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How user-friendly is your website?

Are “user-friendly” projects more likely to catch on? It makes sense – the easier it is for the average user, the more likely it is that they will continue using it. You know, the whole “keep it simple, stupid”?

A survey of John McCain’s and Barack Obama’s campaign websites conducted by New York-based consulting firm First Insights found that the more user-friendly the website was, the more likely it was to change minds. Forty-three undecided voters reviewed both sites: 22 found the Obama website more user-friendly, 16 felt McCain’s site was more user-friendly and five considered them to be equal. At the end of the day, 12 of the undecided voters leaned towards Obama.

What makes a website “user-friendly”? Jakob Nielson, once called the guru of Web page usability by The New York Times, has the usability scores of 51 similar sites. The sites were voter information websites from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the site usability for each was evaluated. The results? The best voter site got a score of 77% (out of 100%), eight sites scored below 40% and the lowest-scoring site got 29%. Not spectacular results, but not bad either.

According to Nielson’s findings, “you need an integrated view of usability, from the user’s perspective, and you need to develop the site through user-centered design.” The user should be the main priority because what’s the point of having a site if the people you want to use it, can’t.

Looking to make your website more user-friendly? Nielson suggests avoiding page clutter and any content resembling an ad. The phenomenon of “banner blindness” occurs when a user automatically skims or skips anything on the page that looks like an ad – whether it’s actual content or not. Another tip? Stay away from words or phrases unique to your company. What may seem obvious to you may not be so obvious to, say, Joe the plumber.

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