Some business owners are too far inside their business to effectively test their own website usability. No matter how great your web developer or technical team are, the ONLY reliable measure of website usability comes from outside visitors. And preferably ones who are time poor, not particularly web savvy and even a little bit impatient.
According to this proven guru of internet and website usability, there are three things that a visitor to your site must always be able to identify:
This means your branding and design must be integrated and consistent. Your linking and navigation must be clear and easy to follow. Get these key aspects right, you will rate well on website usability - which keeps people at your site longer and makes it more likely that they will return.
Make sure your navigation system is in the same place and follows the same pattern on every page. Web users tend to think in 'blocks' of information so as much as possible provide your information in easy to navigate blocks or silos. Website usability depends on users not having to THINK too much on each page about how to find what they are looking for.
Make sure your designer and/or developer have covered off the basics of website usability. Is your navigation bar and drop down lists visible on the major browsers? Is your text colour, size and font easy to read? Avoid too much Flash or other technology that may slow down page load time or be invisible to certain visitors (sight impaired visitors use software that only reads HTML text).
Content is the key to website usability. And HTML text makes for the best content - both in front of and behind the scenes.
This means you need to add ALT tags or TITLE attributes to your images, buttons and other media. Search engine spiders do not read images, video or graphics. And visitors with slower systems can click through based on your tags if they do not want to wait for graphics etc to upload.
Link titles on navigation bars should make it clear where that link will take you. Don't be obscure. Links within text also help many readers engage and dig a little deeper into your site. Again, be clear and unambiguous with link titles. Try and make them active, useful words more often than generic commands (such as the ubiquitous 'click here').
If you don't like the standard underlined links you can create different styles, colours and fonts with CSS (cascading style sheets). But don't get too adventurous. Your visitors value website usability over any tricky design features.
This trio is a good foundation for website usability. Visitors should always be able to see how to get to your home page (especially important if they have landed on a content page after a search). Try and link brand logos to your home page if possible.
A good search box helps people quickly find specific information. Be wary of 'search the web' boxes as this may bounce people out away from your site unnecessarily.
A text-based site map is essential for search engines and also gives your visitors a visual blue-print of site. Again - a crucial part of website usability.
The best way to test website usability is to ask the people using your site. Provide simple feedback forms (that don't demand too much time or information). You will be amazed how many people are willing to click through a few questions to rate your site - if it is easy, obvious and especially if your site has been helpful.
For an objective and complete assessment of your website usability contact us . There may be a few simple steps you can take that will move your website from competent to outstanding.