Have you ever visited a website looking for something seemingly straightforward only to become frustrated because you can’t find what you need?
Confusing labels and poor navigation can stall the savviest of users. They’re some of the most common usability problems our First Fridays usability team encounters when testing federal websites.
The First Fridays team performs twice-monthly usability tests on government websites, and have tested more than 40 Federal sites to date. By examining reports from 13 months of testing (January 2011-February 2012), we identified the most common usability problems and solutions:
Most Common Usability Problems
- Poor navigation
- Important content hidden or confusing
- Ineffective search results
Navigation issues sometimes signify broken links or confusing labels. Examples of hidden or confusing content include placing important information “below the fold,” or overloading the homepage with too much content.
Fortunately, most of the problems we found had relatively simple solutions. Here are the most common solutions we’ve developed.
Most Common Solutions
- Streamline text to make it easier to scan
- Make top tasks more prominent and accessible
- Use common terminology for text and labels
- Upgrade search functionality
To streamline text, pare down the content as much as possible, structure it cleanly, and use bullets and white space for better readability. For more information check out Howto.gov for Best Practices for Government Websites.
Another important step is to have a plan to identify your top tasks, and then work to make them more prominent and useful. To develop better text and labels, review the top search terms people are typing into your search box, identify the most common terms they’re using, and use those labels — not labels that you think might be the right ones. You can also consider performing a card sort to test new wording and navigation categories.
Want to learn more about testing your site and make quick improvements? First Fridays is always looking for high impact federal websites to test, and also recruits participants, observers, and volunteers. For more information, please contact FirstFridays@gsa.gov.
Ruth Lincoln was a User Experience and Usability Intern at GSA’s Center For Excellence in Digital Government.