Why consistency is vital on a website

I recently got lost on the website of a big company. Nothing new in that, you may say, but the irony is that this company hosts one of my websites. I was trying to do some work on the database behind the website, and the website that was supposed to take me there was so badly written that I couldn’t find the right page and had to ring for help.

The problem was with the words. Good writing is often described as "the right words in the right order". On a website, where users so easily get confused, I would add "and the same words for the same things".

I got as far as a page called "Manage services", with a sub-heading "Manage Web hosting" and the address of my website. I clicked on that and was offered a choice of two links: "Advanced Tools" and "Create & Manage Your Websites". Neither was quite what I was expecting, but which would you have chosen?

You’ve guessed. I made what seemed the obvious choice and I was wrong. I wanted to manage my website so I went for "Create & Manage Your Websites". That took me to a lot of sales talk about the wonderful website I could have if only I used the company’s "intuitive online presence builder". I was meant to choose "Advanced Tools", but how was I supposed to know?

About that time, I was heartened to read of a test of advertising copy that stressed the importance of consistency in wording. It made the point, which cannot be made too often, that what seems obvious to one person may be meaningless to another:

"We were working on ad copy and had what we thought was a very clear, big, unambiguous headline, "Book a demo". This ad had been tweaked and refined over weeks but was still getting really poor results so we decided to put it to the 5-second test.

We showed the ad to several people for five seconds; we asked them what the ad was about and if there was an action they were asked to take. No one got it…

It wasn’t until we had the exact same language (my italics) in both the headline and the supporting copy that our test subjects seemed clear on what we were saying."

Amazing, isn’t it? You think something is obvious; other people just don’t get it. On a website, repetition is good. Use the same words to describe the same things.

You can read more about the 5-second test, for emails as well as websites.

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