Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Website Usability Tips and Checklist

by Alfred Winston

Web developers currently spend a lot of energy on search engine optimization, but that's only half the battle. Once you get visitors to your site, you need to keep them there--and convince them to take action. That is the role of website usability. A website needs to be above all, attractive, well-written, and easy to navigate. A highly usable website will deliver better conversions and more return traffic. This isn't hard to achieve; just keep the following tips in mind during the design phase.

Keep it Simple

Beginning website designers often get caught up in the capabilities of WYSIWYG design tools. It's easier than ever to incorporate flashy elements, animations and transitions, and heavy graphics, but that doesn't mean you should. Incorporating these bandwidth-intensive components may make your website look too crowded, take too long to load for low-bandwidth visitors, and may actually distract the reader from what you actually want them to do. Use these elements sparingly.

A Flatter Sitemap

It's easy to get lost in one of those huge brick-and-mortar superstores, and it's just as easy to get lost in a huge website. You can avoid creating the virtual equivalent of frustrated customers pushing their shopping carts through ladies' lingerie while trying to find the automotive department by flattening out your sitemap. No matter how large your site, a visitor should never be more than two clicks away from their desired destination. Make sure to have a link to the main landing page on every page.

Consistency on Every Page

If you've had several team members working on the site, you may have some pages with different colors, styles, and fonts. This will only cause your visitors confusion, and make your site look unprofessional. Create and enforce a uniform style guide if you have multiple people uploading content.

Your Company Brand

Your company brand and identity are important to reinforce your message and to create a comfort level for your visitors. A good brand strategy is more than marketing, it's also a usability function--a recognizable brand will help visitors recognize who you are and what you're offering at first glance. New visitors that may not yet be familiar with you should be able to glance at your brand, your logo and your tagline, and see within a few seconds what your value proposition may be.

"Above the Fold"

People in the newspaper business understand the "above the fold" rule--it means that important news and headlines should go above the place where the newspaper is folded. In the virtual world, this means that the most important parts of your landing page should fit into the screen at first glance, without requiring the visitor to scroll down.

Pay Attention to Your Title Tags

The tag is a small thing but is nonetheless very important. This will give the visitor an immediate look at what your page includes--and this tag name may also show up in the search engine results. Ignoring this tag may yield confusing or non-descriptive text such as "index" or "page1". Make your title tag text short and descriptive, and try to include your main keyword.

Review and Site Testing

Finally, never assume what you have in your mind is going to appear on the screen. Once the site is complete, take time to look through every single page, test every link, and do some usability testing with a live audience.

About the Author

Our Portland Website Designers are experienced in design of informational and eCommerce applications. Web Design Portland and its development begin with your primary objective in mind and fulfill your needs. Portland Website Design services provide high quality affordable small websites and web development in Portland.