Visitor engagement is the main benefit of a usability focused website. A positive user experience creates an environment that encourages your visitors to engage the content they were looking for, as well as other content you offer. Usability helps tune your site to create a positive user experience not only for your clients, but for you as well, saving you time in the short run and money in the long run. A usability focused website should help your rankings with your visitors and with search engines.
The goal of this page is to provide a resource for my clients, potential clients and visitors regarding usability. In particular, things to keep an eye out for with your designer, and also things you can do to increase the accessibility of your site.
The Benefits: Why Usability Should Be a Central Focus for Your Web Design
Usability should be a central concern for your design if you want:
Your visitors to engage you on your site,
A website that is easy for you to update,
A site that is in a better position to get good search engine results page rankings (SERP).
With usability central to your web design you will get a site that accounts for the tasks that both you and your visitors will be accomplishing on your site.
Why is it important to account for these tasks?
Because, central to the goals your visitors will be trying to accomplish on your site, and your goals for them, are the tasks that each of you need to perform in order to accomplish them. An atmosphere of engagement can arise from catering to these tasks.
Your marketing, SEO and promotion efforts will bring visitors on your site. Usability addresses what your visitors will be doing when they have arrived.
Once they have landed on your site:
- You have what they are looking for
- Your page is easy to navigate and interact with
- They can discover new things they might be interested in
Then – your website better positions your visitors to engage with you.
Search engines like Google and Bing have spent lots of time and effort into discovering and putting algorithms behind the qualities that make for a good user experience. Having a usability focused site will allow your site the benefit of better rankings from search engines. With usability as a central theme in your design you will have a site that addresses many of the needs for both your visitors and search engines.
Example of a small business and usability:
Imagine if you have a small painting company that primarily paints houses. But, you also do highly customized art style painting for kids rooms, or even adults. Heck you even do painting for businesses. Each of these options would cover even more specific options, specific types of painting for businesses for example.
Your services will be more usable with a ‘services’ drop down menu that has each of your main services listed. Each main page for each main service could have sections devoted to what your visitors will be looking for. This will aid in the discoverability of your site content.
The addition of each services page increases the likelihood that your visitors from search engines, or your site search functionality, will connect them to the content they are looking for.
Example of Arts and Entertainment Website and Usability:
If you have ever searched online for a recipe you’ll know the dire state of affairs regarding culinary websites (if you know of some great functioning culinary sites, feel free to email them to me and I’ll check them out). The short version is this, put your recipe and instructions at the top of the page.
How is recipe placement a usability issue?
Visitors to your recipe page are looking to skim your recipe. They might be checking recipes on five other tabs as well. Forcing your visitors to scroll down a fairly long page of pictures and anecdotes about making the recipe makes for an unpleasant first visit.
This will help to avoid the risk of having your site blacklisted by your visitors because it is such a headache to use, and sets the stage for return visits.
Culinary websites are among the most offensive to use sites I have come across. For some unknown reason there seems to be a trend to make what you are looking for very hard to find and on top of that to have no regard for the load time of their sites. It’s not uncommon to visit a culinary site and have an ice age load time to begin with, only to have to endure the same wait time as you scroll down the page.
A few things that should be important when getting or maintaining your website:
- Fast Load Times
- Effective structure harmonized with useful search functionality
- Effective content structure
What You Want, How to Get It and You Might Also Like
Usability is about how your visitors get what they want. It can also be about how they discover other things of interest on your site.
Visitors should be able to quickly find why they landed on your page. Making it easy to find what your visitors are looking for is a quick way to establish credibility. Additionally you are letting them know that discovering more of what you offer will be an easy task to accomplish.
A section that recommends a few of the other pages on your site (that are relevant) will help to increase the discoverability of your site. Sections like these can introduce your visitors to things they might be looking for but don’t know it, or don’t know how to ask to look for it.
Don’t make your visitors hunt. If they have to hunt, your search functionality and results should be easy for them to use and engage.
Add a section to your pages (where appropriate) that provides other relevant items of interest to your visitors.
Are there other pages that your visitors to this page might be interested in?
How easy is it for them to find them?
Would they know these pages existed?
Keep it to a relatively small number.
Are there other sites that they might benefit from that you could link to?
Where Creativity Meets Usability
Creativity meets usability where it aids in the tasks your visitors need to accomplish.
Creativity in design should be directed to meet user needs and your goals. Your design should aid in the tasks your visitors need to accomplish.
It’s not a matter of creativity versus familiarity. Familiarity in design has been shown in research, to be a key ingredient in how users determine the quality of the pages they experience. Your website should benefit from the expectations users have rightfully earned from years of perusing the web.
Creativity, mixed into a usability focused and familiar design, should distinguish you in your industry and exceed the needs of your visitors.
How Content Design Impacts Its Usability
You have something that will make life easier and/or better for your clients.
Don’t put obstacles between your visitors and the goals the reason they came to your site.
Do make your content as accessible as possible for your visitors.
There are many things you can do to increase how accessible your content is.
Content Design and Fonts
Computer screens were of such low resolution that the serif font was all but banished from the web. It is still generally advised by many to avoid the serif font. If you do decide to use a serif font you will be in good company. Screen resolution has come a very long way.
A font that is easy to read is a better font choice than a super nice looking font that makes people want to tear their eyeballs out after a paragraph because it’s difficult to read, or worse leave the site. Admirable page content design includes font selection that doesn’t distract or detract from a users experience.
The font style, color and size of headings helps to quickly distinguish where new and returning users should look. Most visitors will scan a page, up to 79% in fact. Headings help to anchor, organize and prioritize content to accommodate web user behavior. It should be easy for visitors to scan a headline and transition into the following paragraphs if they choose to.
Font trends, like most other web design trends appear, and disappear quickly. Readability is the priority when it comes to font selection. After all, you want your visitors engaging your content, not being distracted by your font.
Fonts should be easy to read. For body copy a minimum of 16px (or appropriate em or rem) should be used. The priority of font sizing is to allow users to quickly anchor, organize, access and prioritize the page content. Ideally it would be so quick that a user won’t even have to think about what they’re doing.
Font size is a usability issue especially for mobile devices. Font size has a great impact on content accessibility.
A rule of thumb: If your fonts make your content hard to read, your visitors probably won’t read it.
Font color should contrast well with the background for ease of use. While there is some wiggle room from a typical black text white background the main focus should be allowing the text to be highly readable. Avoid a color contrast that is abrasive. Avoid making your user squint or feel like they want to look away from the text.
Content Design and Structure
Users have formed web expectations without a thought for your site. They have developed these expectations from years of navigating good and poorly designed sites. There are mediums where surprise and novelty have a decent value, on the whole, the web is not one of them.
How quick a user is able to learn how to use your site increases the quality of experience they have when engaging your site. This inclines them to engage more of your site, or not. A good way to benefit from this is to design your site and content in good ways that users have already learned. There is no need to reinvent the content wheel. I discuss the value of first impressions elsewhere.
A few examples of good and familiar content structure would be:
The Inverted Pyramid – Lead with the ending. This accommodates users that scan your page (up to 80%). The inverted pyramid content structure also organizes your content up front for quick accessibility for those that will read your content.
One Idea Per Paragraph – Attention is short on the web. Keep your content clear and concise by including one main idea per paragraph.
Concise – Say what you mean to say. Include only a few paragraphs per sub-heading to increase usability and to help organize content.
I included some additional reading at the bottom of the page if you want to learn more about content design.
How Usable is Your Site for You
If you are managing or planning to manage a website you know or soon will that time is of the essence. Your site should be easy for you to update and manage. Your site should not take extra time away from you by being cumbersome, confusing and difficult to use. To this end, I craft the backend of your site (where you will run it) specially for your needs.
Ready to get a usability focused website? Get a consult.
Some Great Articles and Guides
(Links leave site)
“How Users Read on the Web” by Jakob Nielsen
“Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing” courtesy of Moz.com
“25% of Websites Are Now on WordPress” by Joann McFarland