8 Steps to Increased Usability
It’s great to have a website that looks good; however, it’s more important to have a website that is accessible and usable for visitors. Fortunately, it is possible to have both by designing with usability in mind. Follow these eight steps to increase the usability of your website.
1 – Design with CSS rather than table-based layout.
CSS-based layouts will make your website more accessible to a higher number of users. All modern internet browsers support CSS, and it is more flexible for various devices than table-based design. Pages designed with CSS will also load faster and are easier for search engines to index than table-based pages.
2 – Include a contact form on your site.
One of the keys to usability is allowing visitors to submit feedback. A simple contact form is an appropriate way to receive questions and comments from your visitors. At the least, your website should list a contact email address.
3 – Use site-wide search engines and/or sitemaps.
Larger websites can make their content easier to find by including a search engine. Google provides a free service for webmasters that allows you to create a specialized search engine for your site. Smaller websites may find a sitemap to be more useful and effective.
4 – Allow text to be resized.
Some of your visitors will prefer to adjust the font size of your text to be larger or smaller. If your site is designed with pixel-specific text sizes Internet Explorer users will not be able to adjust the font size. Rather than specifying text as 20 pixels, use small, medium or large as your basic text size. To create larger or smaller text use a percentage, such as 120%. Using this method, all users will be able to resize the text. Giving up control of the text size may create some design problems, in which case you may feel that you need to specify the text size in pixels. In general, however, text size should be adjustable by the user.
5 – Use logical and consistent navigation.
Usability is increased when visitors can quickly and easily navigate through your website, which is usually accomplished with a navigation menu that appears on every page. Changing the navigation or not being consistent with the location of the menu can frustrate visitors and cause them to leave. There is a collection of CSS-based navigation menus available on our website. Consider using one of the menus or a similar menu to provide your visitors with logical and consistent navigation.
6 – Use text in links.
Some navigational menus are created using only images and no text. Users who are surfing with images turned off and users with disabilities will be unable to unable to know where your links are pointing. CSS-based navigation menus are accessible to all users. Even older browsers that don’t support CSS will display the menu as a bulleted list. Images can also be used with CSS to improve the look of the menu by setting them as background images. With images set as the background and text on top, your navigation menu will still be accessible.
7 – Keep flash to a minimum.
Flash intros can improve the look of your website, but unfortunately they will slow down load times and decrease the usability of your site. Many visitors with slow connections will leave before your page even loads. Only websites targeting users with high speed connections should make extensive use of flash.
8 – Test your site in multiple browsers.
One of the biggest frustrations of website design is the difference from one browser to the next. Test your website to be sure that it is rendered basically the same in different browsers. AnyBrowser.com provides an easy way to see how your site appears in a number of different browsers.
Published March 17th, 2007 by Steven Snell