Is your Web site friendly?

Not having a user-friendly site is as bad as not having one at all, AOL exec says

If you've got a World Wide Web site that makes it hard for people to find what they're interested in, you might as well not have one, a government specialist from America Online's governmentguide.com site said Monday.

Speaking at the National Association of Counties' Annual Meeting in Charlotte, N.C., James Vaughn, an AOL programming manager, gave county leaders tips for making their Web sites friendly.

"Use the "mom' test," Vaughn said. "If your mom can [do it], you've labeled and designed the site properly."

If a county is trying to reach out to people via the Internet, the worst thing it can do is make them struggle to find information. "It's like asking readers to learn to read on "War and Peace' instead of "Harry Potter,' " he said.

Here are some of Vaughn's tips:

    * Interactivity is best.

    * Keep the URL short. For instance, www.ssa.gov is easier than www.ssa.gov/top20.

    * Avoid the label "frequently asked questions" and instead list queries as "How Do I...?" People assume their question isn't frequent.

    * Use terms people are familiar with. People file "complaints," not "incident reports."

    * Less is more. A main page with category links is better than a crowded front page.

    * The few clicks the better. If users have to click on more than four or five links, they'll give up.

    * Personalize whenever possible. Zip code-driven searches show people the information that matters to them.

    * Put the most sought-after information on the home page.

    * Be a station, not a destination. If people need to go elsewhere for information, give them the necessary link.

NEXT STORY: More than text and talking

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