What is Web Site Usability?
to Web usability expert,
design a clear and simple navigation system. A good navigation
system should answer three questions:
Where am I?
Where have I been?
Where can I go?
Your site's navigation system will answer all three
questions if you're careful to include these basic elements:
Keep it consistent. The navigation system should be in the
same place on every page and have the same format. Visitors
will get confused and frustrated if links appear and
disappear unpredictably. Consider using Server Side Includes
for your main navigation system to make certain the
navigation system stays consistent.
Use appropriate text inside links. Don't make your visitors
guess where a link is going to take them. Visitors should be
able to anticipate a link's destination by reading the text
in the link or on the navigation button. This isn't the time
to be cute or obscure - visitors don't have the time or
patience for it.
If there's any question about a link's destination, clarify
the issue with a TITLE attribute that explains exactly where
the link goes.
Use CSS to emphasize text links. Some designers dislike
underlined text links inside page content - although
visitors expect to be able to click on underlined text. If
you decide to remove this important visual navigation clue,
style your links with CSS to replace underlining with
another, consistent visual technique like a background
color, different font, or text color that indicates a
Always include text links. You can create some great looking
never rely completely on a dynamic menu system. Some users
may have problems using a mouse to navigate through the menu
and others may be listening to the page using a screen
reader. Every page should have basic text links that link to
all major sections of the site.
Add a text-based site map. Large or complex sites should
always have a text-based site map in addition to text links.
Every page should contain a text link to the site map. Lost
visitors will use it to find their way, while search engines
spiders will have reliable access to all your pages.
Include a home page link inside your main navigation system.
Visitors may enter your site via an internal page, but
hopefully they'll want to head for the home page next.
Site logo links to home page. Most sites include their logo
somewhere at the top of every page - generally in the top,
left-hand corner. Visitors expect this logo to be a link to
your site's home page. They'll often go there before looking
for the home link in the navigation system.
Include a site search box. A robust site search feature
helps visitors quickly locate the information they want.
Make the search box prominent and be sure that it searches
all of your site - and only your site. We've run across far
too many Web sites that include a "Search the Web" search
box on their home page. The result? Visitors hardly get to
the site before the search function sends them to another
Keep the content clear and simple. You may attract visitors
with an eye-catching design, but content is what keeps them
at the site and encourages them to return. Content is also
the best way to boost your site in search engine rankings.
Always keep search engines in mind when you write content,
but remember that your ultimate audience is human visitors.
Present your content with humans in mind.
Don't save the best for last. Place your most important
content high on the page. Think of a newspaper: the top
story is always prominently displayed above the fold. Check
your page display at in a number of different screen
resolutions to make sure that your most important content is
visible when the page loads.
Make page content easy to scan. You'll spend hours - maybe
days - writing your page content and it's really annoying to
think that visitors may read less than half of it. Format
your content so that it's easy to scan. Emphasize important
points (or product characteristics) with a combination of
header tags, bold type, color, or lists.
Avoid using text inside images whenever possible. Text in
images is invisible to search engine spiders and to visitors
who may have images turned off in their browsers or who use
assistive technologies like screen readers.
Add ALT and TITLE attributes to all images. Each image
should have a descriptive ALT attribute and TITLE attribute
associated with it - particularly images that are also links
to other pages. That way, they can quickly jump to the page
they're interested in without having to wait for the entire
page to load.
Contrast, contrast, contrast! Be careful with background
images and colors because they can obscure the text content
on the page. Make sure you have a good reason to deviate
from the successful dark text on a light background model.
Visitors can't buy your products if they can't read the
Support your brand. A good brand creates or reinforces a
user's impression of the site. When your site is strongly
branded, that means that visitors will think of you first
when they go shopping for your product or service.
Branding on a Web site takes time, effort, and close
attention to page design and layout.
Keep colors and typefaces consistent. Visitors should never
click on an internal link in your site and wonder if they've
left your Web site. Choose your colors and fonts carefully
and use them consistently throughout the site.
Keep page layout consistent. Use a Web site template to
enforce a uniform page structure. Visitors should be able to
predict the location of important page elements after
visiting just one page in your site.
Custom error page. Create a useful custom error page that
helps visitors if they should click on a broken internal
link or type a URL incorrectly. The custom error page should
reflect the site's overall color, type, and layout structure
as much as possible and provide useful links to help
visitors find what they're looking for.
Create a good tagline and use it on every page. A good
tagline clearly and concisely explains your "value
proposition" or what makes your site stand out from
competing sites. It should be memorable and reinforce your
brand in one quick phrase.
Provide for visitor feedback. Forms are critical to the
success of ecommerce sites. Without forms, you can't have a
shopping cart. But any site usually needs at least one form
to allow for user feedback. A form helps you hide from email
spiders and also helps you control how user feedback is
formatted and sent.
Keep feedback forms short and clearly note which information
is required to successfully submit the form. Take care to
design accessible forms that all visitors can use.
Remember your international users and don't require
information they may not have - like area codes or ZIP
Present complete contact information including your business
phone number and postal address. A street address is
preferred, but you may want to use a PO box if yours is a
home-based business. Visitors will probably prefer to
contact you using email or a form, but they feel more
comfortable with a site that allows other contact methods.
Test the site on real users. Remember that you're the
designer so of course you effortlessly use the navigation
system, love the content, and understand the value
proposition. But now it's time to get user feedback - before
your online users start sending it in.
Usability testing helps you replicate the experience of the
average Web site user and correct problems before online
visitors find them. It also gives you valuable answers to
Do visitors enjoy using the site? If so, they'll stay longer
and read more content.
Do they understand the purpose of the site? If not, there's
no compelling reason to return.
Is there any incentive to return after the first visit? Your
site should try to be the ultimate authority on the Web for
your topic. A site with depth and breadth encourages
visitors to bookmark it and refer friends interested in the
Can they recover from errors? Usability testing is the best
way to test how well your site search, site map, forms, and
custom error pages function. They should all work together
to guide a visitor through the site and help him get where
he's going. Frustrated visitors aren't likely to return -
Web usability means designing for your visitors instead of
for yourself or your client. A site that conforms to user
expectations makes visitors more comfortable and more apt to
visit again and recommend the site to their friends. Good
usability is critical to your site's success.
Contact us today for more
information on how you can capitalize on the search engine
traffic in the most results-oriented and cost-effective way.