If a visitor cannot find something on your landing page, it might as well not exist at all. Have you used common sense in the design of your landing page? You probably think so. But there is often a disconnect between how a website designer approaches a site design, and what actual users experience when they visit the site. The point of good usability is to make things easy for your visitors, even when it contradicts your desire for creativity.
When considering usability for landing pages, take into account the following picture of your visitor’s typical mind-set and behavior:
• The visitor has extreme impatience.
• The visitor’s commitment level to your website is low.
• Text is scanned, not read.
• The visitor has a short fixation on more prominent items of interest.
• The visitor will pay attention to certain kinds of pictures.
• The visitor’s typical desired next action is to click on something.
How is the information on your landing page organized? Have you followed some of the basic conventions of legibility, or have you let creativity get in the way of usability? Take a critical look at your landing page with this checklist in mind:
• Font styles – Use sans serif fonts such as Arial, Helvetica, or Geneva. Do not use serif (with small lines at the end of characters) fonts such as Times Roman, Courier, or Palatino. At typical monitor resolutions (which are a lot lower than printed materials), serif fonts are harder to read.
• Font sizes – Use 10–12 point fonts for most body text. Larger and smaller fonts reduce reading speed. Consider increasing your font size by a couple of points if you are targeting an older audience, and make sure that you allow sufficient spacing between lines as well.
• Font consistency – Don’t use a wide range of font styles, colors, or sizes. • Underlines – Avoid using underlines in regular text. Underlines are by very strong convention expected only on hyperlinks. If you must emphasize text, consider other methods (different size, bolding, italics, different text color different background color).
• Justification – Do not justify paragraphs of text to create equal-length lines. The jagged ends of unjustified lines have been shown to help people position themselves in the text and increase reading speed and comprehension. Always use left-justified text. Do not center body text—especially bullet lists of varying line lengths.
• All-caps – Avoid using text in all capital letters. It has been shown to be harder to read. • Line length – Blocks of text over 50 characters wide are harder to read. Consider putting in forced carriage returns (also called “hard breaks”) in your paragraphs to make sure that your lines do not become too long when displayed on wider computer screens.
• Contrast – High contrast between text and background increases legibility. Black text on white background is best. Stay away from low-contrast text/background combinations unless you are intentionally trying to deemphasize something. Do not use reverse font treatments (lighter text against a darker background).
• Link text – Blue underlined links are a de-facto standard (as is the purple color for previously visited links). Do not change these defaults unless you have a very compelling reason.
• Text background – colors and images White backgrounds for body text are a strong convention. Navigation and header background colors should also be relatively light to enhance legibility. Do not use high-contrast graphical images as background for text.
Designing with usability in mind doesn’t mean your landing page needs to be drab. In fact, it’s important that your visual look-and-feel and editorial tone is consistent with your brand promise and is appropriate for your audience. But incorporating the conventions of good usability will make sure your visitors easily find what they are looking for without having to guess at the next step. That alone will have a measurable impact on your conversions.
Tim Ash is the CEO of SiteTuners.com, a landing page optimization firm that offers consulting and conversion improvement tools. He is the chairperson of ConversionConference.com and a speaker at events worldwide. Tim is a contributing columnist at many publications and author of Landing Page Optimization.