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Plan your website for speed

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How many of us have visited websites that looked wonderful, full of cool stuff and lots of pages but which was so cluttered and so hard to navigate that we just gave up and looked elsewhere for what we needed?

Most of us probably. But these days, as we grow more used to the Internet, when we go to a site we want to be able to complete our business there as soon as possible rather than be entertained. Indeed the average website visitor today stays on a site for less than two minutes.

“The latest research into web habits shows people are becoming much less patient online – they want to reach a site fast, get the job done and then leave”, writes the Internal Comms Hub.

Indeed, Gerry McGovern, one of the experts in this area actually rates websites not on how good they look or how quirky the visit, but according to how well they enable users to complete the ‘tasks’ that bring them to the site, whether the task is to find information, buy something or fill in an administrative form.

That means that the texts written for websites need to provide the information needed simply and clearly. Pages need to be uncluttered and only simple links to other relevant pages should be used, to keep the screen clear and the information accessible not hidden. As an example, Yahoo home page contained 255 links in 2004 and this was continually weeded down to contain ‘only’ 149 in 2008.

This emphasises the importance of the titles and menus in helping Internet users find what they are looking for. When users were asked to vote on which links they found most helpful on a tourism website, by far the most important were ‘accommodation’ and ‘special offers.’ The hours of loving descriptions written by the editors were almost overlooked

Gerry McGovern calls these vital words ‘Long Neck customer care words’ and insists that those involved in the creation of a website need to know exactly what their customers are looking for; to know what their Long Neck is; and to focus on that and weed out extraneous pages and links.

Looking at this from the perspective of website translation – one of the implications for the translation industry, is to find good, unambiguous translations of labels and navigation menus which are so crucial for the website. Usually menu titles are made up of just one or two words. To the non-expert this may seem very simple to translate. However, as these words are often presented out of context they can be a real challenge to get right. At The Final Word we go to a great deal of trouble with our quality control systems to ensure that we have found the very best word for the job in all the different languages.

So if you are planning a new website or to update an old one, first of all find out what your website-users really need; then build the content and structure of the website around that. Create clear, non-quirky labels and links, let your motto be ‘Keep it simple’ and you’ll have happy surfers returning again and again.