Usability: Too fancy texts are ignored as ads

It’s a holiday season. So, many websites are offering various promotions on their websites, usually those promotions are placed on the main page (homepage), with the intention that the more people see it, the more clicks will it get. And more people will buy the products.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case with most promotions, (they don’ get clicks, but get ignored instead) especially when those promotions are fancy banners and texts. At least that’s what the usability guru Jakob Nielsen has analyzed.

He made a research on U.S Census Bureau homepage, checking the usability of the population counter (text in red) and how many people actually used that text:

usability too fancy

86% of users failed to find the country’s current population when it was presented in large red numbers. The reason? Users ignored a key area because it resembled a promotion..

Beyond banner blindness, the major reason this homepage failed is that it used made-up terms or branded descriptions rather than plain-spoken words. Terms like “Population Clock,” “Population Finder,” and “QuickFacts” are not as descriptive as a simple line of text that says: Population of the United States: 302,740,627 (as of Aug. 31, 2007)

Therefore, this holiday season when you make a promotion or when you want one section of your homepage to stand out from the rest, try not to make them look too fancy. Here is three guidelines that Jakob Nielsen suggests:

  • Don’t use clever phrases and marketing lingo (i.e use simple normal words).
  • Limit font styles and other text formatting (i.e too large fonts, red color texts etc).
  • Don’t make it look like an ad.

As you can see, slight changes in text color and text size can adversely effect the usability of your site. Basically it has the opposite effect of what you want. You would think bigger texts will be seen easily and brighter colors will attract the eyes, but as you can see from the research, it has the opposite effect. People actually ignore such texts.

So use those colors and bigger size texts with caution. I think same size texts that are bolded, or have highlighted background work better. Because they emphasize the important points of your site more naturally.

Learn from the Census Bureau’s mistake: try a softer approach with more straightforward, user-centered information. Let go of the fancy formatting and the fancy words.

You can read the full article here.