USBSF.com has changed since I first authored this grad-school extra-credit assignment in July 2005 (and edited further in January 2006). Though USBSF.com content has changed surprisingly little since at least the 2001-2002 season (according to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine).
The United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (USBSF) is the national governing body for the winter sledding sports of bobsled and skeleton. I profiled this site because I recently joined as a member, and launched a similar site of my own (www.newsliders.com).
A typical visitor to this site is probably someone with one of the following goals: learn about the American national team, seek basic info about these sports, learn how to participate, etc.
I've decided to focus most of this review on usability problems associated
with the site's main page at www.usbsf.com -- I'll refer to this as the "splash page," not to be confused with the "main content" I'll briefly address later.
Above: screenshot of the "splash page" my review focuses on.
Visitors wanting to quickly scan an information-dense page will be disappointed here. First, it is immediately apparent that there is a lack of a navigation menu or a search engine box.
Next, notice the center graphic, which is hyperlinked. This link is remarkably prominent--it is featured in the center of the page covers more real estate than all of the other links combined. So it's safe to assume this links to the site's main content page, right? Wrong.
First of all, note this mega-graphic lacks a clear description--while it does hint (through the vague label "Rival Films") the link is related to films, there's no descriptive text nor "alt text" used for those who are unable to view graphics. Furthermore, to lessen the likelihood of the user encountering unexpected behavior, the page ought to indicate the link leads to an outside site and launches an external window.
Immediately under this graphic is the link that is ACTUALLY what most users
are likely to be seeking in the first place--the main content page at http://www.usbsf.com/index3.htm.
Screenshot of the main content page (just page 1 of 3 pages)
I will not delve into the many problems on this page, in order to keep my assignment to a reasonable length. So, getting back to the splash page...
This link to the main content page deserves to be MUCH more prominent in terms of placement and size. Also note that it is entitled"*Click here - to Enter Main USBSF Site -Click here*." The phrase "click here" is generally a poor practice, let alone using "click here" twice within a link.
Below that is the link "Demo the Sports." Unfortunately, it doesn't provide forewarning that it links to a flash animation (including audio) in a new window. Furthermore, this is essentially a 5-second animation which merely features a fancy moving logo before auto-loading the aforementioned main content page. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to determine any utility to justify its existence.
Next is the "Sponsor Info" link which is overemphasized relative to the main content link, particularly with text in caps-lock and bigger font.
On the third-to-the-last line of text, there is what I call the "mysterious floating C" (also featured on the main content page)--a single truncated letter. This link currently leads to a raffle page, where you can buy tickets to support fundraising efforts. I'd hazard to guess this "mysterious C" approach--probably an uncorrected coding error--has hampered fundraising efforts.
That concludes my review of the intro page, though I also want to mention
another page within the site. The USA team selection criteria page is a good
example of a design that violates usability principles. Specifically, in addition to continued use of the "click here" label, much of the non-linked text is
underlined and highlighted in red. Thus, reflecting the principle of affordability,
most users would naturally--but incorrectly--assume they're links.
First off, the site needs to clearly define their target audience(s), whether athletes, spectators, sponsors, etc.
This--followed by user testing (even if just a simple test involving five users, as Jakob Nielsen has suggested)--will help determine how the content is organized and presented.
Beyond the suggestions I already mentioned in my review above, I'd merge the clumsy intro page and the main content page. The main content page should be what the vast majority of users are seeking.
I'd definitely include a search box--Nielsen has pointed out that folks are behaviorally divided into browsers and searchers, with many in each category. This site ignores the latter category, and those folks probably would be frustrated combing through many dozens of pages without a quick keyword search.
Also, I recommend the use of a free automated link checker and code validator. And I would reformat the text passages that currently give the mistaken impression that they're links.
I would also delete the useless "Demo the sports" link and associated animation, and all references to "click here." Furthermore, I'd make the films link much less prominent. The current setup implies that most visitors are primarily in search of bobsled/skeleton interview films, which is exceedingly unlikely. I'd also include a brief description or caption (e.g. "external link to Flash interviews of national team athletes") so the user knows what to expect.
Another fiasco is the page's HTML meta code, which states: "The official web site of the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (don't be fooled by fakes such as usbobsledandskeleton.com. [sic]"
This sentence is the first thing Google searchers see, doubtlessly leaving a negative or confusing first impression. The meaning of this cryptic statement is unclear, considering this supposedly maverick website was (according to WHOIS DNS records) registered in February 2006 by the USBSF itself (listing then-Director Chris Overholt's email address). This alternate website, created by a PR firm, looks slick but is currently devoid of useful content.
Replacing this bizarre code with meaningful information would improve search engine optimization, better inform visitors, and make the organization look less unprofessional.