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Five hazards to avoid with links, buttons and titles

I'm in the middle of reviewing some usability testing footage and have been prompted by sheer frustration to writing a quick post about labelling on websites.

Why must we make things so difficult for our users? I can't tell you how many websites I look at that seem to be going out of their way to obfuscate what will happen when the user clicks on a link, button or navigational item. That moment of hesitation could be the trigger that makes your user leave your site for a competitor - and if they do that from your homepage then you've essentially prevented them from seeing what you have to offer.

Taking the time to consider the copy on your titles, labels and buttons could reduce exit rates or increase conversions. So why not take 30 minutes out of you day take a look at your site and see if the labelling on your site suffers from any of the following:

1. Business terminology
You may know exactly what that industry term means but do all your users? Use the terminology that they're familiar with NOT what you use in internal meetings. Even in industries littered with terminology there are new users - imagine the brand loyalty you could get if you're the one site that they understood when they were starting out?
If there really is no alternative to the jargon then at least offer an easy way for the uninitiated to find out what terminology means. You don't even have to have an FAQ of your own - provide a link to a recognised trade body or Wikipedia. If you don't do it then the site they visit after yours might...

2. Needless formality
Just because we're B2B doesn't mean we have to adopt an overly formal tone - we don't talk like that in meetings so there is no need to do it on our site. If users are finding your meeting venue site by typing in "book meeting room" into Google then why does your call to action button say "Make a reservation"? All copy on your site should be consistent , from your intro to your buttons. Once you've set a tone - and the tone starts on the search engine - stick to it.

3. Confusing personification
Sites are all about personalisation these days, but don't get the user and the site mixed up. Have your dropdown menu ask your user to "Select your options..." rather than "I would like to choose...". It can be disconcerting for the user to have to work out who "I" is - the less they have to think before making any decision on your site the better.

4. Muddled signposting
Users are on a journey: titles and labels should guide them through the site. This means you acknowledge where the user has come from and where they're going to next. If your user is clicking to views detail of a service say "view more details of xxxxx" and save the "book xxxx" for when they actually start the booking process: if they feel that button or link is going to take them too far down the path to commitment then they won't click and they may miss out on the piece of information that convinces them to sign up.

5. Jumbled hierarchy
The priority of information on your website is set by you. You don't have superfluous information in prime position on your homepage, so why do so many websites have subheadings bigger than headings? Users naturally scan websites and larger copy is taken as being more important, so if you have a list make sure the list title is clearer than the items in the list otherwise users don't know what they're clicking on. If there is a hierarchy then show it.

Naturally each site is individual but the key objective here is clarity. Go to any page on your site and pick a random label - can you see what it means, where it links to or how important it is on the page? If not, then why should your user? Labels are copy so give them just as much attention as you do the rest of your written content and you'll improve the usability of your site.