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Eric Schaffer
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Quickness and Usability Keys to Successful Web Sites

Three clicks and that's it. Most Web site users allow only three clicks to be impressed with your product. Most people don't surf the Web; they have an agenda. In specialized fields such as banking, users will stay with sites that give them information quickly and pleasantly. The challenge is to produce a positive Web site experience the first time around. It boils down to one word: usability. Is your Web site user friendly?

With 80% of current Web sites falling by the wayside, your home page must be easily accessible as well as eye-catching and informative. The imperatives are point, click and find the right department.

A common complaint about Web sites is too much form, not enough function. Users are getting more sophisticated. Dancing kangaroos in the corner that shout out new interest rates are not as important as "humanizing" your Web site. Users want to know there are real people serving them out there in cyberspace. Short biographies of friendly staff people or key personnel are more effective than animation overkill.

Consistency is another key factor. Your Web customers don't want to worry about what comes next. The more your key components behave the same the more users will feel in control of the system. And a sense of control is a key element in customer satisfaction. Users need to be coddled, to feel comfortable. Otherwise they'll close pop-up "windoids" before they are fully rendered. Design for a 2 to 10 second maximum download. Any longer and you lose them.

On the Web, the human factor beats technical virtuosity. Your Web design should follow your branch's natural workflow. But, avoid the mistake of designing your Web site with your own corporate needs and structures as the prime directive. The customer comes first. It's great that your bank gives competitive interest rates but what if financing for college is the big issue on their minds?

And how do you know what's on their minds? By testing for task flow and user satisfaction. Do you know who your primary e-customers are? Which Web pages pique user interest? Test, then adjust your high-level architecture accordingly. Don't offer 8 to 10 pages of beautifully-colored cascade effects if your customers are asking: "What's the balance in my checking account?" A sense of hands-on interactivity and a good customer experience comes ahead of pretty pictures. Keep asking: Can they get there in three clicks?

Text should be as scannable as possible. Use bullets, tables, headings, bold type. Keep key names easy to remember and access. Use "Jack," for example, instead of Harold Llewlyn Jackson. In cyberspace, shorter is always better, and avoid too many subdirectories. Make file names both memorable and difficult to duplicate. This prevents jamming the customers' menu.

Banks need to make sure their Web site lays out the key departments clearly and simply. Vital areas such as bank, loans, brokerage, insurance, paybills need to be up there at the top of the page for streamlined navigation. Choose a logo that sounds warm and inviting and not like an ad. Test, and test again: How many clicks does it take to get to such standard items as "Log into my account" or "Open a new account?" One-stop banking is the goal. Make sure key functions such as checking, bill payment, CDs, credit card, installment loans, and brokerage can be accessed in three clicks.

The essential questions are always: Can users learn the structures easily? Are there key functions missing? Which functions can be left out? Where are users getting stuck or confused? Do the component parts work well together?

Your in-house team may be able to answer some of these questions. More and more, however, bank branches are seeing the need to hire Web site consultants-experts in more than design software. What's needed is the added capacity to test for usability, functionality and traffic flow. Independent graphic designers can help but they often work to please the client not the client's customers. In a world where 30% of e-commerce customers sign off after three clicks, look for designers with multi-faceted Web-interface capabilities. They can help you build a site that really works.

Eric Schaffer is CEO of Human Factors International, Inc., which provides consulting and training in software usability and usable Web site design. He can be reached at www.humanfactors.com.

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This guest column, a regular feature in Bank Systems & Technology, allows industry executives and experts to discuss a key bank technology topic. If you would like to contribute, please send requests by e-mail to Steven Marlin, BS&T executive editor, at smarlin@cmp.com.

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