Web Site Usability

Ten Tips That Will Save Your Web Site - By Lazar Dzamic

At the beginning of the human-computer interactions, a new breed of scientists has emerged: experts who have studied how people interact with computers and how we need to design computer interfaces in order to make those interactions as easy and as intuitive as possible. The importance of usability has shot to prominence with the advent of websites, especially those aimed at selling (e-commerce) goods and services. To put it simply, usability of your website is what makes it a steady business or a quick failure. In the words of Jacob Nielsen, a world’s leading authority in usability: "If they can’t use it, they won’t use it."

  • Your website is not what you think
    A successful website is more than just a bunch of HTML code. More than your carefully conceived business plan. And more than a list of products and services you offer on it. It is a small window, usually only 800x600 pixels in dimension, a small operating panel that your users have at their disposal to try to control sometimes an enormously complex machine called the website. They don’t have the techie knowledge of your developers. They’re not smart in site architecture. They just have that small space to try to find their way around and are very easily lost. If controls are complicated, they will abandon it quickly.
  • Good usability is invisible
    It is like walking: you don’t think about it. It is the same with using a well done website, with excellent usability: you go in, do whatever you want to do without even thinking about what to do and how, and then come out of the site. Everything’s clear, everything’s logical. No question marks above the user’s head ("What should I do next?").
  • "Stickiness" has to be matched with "Slipperiness"
    There are areas of the site when it is in your interest to allow your visitor to go through as quickly as possible. Checkout, for example, is the crucial ‘slippery’ area of the site. Shopping basket is another one. Even search results.
  • Brand boldly and unambiguously
    Let your users know in a second that they are on the right site and that they can do there everything they initially intended to do. Site logo, the tagline and a short welcome paragraph are the most important initial elements. Colours and other branding elements have to be the same as in the off-line world.
  • Titles have to be self-explanatory
    The user should be able to precisely say what’s the content behind each title. No ‘clever’ word plays, no ‘creative’ treatment. It has to do what is ‘says on a tin’. The title of the page that one landed to after clicking on a link has to match the previous link.
  • Loading speed of pages is crucial for experience
    Many research reports show that. Try to make pages quick to load and load always text and links first, images later. That way, your users will still be able to find what they need and click to go through, even if the whole page is still not loaded.
  • Always use clearly explained and worded "Alt tags"
    What are "Alt tags"? You know those small yellow boxes that appear if you hold your mouse above any image or a graphic element on the web page? That’s it. Alt tags are crucial for people who are visually impaired and use the speech browser to surf the web. Alt tag boxes tell them (literally) what kind of an image is on that particular place on the page.
  • Your navigation IS your website
    There is no physical space on the Web. So, navigation actually makes the ‘space’ that your user will discover and define as your website. The better and simpler the navigation, the better the experience. Whenever possible use ‘horizontal’ navigation rather than ‘vertical’: place links to all your important areas on the home page, instead making the user to dig down through the site to find them.
  • Images produced for the offline brochures often don’t work on the Web
    The contrast, the colours and the light for the brochure photos very often don’t work well on the screen, as people can’t see the texture of your products or the material they’re made of. Also, make sure that the background used for product shots push the product itself in an appealing way.
  • Use the ‘hangover test’ to see what’s wrong with your site

When having a headache or a hangover, one’s perception and patience is vastly reduced. A perfect set up for testing usability! It looks like a joke, but it isn’t: the general audience behaves in a similar way, with an attention span that is reducing all the time. If you can’t convey your story and initiate the journey in just a few seconds, it may happen that they will go away.

And finally, allow 5-10% of your development budget on testing usability. It could be the best investment you’ve ever made.

Lazar Dzamic
Digital Strategist
EHS Brann
London, UK