alone.

6. Cross-Browser and Cross-Operating System compatibility is key

Make sure your site works and renders correctly on all operating systems, and all browsers, including mobile phones and tablets. Pages should resize correctly without content overlapping and obscuring other content. You don’t want things like this happening:

7. Keep it up to date

Keep an eye on your website, particularly for any out of date contact details, broken links or images. They make your site and company seem unprofessional. A quick way to create a frustrating experience for your potential customers is to leave your old disconnected phone number advertised on your website.

8. Be conscious of colour and readability

We know that most small businesses don’t have the capacity to develop a marketing or branding strategy which means it is even more imperative that colour choices are made wisely. Keep your colour choices within a simple, high contrast palette that is easy to read, and works for all levels of vision, including colour-blindness.

For example, avoid dark text on dark backgrounds that makes content difficult to decipher:

9. Test it out on your family and friends

User testing is the best way to understand if a website is working effectively, but obviously the cost can be a limitation. A quick and easy way to understand how your site is going, is to ask friends or family to visit your website, and perform some basic tasks. See if they can find the information they need to find, on the device of their choice, and then ask for their opinion.

10. Know what users are going to visit your website for, and cater it to their needs

This means making sure your site has the relevant information for your industry type. If you’re in fencing, perhaps it might be an explanation of associated legislation in your state. If you’re a landscaper, it might be examples of your recent work.

Bonus Point: Get a web presence if you don't have one already!

If you don’t have a website, you are missing out on a huge potential for new business and growth. Aggregators like the Yellow Pages and TrueLocal are a great start, but having your own website where you can have a bit more space to sell yourself and your services is key.


About The Author

Alyce Former UX Consultant

As a card carrying member of Generation Y, Alyce has been immersed in technology ever since she was born. An avid digital user and advocate for good experience, Alyce has a great eye for technology’s changing landscape, and brings a fresh, innovative perspective to research projects that no one else can.

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