3 updates you can do right now to make your website more user friendly (5 minute read)

With many sports in Australia in membership decline, it's more important than ever for sports organisations to give priority to their digital assets. It's often the first way prospective members learn more about your sport, so their initial experience should be both engaging and respectful. With this in mind, here's three simple practices you can adopt when publishing on the web to ensure the experience for both new and repeat visitors is user friendly.

Never use "click here"

It should be a goal of every sports organisation to cleanse your website of "click here's".

Users are smart enough to know what is a link is and what content is likely to be clickable. You don't have to spell it out. It's like putting "turn here" on every page of your book.

Imagine if every link on your website said "click here". Your website would quickly degrade into an unusable mess.

Not only that. By using "click here" instead of descriptive link text, you're missing the opportunity for quick recognition of content by your users and good search engine optimisation. Google and your users both love descriptive links.

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Here's some examples to show how you can turn "click here's" into usable, scannable content.

Avoid: Click here for entries and timetable to the Betty Cuthbert Invitational

Instead, try this: Betty Cuthbert Invitational - Entry and timetable

Avoid: Applications to attend the 5th Annual Jump Longer Camp are now open. Check out the application form and selection criteria available by clicking here. Hurry applications close next week.

Instead, try this: 

Find out more

If you're going to underline, then only do it for links

On the web, when a user sees underlined content they think it's a link and will likely try to click on it. That's because one of the most common styles for link text since the early days of the web has been an underline. Most web editors will automatically apply the link style during editing, whether it's an underline or text in a different colour. It's why you'll rarely see underlining as an option in WYSIWYG web content editors. It's too tempting for content writers to use it for emphasis and breaks a fundamental convention of the web.

Commonly though, underlining creeps in when content is copied across from Word. That's because in printed material, underlining is still a common style used to draw a users' attention to words and phrases. That same analogy does not carry across to the web. 

So, when you copy and paste from Word it's important to strip out the styles. It may take a little bit longer to edit the document but it will avoid frustrating your users.

If you want to emphasise text, then use bolding or draw out content in quotes. Just make sure it's not overdone, or you'll end up with a page full of bolded text, confusing your users even more.

Don't autoplay on video or audio

Don’t autoplay videos or audio. Many users are frustrated by videos that play automatically without their consent, especially if those videos have audio. It's unexpected and has a high risk of embarrassing a user. Since Twitter and Facebook adopted autoplay video a few years ago, users are more likely to be accepting of the practice, but only if the sound is muted when the video starts. Otherwise, as The Guardian reported in July 2017, it's going to annoy users.

One of the worst examples in the sport of athletics is the autoplay of theme music on the IAAF Diamond League. Incredibly, the website producer insists on using this much hated technique even after years of user frustration. It has survived at least one website redesign and a torrent of negative feedback from athletes, coaches, fans, officials and digital user experience professionals.

Imagine if you are a journalist researching the year's performances in a busy office and checking the results of the last meet in the IAAF Diamond League series. You load the website and everyone in your immediate area is now disturbed by the theme music. Worse still, imagine how happy your partner will be when it's 3am in Australia and you wake early to check on the Zurich meet results only to be greeted by the blaring trumpets.

Website owners have a responsibility to listen to their users and think about implementing the best user experience.

Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen's law of internet usability is that users spend most of their time on someone's else's website, not that of your own and therefore their experiences and opinions formed about web usability and behaviours are already well-formed before they visit you.

Footnote

In this social media age, now more than ever, you must listen to your users. Check out several years of negative feedback on Twitter about the IAAF Diamond League website music. What would you do if you were the website owner? 

The Australian Government Content Guide is an excellent resource for online publishing techniques and shows other examples of best practice in web publishing. 

Google removed underlining from it's search results in 2014.