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How to Create an Impossible Website

Aug 17, 2007
A website is only as good as its content and navigation. When visitors come to a site, they need to quickly get the answers to their questions and quickly find the information they need to make a decision.

Anything you do to interfere with that decision making process is going to cause your visitor to abruptly leave the site. No business wants to deliberately turn away customers, yet some sites are so poorly designed that they are doomed to failure right from the beginning.

A good example of a poorly functioning site is the website for Medicare.

In late 2005, the U.S. government enacted legislation to offer prescription drug coverage through its Medicare program. Unfortunately, the program offers multiple plans that seniors must wade through to make a decision regarding which coverage is best for their unique situation.

Also unfortunately, the government chose its Medicare website as the platform to explain the new drug benefit program and offer help for seniors on how to choose their new prescription drug plan.

It seems a logical choice to use a website to give out information, but in this case, it only compounded the problem.

Site is Difficult or Impossible to Use

Nearly two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries who use the Internet report that Medicare's website is difficult or impossible to use in choosing a prescription drug plan under the new Medicare drug benefit, according to a recent survey conducted by Elder Law Answers (elderlawanswers), the Web's leading elder law site.

The Web-based survey found that 63 percent of respondents had used Medicare's website to compare prescription drug plans available in their area, but most did not find the site easy to navigate.

"These findings are significant because survey respondents are already Internet users and presumably have some proficiency in using computers and navigating Web sites," said Elder Law Answers president Harry S. Margolis, Esq. "The fact that so large a share of this group is having difficulty suggests a more widespread problem."

Analyzing a Widespread Problem

So, let's take a look at medicare.gov and find out why this website is so difficult.

Problem #1 Overwhelmed by Choices

The website is confusing as soon as you arrive on the site. There are so many choices; you don't know where to begin to get the answers you need. The site has 29 text links on the main page, 17 links on the left side of the page and 41 subtopic links. A total of 87 choices on just the homepage.

Each time a link is clicked it takes you deeper into the website towards more confusion. Each page you pull up will offer another multitude of choices which lead to another page of choices. It's like being caught up in a never-ending phone tree where you just keep pushing buttons, but never get connected to a human being.

Problem #2 All Text Links

This website has taken a good idea to the extreme and turned it into a problem. Text links on a site are an excellent way to introduce information that needs further explanation. You would use the text link to bring visitors to a separate page where you can be more detailed in your communication.

However, text links do need some explanation. The correct way to use a text link is to create a small paragraph of explanation that gives the reader some understanding of your point. The reader should have enough information to be able to make a decision without clicking on the link.

Having a page full of text links with no explanation is a frustrating experience for a website visitor. In order to get information the visitor has to click text link after text link. And in the process, visitors can become lost and disoriented.

Problem #3 No Graphics

A site with no graphics and just text is boring. A website needs to be interesting to hold a visitor's attention. Graphics offer a way for the eye to relax a moment after reading text. It also helps to balance the site. Compare reading a website to reading a magazine. Aren't you more interested in articles that include pictures and colorful graphics?

Not only is it visually more interesting when a site has graphics or pictures, but it is often easier to understand. Why do you think we have road signs with pictures on them? A picture is worth a thousand words. What is confusing in the written word is often easy to understand with a picture diagram.

Fixing a Widespread Problem

In order for the Medicare website to function better it needs to:

*Dramatically cut back on the text links on the homepage. Limit the choices to eight at the most.

*It would make more sense to create a separate site for the prescription drug plan with its own URL. Part of the problem is that the site is also answering Medicare questions and that just adds to the confusion.

*Offer a small paragraph of explanation to accompany each of the text links.

*Add graphics and/or pictures to help in the explanation.

By making these changes the Medicare site will function more efficiently and the navigation will be much easier for all the visitors.
About the Author
Michelle Howe, MBA, is an expert in online copywriting and author of the popular book, Turn Browsers into Buyers . Visit her website at http://www.InternetWordMagic.com for the FREE report, Five Easy Steps for Creating "I Wanna Read That" Articles.
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