A clear call to action goes a long way

When researching websites, I often see a lot of call to actions like “Read more” linking to an article or deeper content. There are a number of reasons why this is not a great idea.

The most obvious is that the “Read more” description isn’t a description at all. It doesn’t tell me anything about what I will be reading next. A great number of users merely scan websites and since links usually stand out in color or style, will only read text stands stands out from the crowd. Those users will likely not follow a ‘read more’ link.

Another group of users is the one that relies on screen readers. Screen readers read out links to visually impaired users, and if you have 20 “Read more” links on a page, this is far from helpful.

The third point I want to make is that if you are designing for emotion, you have to make calls to action more engaging. Compare the calls to action in the marquee on IBM.com with the more generally dreaded “Read More”. They actually took their time and wrote great calls to action that are descriptive and make you want to click that link. You do the math.

How to perform a card sort

One of the more elaborate techniques of researching information architecture is card sorting, a tool for examining how users group topics. It will help the information architect to figure out what the taxonomy of a website should look like and determine a dominant organization scheme. It also helps with taxonomy or labeling content. Ultimately we do want to know how people are searching for specific content and where they expect it to be.

There are two major methods for card sorting that can be used:

1. Open sort: participants can group cards without any constraints, according to their own classification.
2. Closed sort: participants can group cards according to pre-established groups.

Both methods can be done offline and online. In an offline mode, pages can be represented by index cards that display the title and a brief description of the page. In this method you are one-to-one with the participants, which allows to explain the process and the rules. It will also give you the most feedback and thus great qualitative data.

In an online mode, a software program like optimalsort can be used to do the same, but feedback and guidance options are limited. However, you could set up a GoTo Meeting with screen share to mimick a traditional card sorting exercise.

Card sorts will give both qualitative and quantitive data. You will gain insights in how participants think and perceive certain items and you’ll be able to create a clear taxonomy for a large group of users.

A typical card sorting exercise would take about 3-4 weeks. Allow 1 week for preparation, 1 week for the actual exercise, and 1-2 weeks to analyze and report results. Of course the timeline may vary by the size of the project.

However you want to perform your card sort, it will give great insight into how users approach the content matter on your site.

Naming PDFs and other downloadable files

Imagine the following scenario: while looking for specific information you came across a PDF file that had all the information in it you wanted. You downloaded the file and saved it in your documents folder. Since you didn’t have time to organize files – you never seem to have enough time – the file isn’t renamed and sits among a couple of hundred other files. A couple of weeks later you are trying to retrieve the file but have a hard time finding it. Sounds familiar? This happens to many people I know (me for one).

Wouldn’t it be nice if the webmaster had named the file something else than “info.pdf”?
It’s really not so hard to give your downloadables a more descriptive name. Even a file name like “annual-report.pdf” can be made more descriptive by adding the company name and the year. It’s a simple improvement, that is easily overlooked. Just keep this in mind: if a file is for download give it a descriptive name, so your user can find it later.

Hyperlink your images, it’s easier for handheld devices

After experiencing my iPhone for the last 2 weeks, I noticed that the worst user experiences I had with websites were the ones with one-word hyperlinks. It is very hard to actually tap a one word hyper link if you have anything but the tiniest fingers. A solution for this is to make sure you link multiple words. Not only is this better for usability – you can actually describe what happens when a user clicks the link – it also increases the probability of ‘hitting the target’ on a mobile phone.

The best experience is when there’s a lot of white space around the link and/or where images are linked, for instance in big call-outs or sub navigation. When designing Greenstar-na.com, we tried to keep this in mind.
On the new Greenstar North America site we tried to make both the images and the section titles clickable, to make it easy for anyone not on a PC or Mac to follow the links.

What are your experiences with usability of websites on mobile phones?