WEBSITE BACK TO BASICS

Footers can have a big impact on your users experience

In this second article in our Website Back to Basics series, we look at the underrated yet potentially actionable section of your website – the footer

Introduction

Website designers (and other related disciplines) pay a lot of attention to the top section of webpages (commonly known as the Above the fold section) since high priority elements like site navigation, search and key business messaging all tend to live there. Research into user behaviours has shown that users do spend more time above the fold of any given page before scrolling through the rest of the page.

The footer, as a consequence, gets very little attention during the web designing process which is rather unfortunate as footers have the ability to improve your visitors experience.

Discover how to make the most of this underutilised section and how it can benefit your brand by improving the experience of users that visit your business website

Why are footers so useful?

Back in the old days, footers were mainly used for displaying miscellaneous links and the little information it did contain was often illegible due to the common practice of using tiny, tiny font sizes (often used to display disclaimers and such).

Nowadays, footers provide key information to customers as they go about using your website and while not as popular as the top, they do get a lot of usage – a key reason for improving this underrated section.

Research conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group, have uncovered two common scenarios for footer usage.

  1. The first scenario occurs when users read your page and either can’t find or don’t need more information. They are more likely to scroll to the bottom of the page to seek out the footer and the observable behaviours for doing so are as follows:
    • Be persuaded again by what you offer - The footer provides a second chance and an opportunity to prompt or communicate would-be customers about a business’s other services and offerings. For example, if a visitor doesn't buy into a particular service offering, a well-structured footer can appeal to users and provides another opportunity for other services to convert visitors into customers.
    • A place for secondary and infrequent content - The footer is usually home to site-links not found in the websites primary navigation. For example, prospective employees will often find ‘Work with us’ or ‘Apply for job’ links and information in the footer as opposed to a visitor of the same website looking for services.
  2. In the second scenario, users have been observed intentionally scrolling down to the bottom to look for information that typically resides in footers (contact details, social media links, general information about the business). Additionally, if the footer has secondary navigation, some users will tend to use that (due to proximity) instead of scrolling all the way back to the top to use the main navigation

The footer may not be the utmost priority when building your business website, however it is a worthwhile pursuit to design a footer that satisfies the above two user scenarios. As noted by the research conducted by the Norman Nielson Group,

‘footers have a particularly wonderful usability characteristic: they will never get in the way of users who get their needs satisfied higher up on the page…and is a cost-free addition to the user experience. It can help, but it can’t hurt’.

So what goes in a footer?

There are different types of content that goes in footers and some are placed there based on your business goals or based on what you want users to find. The NNGroup has compiled the following list of the most common elements that goes into footers.

  • Utility links - Users have an inclination to seek out the footer for the following items:- company address, phone number, customer-service information, privacy policy and terms of use.
  • Doormat navigation - Links that appear on the top are repeated here in the footer and is best suited for websites with very long pages.
  • Secondary-task links - Useful for placing secondary content that isn’t related to the main objective of the website. Examples include employment with the company, investor information, documentation for products & services, media kits & PR information and company associates.
  • Awards - Likely to influence a user’s perception of the business and is a good strategy for demonstrating expertise and trustworthiness. It is a highly recommended practice for businesses that are either starting out or have little brand awareness to place any awards or accolades in the footer.
  • Brands within the organization - Applicable mainly for large or multinational companies. Useful for displaying hierarchy and the connection between the parent company and its various child subsidiaries.
  • Customer engagement - Users have a tendency to go straight to the footer to find information pertaining to coupons, promotions, social media links and newsletter sign-ups. The footer is the perfect location for content that engages customers with a business and is particularly useful for websites that place importance on visuals & aesthetics (arts, beauty, lifestyle, creative).

Don’t make these mistakes with your Footer

Footers have evolved to become valuable elements that enhances the user experience yet they are still susceptible to common design shortfalls.

  • Unclear link names in the footer - The most common example is the use of Company Info or Help instead of conventional and clear terms like Contact Us. Almost every customer understands Contact Us as opposed to anything else so don’t be too clever or unique when naming links
  • Unclear structure or lack of hierarchy - Don’t place every single link of your site in the footer. The chaos and seemingly unorganised placement of these links will put strain on users trying to figure out the association. Instead, clearly display links by grouping them and using visual cues (like bolding parent pages) to show an easily identifiable structure.
  • Hidden or illegible footers - People rely on footers even if it isn’t the primary navigation option so don’t hide it because you think it looks better for your overall website design. Aesthetics cannot be a reason for determining footer usage so illegible, tiny or decorative fonts along with animations and accordions that can hide the footer should not be employed in this section. People expect a footer to be there so don’t make decisions based on visual attractiveness.

Conclusion

The footer should always be consistent, predictable and easy to locate regardless of the content that ends up in it. Consider your website’s objective when determining what content you offer and remember that visitors have a propensity to seek it out for several reason. Don’t underestimate the importance of your footer as this seemingly ordinary and ubiquitous bottom section can make a big impact on a user’s experience and overall perception of your website.

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