Modern website users are a discernible bunch. They expect more than static text and demand more than broken links and poor quality content. Usability should be a major factor when designing, maintaining, and updating any website. Whatever you do to improve website usability, arguably the most important stages are the planning and testing stages. Only with thorough planning can you be sure that you will get all required elements onto the page in a legible and usable manner. Testing allows you to ensure that all of the elements on a page display properly and on all devices, in all browsers, and under all conditions.
1 – Plan, Plan, Plan
Create a wireframe of your intended website design. A wireframe is similar to the blueprint for a new building. It enables you to gather your thoughts and ideas in a coherent manner, and it means that different developers and content producers can identify any potential problems before they even surface.
2 – Cut Content
Write your web page content, trim it down to around half the size, and then only include images, video, and audio that are essential to help you get your message across and that users will genuinely benefit from. Don’t force audio or video playback on your visitors. It’s irritating and those with a slow Internet connection will suffer.
3 – Use Headings, Subheadings, And Formatting
Remember that visitors expect certain elements of formatting. For example, underlined text generally means a hyperlink, and your users will also expect link text to be a different colour to the rest of your text with visited links to be a different colour again. Avoid complicating matters with underlined text or formatted text that matches link text, if it isn’t actually a link.
4 – Check Dead Links
Broken links and dead links are not only irritating for users, but they could damage your SEO efforts too. Numerous dead links on a site is a good indication that the site is no longer being managed, and Google considers usability to be an important aspect in web design so they want to see high quality sites, which should not include multiple broken links.
Use Webmaster Tools to identify broken links, fix them, or remove them from your site. Ensure that you have error pages set up with meaningful content and a search box, links to possible destinations, and other helpful information.
5 – Offer Sitemaps and Search
Top quality, reliable, and accurate navigation are essential to user experience, but they aren’t always enough. Some visitors will head straight for a search function, while a few might look for deep pages using a sitemap. What’s more, a sitemap provides text links to all of your indexed pages so is beneficial for search engines that are crawling your site.
Most users will look for a search box in the upper right corner of the screen, and usability tests suggest that, when it comes to size, the wider the better. This enables users to read what they have typed and to ensure that they are looking for relevant pages and information.
6 – Give Your Visitors Clear Instructions
As well as removing any obstacles that might be preventing your visitors from taking the desired actions, you should also ensure that they have clear instructions. Whether you have an eCommerce site or you provide a unique web app, provide clear but concise instructions on how to use the software. eCommerce carts are commonplace, but don’t assume that all of your potential customers know how to use them, or how to specifically use the one that you offer.
7 – Give Your Visitors Clear Feedback
When we hold a conversation in person or over the phone, we use feedback and verbal clues to help lubricate conversation and to keep things moving smoothly. Consider that your website is, essentially, a large conversation that takes place between you and your visitors. As such, this means that you should provide feedback.
Let your visitors know when their message has sent successfully, provide assistance if they click on a link to a non-existent page, and not only do you improve user experience but you can also use this opportunity to try and make conversions and to direct traffic flow around your site.
8 – Avoid Complex CAPTCHAs
CAPTCHAs have become increasingly complex and many users find them frustrating. Having to watch a short video or select all the squares that include images of road signs may be quirky at first, but they soon become irritating. More infuriating than this, though, are the complex CAPTCHAs that are virtually illegible. If you need to use CAPTCHA to prevent spam and bots, then test it first to ensure that it is possible to read and easy to use.
9 – Simple, Uniform Navigation
10 – Test, Test, Test
Just as planning is vital to the usability experience, so too is testing, and this doesn’t just mean opening the home page on Internet Explorer on your home computer. Test on a variety of devices, test using different browsers, and test deep pages and apps as well as just the home page. Essentially, the aim of the testing phase is to break something and to find errors, and only when you are no longer able to do this should you consider your work done.
Sukhi Pahal is a Graphic and Design Management Expert, associated with Create Summit, with the idea of providing clients a jaw dropping design service without breaking the bank.