Top Four Web Optimization Myths
Myths and misconceptions spread very easily. All too often, people don't spend the time to fact-check what they hear from friends or the media. While this tendency toward credulity is much more harmful in other areas of life, myths about Web site optimization can often lead to unnecessary usability restrictions or inappropriate goals. Below are some of the common Web optimization myths that I run across quite frequently.
- People should be able to access every page on our Web site in less than three clicks.
This is known as the Three-Click Rule, and is a very common thing to hear when discussing how to organize a site. It makes sense, right? It is frustrating when it takes too many clicks to find what you're looking for.
But in reality, user interface tests have shown that visitors are no more or less likely to give up on a task if it requires 3, 12 or even more than 20 clicks. In fact, the users that required 24 clicks to accomplish a task were no more dissatisfied than those who were able to complete the same task in significantly fewer clicks. User frustration occurs when visitors are unable to complete their task. As long as people find what they are looking for, it doesn't really matter how many clicks it takes.
- Our site needs to completely fit on the screen, without any scrolling.
Many people believe that if something on their page doesn't fit on-screen, most visitors won't scroll to find it. While it's true that the most valuable parts of your page should be at the top, it is not true that people won't scroll. In fact, studies show that the length of the page has very little affect on how many people will scroll to the bottom of the page. People expect to scroll on a Web site and will do so as long as the content is of interest to them.
Some people prefer the look of a site that fits on-screen. However, this kind of rigid design can create its own problems. For instance, if a site is designed to fit completely on an 800x600 pixel screen, the viewer who has a screen double that size will be seeing mostly empty space.
- We should fill our page with keywords, so that we get better search engine performance.
Like many of these myths, this one has an element of truth. The problem occurs when one begins sacrificing the quality of the Web site text in order to overly pander to the search engines. Most search engines are very sensitive to spam and try to filter out pages that have poor content. If you start including your search keywords in every other sentence it not only becomes annoying to your human visitors, but it also is counterproductive for the search engines. A better strategy is to include a few, specific keyword phrases in your headlines and page titles and then write compelling copy that includes, but doesn't overuse your keywords.
If there is a common theme to these first three myths, it is based on one simple piece of logic. Maintaining viewer interest and engagement trumps rigid adherence to search engine rules. It is far more important that viewers find your site of interest than trying to force fit the text to arbitrary search engine standards. Not that these standards aren’t important. It’s just that they cannot pre-empt common sense or the ability to sustain visitor interest.
- Our site should look the same on everyone's computer.
In Web developer "heaven" everyone will be using the same browser, looking at the same monitor with all the same fonts installed. However, until then, your Web site will always look slightly different on different computers. People use a wide variety of browsers. The biggest problem is the fact that many of them haven't upgraded their Web browser for years. Because they are using a browser from 8 years ago, it is very expensive for developers to make the experience match that of modern browsers. Even Microsoft has problems supporting Internet Explorer 6. Frankly, it is not worth the money to demand pixel-perfection from one's Web site. Instead, you should concentrate on making sure that visitors with old browsers are able to get all the site content, even if they don't get identical visuals.
All of these myths are based on the admirable desire by marketers to make their Web site as easy to use as possible. The problem is that they are rooted in an incomplete understanding of the Internet. Often people have based their views on their own, sometimes narrow, experience or what they've heard from their friends, and haven't considered all the variables. Your Web site will be used by many people using many different computers, so it's important to concentrate on the usability issues that actually help communicate better and ignore the ones that don't matter.
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