Thursday, October 18, 2007

Optimizing Midstream Usability

Last week, I talked about the importance of understanding the Google Threshold, the imaginary line between search and your website. As more and more visitors land on sites directly from search, many of those visitors are landing on "deep" pages. As I argued previously, this is a good thing, but it raises some interesting challenges for usability. How do you best serve users who hit your site "midstream"? Optimizing for midstream usability means telling people where they are, how they got there, and where else they can go.

1. Tell People Where They Are

When a visitor lands on a deep page in your site from a search engine, you've got a few seconds at most to communicate why they should stay. You have to hit them quickly with some signposts. The first stop is an obvious and specific page title or header. If you have an e-commerce site, this is probably the specific name of either a category, sub-category or product. For example, "Digital Cameras Under $500" or "Voltron 5000 Digital Camera".

If the page represents something concrete, such as a product, hotel room, or real estates, a picture is, as always, worth a thousand words. Nothing tells a visitor more quickly that they're in the right place than a picture of what they're looking for. Of course, both the header and photo should be near the top of the page, or at least well above the fold.

2. Tell People How They Got There

We talk a lot in usability about navigational or "bread-crumb" links. Bread-crumb links are a way of telling visitors how they got where they are and allowing them to easily retrace their steps. In a generic sense, they might look something like this:

Bread Crumb Links - Usability, User Interface Design

Bread Crumb Links


Normally, we think of this as a structured way to let users backtrack their actions. Why should this only apply to visitors who actually visited the home-page, though? Consider a slightly different structure: (below)

In this hierarchical structure, there's no reason that a visitor who never followed the path can't still see the path. This gives that visitor options and lets them easily consider alternatives, without jumping back to Google. It also rewards them for the time and effort they put in before the Google threshold, treating them the same as a home-page visitor who traveled a similar path."    (Continued via User Effect)    [Usability Resources]

Bread Crumb Links - Usability, User Interface Design

Bread Crumb Links

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