A website can serve as many things. The main pages on the menu might act as a digital brochure, providing a broad overview of your company, products, or services. Hidden landing pages could compel users to convert with strong calls to action. Ecommerce integration allows online sales direct to the consumer. There are potentially dozens of uses a website may also serve. However, all of those intended uses may fall well short of their goals without planning out one simple concept, usability.
The term usability refers to how easy it is for your intended audience to find what they want. The end user should be able to find what they want very quickly. If users struggle with finding what they want, they will quickly leave your website for a better experience with a competitor of yours. Usability itself has been transformed into a massive buzzword centric culture called "user experience" or UX for short. Ironically, if you ask the users of websites, most have no clue what UX stands for. As such, usability is the term we will use for the scope of this article.
Usability Factors to Consider
- Obviousness - Clear and concise messaging.
- Page Layout - Most important elements the most prominent.
- Wording - Get to the point & eliminate excessive words.
- Navigation - Avoid multiple layers of sub-menus.
- Accessibility - Designing for devices and disabilities.
- Testing - Is it easy for outsider users?
Clear and concise messaging is a win win for everyone involved. If we can understand the message of each page at a glance, the page will convert at a higher rate. When we use a website, we aren't actually reading the pages, but rather scanning them. We are often in a hurry when looking for information online, so the more obvious the answer, the better.
We also don't read everything on a page and choose the best option. Instead, we tend to choose the first reasonable option that seems like it may lead to what we are looking for.
As website users, most of us don't care how the website works, just that it does work in the way we expect. A benefit to obviousness on a website, is that when we find something that works, we tend to stick with it. So a website designing with obviousness in mind can actually build loyalty and return visits.
2. Page Layout
We have been reading pages in one form or another for most of our lives. We are already very familiar with the layouts of newspapers, books, fliers, and brochures. By using similar page layouts on websites as we are already used to, we can connect with readers more easily.
By using a clear visual hierarchy, you designate the most important information to be the most visible. This can include the use of larger heading sizes, bold text, different colors, and the relationship to the top of the page.
Rich media such as image, video, or other embeddable objects draws more attention than text, and as such should be given a more prominent position within the page.
Wording ties in with obviousness and page layout. Less is more when communicating a specific message. Many websites go way overboard with long, complicated, in depth paragraphs; when a simple sentence or two would get the point across much more effectively.
Remember that we don't read the whole page, we scan. So use less words, and make the important ones stand out. A couple of headings with bullet points underneath will be more reader friendly than two paragraphs.
When it comes to navigation, a common misconception is that the main menu should link to every single page of the website. This is a very bad thing to do! Hidden pages, those which are not listed in the main men, are very accessible through search engines, social media, through a website search box, and via links from other pages on the website.
The downfall of including more than the bare necessities in a main menu, is a very difficult to use menu. As a menu goes into the third level of submenus and beyond, the user experience begins to suffer. We may move our mouse too far and lose the drop down menu and have to start again. Or, on a mobile device with limited screen space, the screen becomes overwhelmed with menuing options, distracting from the obviousness of the message.
There are two factors to consider when it comes to accessibility.
We access websites on a variety of devices, including but not limited to: big screen tv's, desktop computers, laptop computers, netbooks, tablets, phablets, and phones.
An effective website must provide great usability on all of these devices. One answer to this lies in responsive design, which automatically adjusts to the screen of the device we are viewing a website on.
Often overlooked during design is the fact that users with disabilities will be accessing a website. Using larger text sizes and larger click/tap points can provide a better user experience for users.
A responsive design may look good on a computer, but the usability on a mobile device could be poor. Always test pages on several devices of different resolutions to ensure a responsive website provides great usability on the most devices possible. Logos should be clearly visible on all devices, text should be easily readable, and the website should be easy to navigate.
Third Party User Testing
Getting one or more people not involved in designing or building a website can provide critical input. If a family member or friend is not able to tell at a glance what the message of a page is, it is time to revisit the obviousness, page layout, wording, navigation and accessibility.
See other posts in this series:
Taking A Website From Good To Great - Part 2: The Devil Is In The Details When It Comes To Responsive Web Design
Taking A Website From Good To Great - Part 1: Protecting Privacy Is Good For Profits
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