Usability is building your website simple for your visitors to get the information they require when they want it. A common misapprehension about usability amongst web companies is that usability is luxurious. There are global companies that expend thousands of dollars on usability tests and research, but for an everyday company usability is attainable without the knowledge of usability experts or without expensive equipment for testing.
Web designers have an even easier job to do; just by reading usability articles they can gather a quite good knowledge about usability basics and how to execute them on a website.
1. Include a Tagline
A tagline is a statement or a motto that represents a company’s, or in our case a website’s, philosophy and mission. It should be the most noticeable constituent on a website’s front page and it should obviously explain the website in one phrase.
Statistics demonstrate that a website has just 8 seconds to confine a visitor’s concentration for them to browse the site further. Without a clear tagline a website would have a hard time keeping visitors long enough to browse the inner pages.
2. Implement Site Search
According to Jacob Nielsen’s web usability tips, make this search box 27 characters wide in order for the text to be clearly visible and easy to use. Place the search text field on the top of your web page, because users tend to search a website according to the F pattern, meaning from the top left to the bottom right.
Include a search button and clearly specify the search text, don’t use text such as Go or Submit, because these expressions tend to misinform your website’s visitors.
3. Don’t Use Extensive Graphics
Offensive use of design elements and graphics are always bad for a website, they just misinform the site’s visitors. Only design to advance the web page not just to decorate it. From a usability point of view, less is always more.
4. Use Site maps
Site maps are a comparatively new website feature that advances web page navigation and also search engine optimization (SEO). Site maps in essence are a structural demonstration of a website’s pages and architecture. It can be a document in any form, or a web page that lists the pages on a web site, characteristically organized in hierarchical fashion.
Recently, search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN have started offering a Sitemap protocol which is similar to a website’s site map page, but the data is organized in XML format. There are Sitemap XML generators that generate these documents for a specific URL.
5. Don’t Break the Workflow
By workflow we mean every operation that a user is doing on a website. For example filling out a form, registering on a website, browsing categories, archives, etc. Don’t break these workflows, let the user cancel any operation. By not letting the user cancel an operation, we’re forcing them to finish it even if they don’t want to.
Another blunder is not changing the color of visited links, these results in breaking the navigational design. Let users identify where they’ve been and where they are on a website.
6. Create Easily Scannable Web Pages
Easy to read web pages plays a significant role in maintaining visitors’ faithfulness, keeping them on your site and reading your content. Usability tests demonstrate that the majority of users don’t read web pages, they scan them, looking for titles, bold, emphasized text or lists.
Eye tracking studies conducted by Jakob Nielsen show that users read content that resembles an F shape, meaning that the reading starts from the upper left of the web page, next it moves down a little starting from the left again.
One significant method that we can study from traditional printed newspapers is that the journalists thought of a catchy headline and a catchy first paragraph to make readers read the whole article. They systematize the content in an inverted pyramid format, just picture an upside down pyramid. The broad base symbolizes the most significant information in the entire article and the thin tip represents the least significant information.
7. Don’t Design Misleading UI Controls
By user interface (UI) controls we mean web page elements, components and widgets that a user can interrelate with.
Don’t design graphic elements that look like a button, but are not. We often see text that is underlined and looks like links, but are not clickable.
By not having the action that the users were expecting, they would think that the site is broken and finally leave. One other significant usability tip regarding UI controls is reliability: Make sure that your UI controls are reliable.
Yahoo, as the above image shows too, is a good example of consistent UI control design. Every tab on the page looks and behaves the same, every link is underlined on mouse over, every button looks the same, etc.
8. Give Meaningful Feedback
Meaningful feedback is necessary for a website. This is the communication channel between the site and the users, with the help of feedback we allow the users know what’s going on the site. In case of an error on your web page, don’t just print Error occurred, in its place write meaningful error messages which inform the user what went wrong and what actions they can execute from there.
10. Avoid CAPTCHAs
CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans separately. Even the name sounds complex. The most general form of CAPTCHA is text embedded in an image and by testing visitors we can divide human users from spam bots.