Improving the Usability of Your Website
The term “Usability” scares me. It’s a small word with a very large meaning. In context of websites, an entire industry has formed – called User Experience (UX) – around the idea of improving how visitors to your site can interact and consume the content. If you can make it easy to find what they’re looking for, they’re more likely to hang around and continue reading/watching/interacting. Such a huge impact for such an ordinary word.
In light of the big implications of usability, this article discusses some of the higher level concepts around UX, and in doing so gives you some practical steps to improve the usability of your site today.
Check on Several Versions of Browsers
The browser you use is not the only one that visitors to your site will be using. Make sure that that your website does not look terrible on any browsers, and if it does, make the appropriate changes. For example, check your site on Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and use mobile devices (Android and Apple) to see how your site translates. You may find that certain elements don’t load properly, such as Flash, on mobile devices. You may need to build a completely different version of your website for mobile accessibility.
Stick with One Color Scheme
A consistent color scheme not only is more attractive but it will also support your brand. Choose 2-6 colors that work very well together and do not vary them from page to page. Also be sure that the color scheme you choose represents your business well. This is where CSS can play a big part in making it easy to quickly brand or re-brand your site.
Choose Consistent Image Sizes
Your website will make more sense if the image sizes are consistent. Use the same size for all of your thumbnails. Make all of your product pictures the same size. And use the same size for all of your extra images. Of course there are exceptions, such as your header graphics or sidebar images. But keep consistent whenever possible.
Use Minimal Fonts
The more fonts you use, the more cluttered and unprofessional your website will look. Stick with two or three font styles and sizes and use them consistently throughout. For instance, use the same font and size for titles/subtitles and the same font and size for text. Consistency is the key and will improve the ability for users to decide what information on the page is important.
Create Easy Navigation
Using standard navigation elements like a nav bar at the top of the site with common terms like “home”, “about”, and “contact” help users quickly find critical content. Search tools are a must these days as users often have a specific product or service they’re looking for. The key is to make these tools easy to find so visitors can get to the content they want.
Use a Fluid Layout
A fluid layout allows more of your website to be viewed on a larger screen. Fixed layouts can be just inconvenient enough to chase away potential customers. With the use of mobile and handheld devices – generally speaking a much broader array of screen sizes – it’s critical that your site adapts to the user and makes it easy for them to see everything.
Have you ever tried to fill out a form and mistyped your email address, and there was either no explanation for your error or else simply a “form was filled out incorrectly” message without further explanation? This is an example of poor feedback interaction on elements like forms or search results. Take the time to make forms, searches, and more as easy as possible for users.
“Usability.” What a nice-sounding word. But visitors will not use nice words to describe your site if the usability is sub-par. Even worse, they will leave never to return. UX is a very important part of website design, so be sure to follow the advice of top UX designers or else hire a professional to ensure that the functionality of your website never gives visitors a reason leave you lonely.
About the Author:
Tara Hornor has a degree in English and has found her niche writing about marketing, advertising, branding, graphic design, and desktop publishing. She writes for PrintPlace.com, a company that offers online printing for business cards, catalog printing, posters, brochures, postcard printing, and more printed marketing media. In addition to her writing career, Tara also enjoys spending time with her husband and two children.
Published June 15th, 2012 by Tara Hornor