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Design or Usability. Which comes first?

If you have a retail store that sells to high-end clients, you know your showroom has to be carefully designed and decorated to reflect the tastes of your clientele. 

If a customer came in to the store, could see your beautiful displays, but could not easily navigate the showroom to find, say, the dining room sets, something would be wrong.

It's easy.

This came to mind when I was helping a client with his search engine optimization (SEO) for his new website. Doing SEO involves touching up the pages with keyword phrase verbiage, adding links, writing tags, etc.

I sent a note to the web developer requesting he color a word and link it to the specific page about the topic. Let’s say it was “twin beds.”

I received an email back questioning my judgment as to the need for the link, after all, there was already a link to “twin beds” in the submenu of “bedrooms” so visitors could easily find it and there was no need for yet another link.

I think he didn’t want to color the word because he didn’t want to mess up the look of the page.

For him, it was a design issue.

For me, it was a usability issue.

A visitor may have landed on that particular page from a Google search, as opposed to clicking on the menu. Therefore, he or she might not readily find the dropdown link.

I explained it’s best to make it super easy for shoppers to find just what they are looking for at the moment an idea strikes them. Links help make that happen. You don’t want to send them on a search mission of your site.

I also explained the link would tell Google the page we are pointing to is important and that will help the rankings for that particular page. That is if someone is searching for “twin beds” in the area, that page will have a better chance of showing up in a search query.

The developer was appreciative of my explanation and suggested using an underline rather than a color change. That was fine with me. An underline also signals a link.

As to which comes first, design or usability, I lean toward usability. Design is important and a bad design can have folks clicking away from a site altogether. But if a shopper can’t quickly find a desired page, that’s not good either.

Easy Web Tip 296: A high-end retail store with an elegantly designed website should still keep usability in mind.

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