Category: UX advice / Ecommerce guides

The power of obvious headings for usable websites



I’ve realised recently when auditing and running user tests on new ecommerce websites/prototypes that there’s a common easy fix a lot of them can make to massively improve their usability. It’s a small thing but one that can create big problems.

These ecommerce sites often follow such standard patterns that they think they don’t need to worry about spelling out in text what they show users. The thinking seems to be: use a nice-looking template, use good photography and don’t worry about the rest. Let users work it out.

We’ve known for a long time that users don’t really read on websites—they glance through and scan the content. Therefore the one part they are likely to actually take in is the headings or subtitles. These are anchors that help people understand what they are looking at.

Another problem is that companies can try to have fun with its copy to push the brand and so get a bit quirky. ‘Clothing’ becomes ‘dressables’, a shopping ‘basket’ becomes a ‘crate’, ‘gifts’ become ‘surprises’, etc.

When these labels are either missing or unclear, I’ve seen users not know where to find information—even if they’re staring right at the section they want. Pretty much all page sections need a heading to explain what you are showing users.

In my experience, there are a few common areas where headings can go missing or don’t pull their weight:

It’s tempting to want to strip back text and simplify things or play with copy in some way but be careful: this can create usability problems of your own making. No user will punish you for really straight-forward headings. Look for other ways to make the brand stand out.

From my research the big ecommerce sites all understand this and use obvious and simple subtitles like ‘Product details’, ‘Shipping and returns’, ‘Size and fit’. Following standard language like this builds on users’ previous experiences.

The other option is to phrase headings as questions to get a user’s attention, for example ‘What materials do you use?’ ‘Do I need any accessories?’ or ‘What happens after I make a booking?’ This is particularly useful for sections or answers that are less common or more specialist to your site.

Tidying up this one area just might help users feel reassured about what you’re offering.

Main photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash.

Last updated on 19 June 2018

ux / ecommerce / web design / headings / copy / text / user testing / related products / faqs /

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