Websites can be a significant investment and can draw huge attention to your organisation. Despite this, usability is a frequently neglected aspect of both small and large web developments. Ultimately, if visitors can't use your site, they will leave and never become customers/clients. This article will focus on providing helpful common sense tips for making a web page usable - in short though the key to web usability is consistency.
The Internet is becoming a vital tool for almost all facets of modern life. This includes elements as diverse as education, commerce and recreation. There is an ever-increasing move to online provision of services. However, service providers should also be concerned with enabling access to the broadest possible user base in order to facilitate the best possible service and return on investment.
In the past week I've been suprised how little attention is paid by some SMEs to the online real estate that their web presence provides. The Web offers infinite freedom and many alternatives; users will not suffer a poorly designed site. Unlike bricks and mortar service/shopping, where face to face interaction is almost immediate, the web necessitates that a trust be established. Few enterprises would leave their shop window boarded up but an unfinished website marred with "Under Construction" banners or holding text reflects equally as poorly.
Its important to collect usability feedback and improve your site - ideally throughtout the design phase. The pressure to get your site up and running can make it seem impossible to add any steps to the development cycle. However, research can be done without a lab or the resources to hire consultants. Many site operators still use launch as their first round of user testing - this should be seen as a significant risk. Instead, invite five people to your office and watch them as they surf. Pay close attention to areas where users were frustrated, took a long time, or couldn't complete tasks. The earlier you collect and respond to user feedback, the better your site will be.
Set up site analytics to determine what content draws people in, what keeps them viewing and what they return to see. On an ongoing basis use the information generated and your own goals to alter how the site grows going forward.
From the outset it is important to consider what makes a website a great experience from an end user's perspective. For instance, for page layout, studies have shown that users expect the search bar to be located in the top right corner and a link to the home page in the top left. The search bar should default to a simple search and be accessible on every page.
Text should be easy to scan through the use of headings, bulleted lists and short paragraphs. Keep the text short and concise by writing half as much for the web as you would want to print. Other useful tips include using bold and italics for emphasis instead of underlining, and using a maximum of four colours and three type faces across a site.
In closing, what makes a great experience is the ability to easily find, scan and understand content and navigate sites efficiently. Following web conventions and best practices will help to improve the site experience because users will know what to expect when they are on your site.
Web Design and Usability Tips
- Simplicity is Rule #1 for usability. For instance, use a consistent large font, maintain simple static menus/navigation and avoid popups, flash or attatching PDFs. Dont let design complexity distract user's attention.
- Information architectures should not mirror the organization chart. Also, rather than "Click here" language you should use descriptive text that describes where the user will end up by clicking on the link.
- Discover the reasons why users visit your website and build your site as a fast and obvious response to these reasons or queries. For instance, consider how to integrate popular posts/pages within in your navigational system or link to your previous articles in newer postings.
- Follow conventions for web design (eg "blue for hypertext links") This will allow site visitors to mainly focus on your content rather than thinking about how to use your site.
- Website taglines must explain, within the crucial first 10 seconds, what the company does and what makes it unique among competitors.
- Response or load time for a website is fairly important. If your site is slow, visitors are likely to go away - it will also be even more painful to use on the plethora of mobile devices now available.
- Good copywriting style should be short, easy to read, to the point and avoid internal niche jargon and 'marketese'. Split up your content into clear headings/subheadings and use bullet points to aide page speed reading. Also highlight keywords or important phrases by making them bold.
Excellent resources if you are interested in reading more about web usability:
- Nielsen, J & Loranger, H (2006) " Prioritizing Web Usability"
- Krug, Steve (2006) "Don't Make Me Think"
- A range of Papers and Essay on Copywriting and Usability by Nielson.