Here’s a simple check list with 10 actionable tips to check your website usability.
Don’t put too much text!
Make sure that the content on your website is easy to scan through. After all, most users don’t read the entire text on your page. Instead, they simply scan the content to find the bits of information most important to them.
We know it’s frustrating. Often, you’ll spend hours – maybe days – or even weeks – writing the perfect piece of long-form content. Only to find that most visitors only read 20% of your web page.
As we don’t want to alienate most of our reader base, it makes more sense to format content in clear and concise ways. That is why good web usability requires well formatted content that is easy to scan through.
To do this, consider:
- Emphasizing the most important points (or product characteristics) with bold letters;
- Using contrasting color schemes to highlight clickable elements;
- Utilizing bullet points and numbered lists to make scanning easy.
So, in short:
- Get to the point as quickly as possible.
- Cut out unnecessary information.
- Use easy-to-understand, shorter, common words and phrases.
- Avoid long paragraphs and sentences.
Here’s a little bonus: a research study completed by the Nielsen Norman group showed that the commonly cited “F-Pattern” is not as crucial anymore as once thought. Instead, make sure that your content is easy to follow by anyone and with any device.
Keep the navigation simple and clear
A well-functioning website navigation system can make or break a user experience. We’ve seen this first-hand – sites that have poor navigation tend to result in high bounce rates, low click-through rates, and various other issues.
To make your navigation simple and easy to understand, consider:
- Using short and descriptive labels for your navigation elements.
- Avoiding drop-down menus. Drop-down menus may look nice, but they tend to feel clunky and they result in users skipping important pages on your site.
- Avoiding too many navigation elements. If your site has hundreds of links in the header, the readers will simply abandon your site as they will not be able to find the content they are looking for.
Use a home page link inside the main navigation
While this usability tip is up to debate, our personal experience has still shown that a homepage link in the top navigation bar helps users find the homepage more easily.
The young demographic, for the most part, already knows that the business logo will direct them to the homepage. In their case, removing the homepage link might be justified.
If, however, your site targets an older demographic, you’re in for some trouble if you don’t put a homepage link into your navigation bar. People who are not tech-savvy usually don’t understand that the logo serves as a link to the homepage, and if you don’t have a flashing “HOME” button in front of their eyes, they will never find their way home.
Place your most important content high on the page
Contrary to popular saying, it’s not worth to save the best for last when it comes to web usability. Instead, make sure to place the most important content high on the page. Especially if you are trying to get your readers to click on a button or to take something specific away from the page. If the important elements of a page are buried deep within the page, they will never be found.
Think of a newspaper: the top story is always prominently displayed above the fold. The “best” story is never found buried somewhere in the final section of a newspaper.
Keep the website design consistent
This is an important usability tip. Stay consistent. Pick a template you’re satisfied with and stick with it. Websites that have constantly changing elements are very confusing to navigate and they result in fewer repeat visitors.
Visitors of a website should be able to predict the location of important page elements after visiting just one page in your site. They should never click on an internal link in your site and wonder if they’ve left your web site because of a radically different design. Choose your colors, locations, and fonts carefully and use them consistently throughout the site.
Don’t use splash pages
Unless your entire website was designed as a splash page (a single-page site), don’t annoy visitors by surprising them with a full-page ad when they’re expecting your website.
Instead, put the promotion content on your home page, so it’s still immediately-visible while giving visitors the choice on whether to act on it or not. For example, if the visitor is in a hurry and wants to click on a menu item, they will not have the time to shift through dozens and dozens of paragraphs of ad content.
Use a clear and short domain name
The domain is the lifeblood of a website and it can make or break a site. Make sure to pick a domain that is related to your field of work, and try to avoid unnecessarily long domain names.
“yourtoprooferserviceincalifornia24.com” might seem like a fantastic name to some, but 99% of visitors will never remember the full name of such a domain. And, these 99% of visitors will never become repeat visitors as a result.
Having clear and short permalinks on your website not only makes it easier for people to share the URLs – since they fit easier in places where they’re pasted – but you reassure them what they’re reading or about to read, since they can clearly see what the page/post will be about, rather than a bunch of gibberish like numbers and symbols.
Don’t worry about the vertical scrolling
There has long been a myth that all of your important content should be above “the fold,” a term borrowed from newspapers that refers to the area of a web page that can be seen without having to scroll down.
So, are long pages bad? Should we cram everything at the top of our web layouts because people won’t ever read anything below this fold?
The answer is “No” according to a report by Clicktale, a web analytics company. Their results showed that the length of the page has no influence in the likelihood that a user will scroll down the page.
So don’t load too much intense content on the first section of your site. By having a more clear navigation, you will invite users to scroll down the page.
But, at the same time, keep in mind our previous usability tip that suggested placing the most important content high on your pages. Make sure your most important take-away is easy to find, but it does not necessarily have to be “above the fold”.
Don’t use misleading links & UI controls
Don’t design graphic elements that looks like a button, but is 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 eventually leave. One other important usability tip regarding UI controls is consistency:
Structure your typography carefully
Typography is another whole can of worms included in the subset of design. You don’t need to master creating your own font or how to display individual custom letters in digital text. However as a designer holding a basic understanding of typography with usability tactics can work wonders. A poisonous myth passed around the design communi-ty is how great smaller font sizes are. Arial set to 11px may look clean and professional but it’s awful when it comes to user experience. Setting your paragraphs to a more-than-readable size is highly recommended, especially with mobile users growing.
Be sure to add plenty of breathing room between your page content as well. Nobody wants to try and read 15 paragraphs of tightly bunched-up text split by a few headings. The CSS line-height property is a very useful yet under-utilized setting. This property sets how much space is placed between each line in a paragraph or in headings and other typographic elements.
When you get into developing page styles with CSS the workload is much simpler. By this I mean it’s much simpler to change a numerical value in your CSS compared to editing an entire PSD document. Try messing around with different values of line-height to see which works best for your design.