Your (U.S.) Tax Dollars at Work: Government Guidelines for Organizing and Designing Your Membership Website

A large portion of federal information technology spending is devoted to Internet initiatives, which yield more than 35 million web pages at more than 22,000 websites. The U.S. government studied how its citizens interact with websites and published easy-to-understand guidelines to help those bureaucrats in charge of federal websites save time and valuable resources.

Using consistent, familiar organization and formatting make it easier for the user to learn your site.

Academics in the fields of psychology, computer science, information systems, and related disciplines studied the problems of menu design, navigation, screen layout, response time, etc.

In this series of articles, SWEPA summaries the key recommendations that are useful to membership website publishers, plus adds its own comments and interpretations.

 

Friendly and intuitive

It is not enough to create good site content. You also need to display the content in a user-friendly format and organize your site so that it is highly intuitive. Here’s how to get organized.

 

Set clear goals

What is the function of your subscription website? Who is the intended audience? Will your site educate, entertain or sell? What is the intended “look and feel” of your site?

If you don’t define your objectives before your begin, you’ll have no method of measuring whether you have met your goals when you’re done.

Start by making a list of what you want to happen when a web surfer visits your site for the first time. What do you want her to see and do? How much content will your display without charge? How will you organize your site to gently move your visitor along to a buying decision? (See related article at www.swepa.com/members/267.cfm.)

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Provide useful content

Content is the most critical aspect of your membership website. You must provide content that is engaging, relevant, and appropriate to the audience. Studies have reported that content is more important than navigation, visual design, functionality, and interactivity. But content alone is not enough to win the hearts of visitors and prompt them to join.

 

Format for the site user

Design your site to meet the member’s expectations relative to navigation, content and organization. Using consistent and familiar organization and formatting make it easier for the user to learn your site.

Begin with the home page and maintain the same organization throughout your site. This sets up the user’s expectations for how the site will operate on every succeeding page.

Keep the information and links orderly and logical. Avoid unnecessary links to irrelevant distractions.

Also, consider the context within which users will be visiting your website. Your site’s visitors will have varying degrees of experience and will use different types of computers with varying connection speeds.

This means you shouldn’t expect every visitor to know how to download a free file that you’re offering, or that she will be able to do it quickly if she doesn’t have a high-speed connection. You may want to add detailed directions for the newbie, and state the download time based on various connection speeds.

 

Chose graphics thoughtfully

Form follows function. While the “look and feel” of your site is important, the use of color and graphics can be overdone. Don’t let aesthetics distract from the site’s usability or performance.

Make certain that the graphics you chose download easily and quickly. Shrink graphics files wherever feasible. See related article at www.swepa.com/public/254.cfm.

 

Design your site to be found

One study showed that users usually do not look at websites that are not in the “top 30.” What’s required to be in the top 30?

At the very least, you must optimized your site for the search engines and indices with appropriate metatags and page titles, plus numerous incoming links from other websites.

The rules of search engine optimization change frequently. To keep informed of the latest best strategies, subscribe to www.SearchEngineU.com and budget at least an hour of your time each week to “tweaking” your site for improved results.

 

Display information in a directly usable format

Do not require users to convert or summarize information in order for it to be immediately useful. That means to accommodate a multinational web audience, information should be provided in multiple formats (e.g., centigrade and Fahrenheit for temperatures) or the user should be allowed to select their preferred formats.

 

Do not use graphic pop-ups

Users commented that unsolicited windows or graphics that “pop up” are annoying and distracting when they are focusing on completing their original activity.

 

Provide assistance to users

Some website visitors, especially inexperienced users, require special assistance. The study found that in one website that was designed for repeat users, 36 percent of users were first-time visitors. So a special link was prepared that allowed new users to access more information about the content of the site and described the best way to navigate the site.

Remember when you were new to the Internet? Try to imagine what it is like to visit your membership website for the first time. Is your site user-friendly? Clearly labeled? Easy to navigate?

 

 

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