Separating Web Myths from Web Facts
By Marina London, LCSW, CEAP
At this point, almost all of my EAP colleagues have a website. The EAPs they work for have websites. If they are affiliate providers of EAP services, their practice has a website. Some of these websites are terrific, others, not so much.
How can EA professionals build better websites or improve an existing platform? One of the most important trends in employee assistance these days is a focus on evidence-based practice. Similarly, Zoltán Gócza and Zoltán Kollin are two web design experts who believe that people should build websites based on evidence instead of myths.
On their extremely useful website, UX Myths – http://uxmyths.com – Gócza and Kollin list the 32 most frequent user misconceptions and explain why they don’t hold true. Here is my annotated version of some of their most important myths:
Myth: People read on the Web
When websites are not successful, a frequent culprit is that the web pages are crowded with too many words. My EAP colleagues are smart and well educated. I have learned that very smart people like to use a lot of words. A lot of very BIG words.
The problem is that people do not read when they visit a website. You can bold the text. Make it orange and ALL CAPS. Move it to the most prominent place on the site. And people still call to ask you for the information you included in the site. This is not just my opinion.
Gozca and Kollin have found that people only read word-by-word on the web when they are really interested in the content. They usually skim the pages looking for highlighted keywords, meaningful headings, short paragraphs and scannable lists. Since they’re in a hurry to find the very piece of information they’re looking for, they’ll skip what’s irrelevant for them.
* In 2013, analytics vendor Chartbeat found that most visitors scroll through about only 50-60% of a page with an article.
* A 2008 eye-tracking study showed that less than 20% of the text content in an average web page is actually read.
* In another usability test, researchers found that concise, scannable and objective copywriting resulted in 124% better usability.
* In other words, well-structured pages designed for cursory reading are more likely to be read.
Myth: You need to redesign your website periodically
To many people, a redesign means revamping the look of a website in the hope that it will attract new clients. For a redesign to be effective, it must stem from the understanding of what does and what doesn’t work on the current website, and how user needs have changed since the last redesign. To prove this point, Gozca and Collin cite:
* Web expert Cameron Moll explains that designers should approach redesigns very carefully. Designers should consider the business reasons and cost in the first place, and also decide whether minimal changes would suffice.
* Jakob Nielsen says that users prefer familiar designs as they want to locate everything easily, accomplish the tasks they want to perform while on the site, and then leave.
* “Don’t redesign just to do something new, redesign because you have a better answer to the question,” warns Paul Scrivens in “What is design.”
Myth: You don’t need the content to design a website
The fact is that users come for the content, not the design. Content is by far the most important element of a website. A web page with a simple structure but quality content performs much better on usability tests than a nice layout with subpar text.
To prove this point, Gozca and Collin cite:
* Content specialist Kristina Halvorson, who argues that design decisions should be driven by the content; and the entire layout should be created to support the content.
* In the book Getting Real, web experts state that “Copywriting is …design. Great interfaces are written. If you think every pixel, every icon, every typeface matters, then you also need to believe every letter matters.”
* “Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration,” says web designer and author Jeffrey Zeldman.
I believe that your content needs to be created and ready to go before you even hire a designer.
Experienced EA professionals understand the value of assigning homework to a client. If you are imminently planning a new or revamped site, my homework for you is to read all 32 myths on Gozca and Collin’s site before proceeding any further.
Marina London is Manager of Web Services for EAPA and author of iWebU, http://iwebu.info, a weekly blog about the Internet and social media for mental health and EA professionals who are challenged by new communication technologies. She previously served as an executive for several national EAP and managed mental health care firms. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.