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12 November 2020

Anatomy of a bad website

A website that doesn't provide an easy answer to visitors' questions isn't doing its job

If you want to find great website design, just search Google and there are thousands of examples. But oddly not so many analyses of poor websites.

I have decided to pick on one website – for a doctors’ surgery here in the UK – and analyse why it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to – help visitors and staff. This is not a fancy design exercise, instead it's a look at the user experience and how it could be improved

I have hidden its name to protect the guilty, and anyway, you are allowed to have a rubbish website if you want one. Let’s look at the problems first, then how we improve things later on.

Decisions, decisions...

This is the home page of the site:

There are now 25 possible decisions to make…if you can understand the options.

This home page reminds me of the sort of pages that appeared in the 90s; riddled with every choice open to man and using categories that very few people understand. The shear number of options is daunting and complicated.

Categories

While menu items might mean a lot to the members of the surgery, visitors are left trying to translate their requirement into the thought process of the web designer:

  • What is a Consulting Room?
  • What is a Health Review?
  • Where do I go to make an appointment?

The implication here is: ‘you have to know – or guess – which category/button you need to press.’ This is not how websites are designed today; they should offer simple choices using simple language – Make an appointment, Get in Touch. What is a Wellbeing Centre?

Personas

Every website should start with an analysis of the type of person who will use the website, which, in this case is older people. That is not to say younger people will not use it, but the number of enquiries will almost certainly be driven by people over 60 and, generally speaking, older people are
a) not into tech
b) less likely to use the internet
c) More likely to have poor eyesight.

Navigation

As we’ve seen, the home page expects visitors to make a decision based on 25 options, but that is only the start. Check out the options open to you if you click ‘Reception and Enquiries’:

So, another eleven choices…let’s click ‘Make an Appointment’. Oh, dear, because it’s the weekend we come to a full stop with a screen (without a close button) which provides advice on what to do next – “Go the Treatment Room” – we still don’t know what that means…

So, what happens on a weekday? A screen appears offering another four choices, happily one is a button saying, “Get help for any health problem”. We’ll press that.

Next is a screen showing six more items which the surgery says warrant a 999 call, happily, again, there is a button saying, “I have none of these”. We’ll press that.

Now we have a form with twenty questions on it…and we all know what that means. (The more questions, the less likely the form will be completed – see Jakob Nielsen and others)

So that’s four clicks to get to a form with twenty questions on it – and doesn’t include the three pop-ups on the home page. In total – 27 clicks or tabs to reach the end point – asking for an appointment.

This surgery wants everything handed to them on a plate – regardless of the time and effort their patients have to spend doing it.

Popups

Popups are regarded as an imposition by visitors; they are actions which are not requested. This site has three:

a. Coronavirus notice covering the whole height of the site.
b. A cookie notice covering about 30% of the site height
c. Another smaller Coronavirus notice covering about 10% of the site height.

To start your interaction with the site, you need to close these notices. One by one.

Let's try and fix this

A website is there to do a job and that job determines how the site should be structured. This site looks like all the possible reasons for a visit are thrown into a hat and scattered throughout the screens and pages. That is not the way to produce a useful website.

Let’s start at the beginning:

What is the website for?

There are two simple questions:

1. What services does the surgery provide?
2. What services do the visitors want?

The surgery is an ‘asset organisation’; it provides medical advice, medical intervention and all the paraphernalia around that service. The blazingly obvious answer to question two is the answer to question one, but which services visitors want and how often can only be answered by the practice:

  • Appointments?
  • Advice?
  • Test results?
  • Prescriptions?
  • Interventions? (eg injections)

Let’s invent a possible answer here based on the contacts the practice has with their users (ie patients) over time.

Reasons for surgery contact:

Make an appointment to attend the clinic

43%

Request a phone call from a doctor

10%

Request a repeat prescription

9%

Requesting a sick note

3%

Find results

11%

Looking for advice

8%

Join the practice

2%

Get a flu jab

5%

Find the surgery

2%

View the privacy policy

.01%

View the site map

.001%

Find the phone number

4%

At the moment, the website asks the visitor to select one of 25 option at the top of the website – what web designers call ‘above the fold’ - let’s see what would happen if we concentrated on the top five reasons for visiting the site:

Make an appointment to attend the clinic

43%

Find results

11%

Request a phone call from a doctor

10%

Request a repeat prescription

9%

Looking for advice

8%

What we find is 81% of visits cover just five key areas.

We could, therefore, produce a far simpler website which consists of the key services at the top of the home page – along with other useful information like the phone number, address and seasonally-specific information concerning areas like Covid and flu jabs. On that basis we could place 90% of the reasons for visiting the site right to the top of the website in obvious and blinding clarity.

Categories

Just because you place something in a category, it doesn’t mean other people will. In the above example, see how ‘make an appointment’ is a much clearer way of getting to the point than: ‘Treatment Room’, ‘Consulting Room’, ‘Reception and Enquiries’.

On the home page of the site there is a link called ‘Friends and Family Test’, a category that will probably mean nothing to 99% of visitors. It is actually a feedback form asking for visitors’ views on the practice – so why not call it ‘Your Feedback’ or ‘What do you think of our surgery?’?

I have worked with computers for 40 years and it is easy to discuss IT in terms of jargon; something that means a lot to us, but nothing to 'normal' people; let's face it, a 500GB SDD is simply a place to store information. Similarly, doctors have their own jargon, most of which is either irrelevant to the rest of us or worse, opaque.

Websites have been around for over 30 years and we have learnt an awful lot from the way that visitors interact with them. The key lesson is that websites exist to provide an answer to a question and not a repository of data, 90% of which is not required. In this case of this website, the 90% of irrelevant stuff gets in the way of the answer.

This means to provide a truly useful site, you have to start with the basics – what do people want? – then provide the answer clearly and concisely.

This approach does not just make life easier for the visitor, it should also improve things at the practice too; imagine how many calls the surgery has to take because the website is too confusing and long winded? Imagine if the website could reduce incoming calls by half? There’s no reason why not.

Personas

As we’ve discussed above, patients of the practice probably range in age from 16 to 100, but the number of patient interactions with the surgery will be largely driven by older patients presenting with more chronic conditions.

This is relevant to the website in a number of ways:

  • Older people are less likely to have a computer.
  • Older people are less likely to have a up to date mobile phone.
  • Their eyesight is not as good as younger people.
  • Their minds may not be as sharp as younger people.
  • They are less likely to understand website ‘conventions’.

(Forgive the generalisation but bear with me on this.) On that basis, a surgery website should:

  • Provide alternatives to dealing with the website - most importantly, a phone number
  • Avoid jargon
  • Speak with clarity
  • Offer simple navigation
  • Offer large, clear fonts
  • Provide simple forms
  • Make sure the website shows as well on a laptop as a mobile phone

Knowing your visitors – who they are and what they want - are key to producing a good website.

Navigation

I was going to start this section by saying: ‘finding your way around a website should be easy’, but that’s an absurd statement; nobody wants to find their way round a website; they want to find the answer to their question.

As I’ve discussed in the Categories section, hiding answers to key questions under mystifying categories helps no-one. The deeper the navigation is, the more likely it will be complicated for the user.

Let’s look at the surgery website and translate what the categories actually mean:

Reception:

Appointments, sick notes, register, change details

Treatment Room:

Advice on symptoms and walk-in centres

Consulting Room:

Apply for an appointment

Covid 19 Support:

Advice

Wellbeing:

Managing some conditions and problems, links

Health Review:

As above

Prescriptions:

Links to online prescription sites

Administration:

Sick notes, feedback, register, change details

So the question is: how do we make the journey from not knowing where to find the answer to finding it? We can make a number of simple changes to the site:

  • Place the most relevant reasons for visiting the site at the top of the page
  • Don’t bury them under opaque categories
  • Use normal language, not jargon
  • Avoid duplication

The ‘top’ of the website is even more important when visitors are using a mobile phone to view the site, here ‘real estate’ is at a premium and nobody wants to spend all day scrolling to find the right information.

Let’s use another piece of freely available information (Google Analytics is a great free resource) about visitor behaviour: from which page do visitors leave the website? Like the old joke about ‘I always find my glasses in the last place I look’ (why would you carry on looking?) This will tell us when they have found the answer to their question, AKA the bounce page.

My bet is that many people will leave when they find the address or phone number – that’s all they wanted to know, in which case let’s add information from a few of these bounce pages too.

Cool, we are getting there.

Popups

If you ask any visitor what they hate most about websites, it will almost certainly be popups. The most annoying interruptions known to man – like that friend who won’t stop talking, like a baby crying at 3am, like the choice of 17 options you are offered when you phone a company.

This site has three popups, two of which are enormous. They are designed to stop visitors finding what they want and there is no need for it.

The Covid popup could easily be part of a special area on the home page which states something like: Do not visit us with symptoms and a Read more link. The cookie notice that covers about 30% of the website can, legally – and usefully – be far smaller.

What about this as an improvement?

So, with very little additional design, what have we done here?

  • We have kept the look and feel of the current site, so regular visitors feel at home.
  • We have included a photo of the practice to confirm the above and make visitors immediately sure they are in the correct place. (And show physical visitors what it looks like.)
  • We have included all the basic surgery details on the right. How often have you had to search for an address or phone number?
  • The five most common reasons to interact with the surgery are listed across the top in blue – that one simple section covers 81% of surgery interactions.
  • The other main reasons are listed underneath.
  • There are no categories – visitors know immediately what to do for over 90% of the most common questions.
  • There is no jargon; everything is in clear English.
  • The three popups have been reduced to one small footer covering all the key points. It does not stop the visitor interacting with the site and can be closed at any time.
  • Minor and rarely used information – site map, data protection, privacy notices are relegated to the bottom of the website, not the top.
  • The website has a far flatter hierarchical structure – multiple clicks have been reduced to one.
  • They key target of a website; to provide an answer to the question, is provided without having to dig down.
  • A link to the home page is included in the fixed header so all key activities can be accessed from any page.

Summary

The surgery’s current website uses a template provided by a company that specialises in the medical sector and the problem with templates is that they must perform multiple functions for a range of services and customers. However, that is no excuse for designing an overly complex site for both visitors and staff.

When designing a website, we must always start with the question – what’s it for? Everything else follows from that.

What do you think? Drop me a line with your thoughts.

Hywel Thomas web designer

Author: Hywel Thomas
Web Design and Google Ads person
Email: hi@zigger.co.uk
Tel: 07875 096483