Often, whenever we look into preparing our websites, we often end up talking about the “bells and whistles” (cool graphics, flashy bits, etc.) while neglecting one of the most important features of a great website: usability!
For that reason, it was really good to come across these 15 “checkpoints” towards better usability in your website, which also makes for a good checklist as you embark on a project to improve your website:
- Checkpoint #1 – How does a User think?
Users viewing a Website demonstrate similar behavior to Customers browsing in a store. Web users will quickly look at each new page, scan some of the text, click on the main header link, see the pictures, get valuable information and then close the window. As such, there is a need to prioritise web elements to direct the viewers attention accordingly. In short: only one or two things can be bold and flashy. The rest will have to take their turn.
- Checkpoint #2 – Manage attention: Video > Image > Enhanced text > Normal Text
Eyes are drawn first to what is most obvious and/or interesting. That is the reason why dynamic elements like video work better than static images. But static images are obviously more interesting than text, while enhanced text (bolded, italicized, different font) will catch more attention than plain body text. So, manage the user’s attention flow with the appropriate use of text, images or videos.
- Checkpoint #3 – Don’t make the user think.
According to the first law of Usability (Krug’s Law): The webpage should be obvious and self explanatory.
A good website gets rid of question marks for the user. The website architecture should be defined in a way that it won’t confuse users. Navigation should be straightforward and even intuitive!
- Checkpoint #4 – Make use of Effective Writing
Websites function as a different medium from print media. Hence, a user’s browsing habits and user’s preferences should be considered while designing a website – like how users don’t read long text blocks without images and keywords marked in bold or italics (to break up the paragraph into sections).
Also, whenever possible, avoid technical jargon (B2B-type websites are notorious for committing this offense!). Your website should be a place for people to easily access (and, where appropriate, interact with) information.
So, aim for encouraging understanding and don’t use words which are not easily understood by your intended audience.
- Checkpoint #5 Ensure Content Is Easy To Scan Visually
Writing for the web is very different from writing for print – the most notable difference being having shorter paragraphs. This is largely due to the fact that, online, readers typically “scan” content. Website audiences typically don’t use to read full text from top to bottom – instead, they browse all over the page, glancing all over the page (like in the diagramme below):
You can manage this by prioritizing the attention you want from the user – direct them to certain parts of your web page with stronger, highlighted or contrasting colors; icons; images; or fonts.
Don’t worry about putting “everything” up front! Just provide the essence – that is, what your audience needs immediately, which should be easy for them to understand and takeaway. Remove everything else.
- Checkpoint #6 – Try for Simplicity
Follow the principle of K.I.T. (Keep It Simple)! Users are mostly looking for the valuable information rather than seeing your site to appreciate the artwork or design – so don’t clutter up the site with too much graphics!
- Checkpoint #7 – Don’t be afraid of White Spaces
White spaces and adequate margins allow for “breathing room” – it alleviates users from a sense of “stress” from perceiving a large amount of information to absorb/read/interact with. When a new visitor lands on the homepage first he/she tries to scan the whole page and expect for the digestible pieces of information. So don’t hesitate in leaving white spaces into your website.
- Checkpoint #8 – Bigger Clickable Areas
Hyper Links are designed to be clicked, so make them neither too small (that it can’t be seen) nor too big (that it looks awkward). Also, it should be clear to the site’s visitor so that they know it’s “clickable”.
- Checkpoint #9 – Do Not Use Pagination For The Wrong Purpose
The best reason for Pagination is so you can divide long content into a number of pages so that it doesn’t consume much bandwidth. As you know, too many items on a single webpage can slow down the loading speed. That is why you often find Pagination in websites with a long listing of product items (inventories, shopping sites – think eBay and Amazon.com) or in photography galleries.
However, some try to “abuse” Pagination by splitting articles into multiple pages just to get a large amount of page views. However, you should avoid this technique, since it’s regarded as “black hat” SEO (which also means that it may not work).
- Checkpoint #10 – Don’t Duplicate Page Titles; Keep Them Unique!
The “Title” is the html tag used to differentiate your web pages. Having a unique title for each web page benefits not only site visitors but also search engine page ranking. For site visitors, they can get a clear idea of what the content is all about before visiting to the web page itself. Having good and unique page Titles also helps with search engine rankings.
It must be noted, however, that search engines display only 70 characters of title tag – so keep them concise. At the same time, don’t make it too general either – because then site visitors will not be able glean any preview or insight from the page Title while Search Engines will not be able to track and rank the necessary keywords accordingly.
- Checkpoint #11 – Keep to the users preferences, not yours!
- Checkpoint #12 – Allow a way to Search your site
You should always add a search button function for your site visitors. A lot of people online are typically “searchers” – that is, they want to quickly get what they need and move on. Not as many have the luxury or inclination to “link surf”. So, your audience is far more likely to directly go for a search to get what they want instead of wandering around your site.
- Checkpoint #13 – Reduce barriers to interaction! (or “The Sin of Requiring Registration”)
The more hurdles a user faces in dealing with your site, the more likely and faster they’ll get irritated and just move on… and away from your site! There are good reasons (and many examples) of requiring user registrations or log-ins – for example, it can decrease spamming. However, it often also discourages further interaction by site users.
- Checkpoint #14 – Clean up your old Permalinks (before they become Broken links)
A Permalink is a link that is not supposed to be changed once it’s created – it is a permanent “address” for that particular page/post/forum thread. However, when you move your site to a new domain address or change something fundamental to the site/link infrastructure, some of these links become “broken” – that is, clicking on them leads nowhere but to an error message (301 Error “Page Not Found”). Ensure that there are no broken links because, apart from bad user experience, it also diminishes your site’s ranking by search engines.
- Checkpoint #15 – Keep Registration Forms Short
You know how you hate filling in long forms? Well, that feeling is multiplied by the experience of speed (instant search results, broadband internet) when you’re online. So, please keep registration forms as short as possible – enough for you to get whatever information you need, but not too long that it irritates the user. If possible also, once the registration is filed, apply some Customer Relationship Management (CRM) techniques like getting your site to remember the user’s id and the password in future.
Usability is all about making your website easier to use, navigate and even enjoy!
This post was adapted from this article.