The most important element of your website is usability. A website with excellent usability will inspire customers and potential customers to return in the future and recommend your site to others. How user-friendly is your website?
Why Is Usability So Important?
If you were asked to describe your favorite website, what are some of the factors you would use in your description? Would you describe how easy it is to quickly scan and read content? Would you describe the colors and contrast as inviting and “easy on the eyes”? Are you able to quickly find and navigate to new pages and sections of the site? Finally, if you accidentally fill out a form incorrectly, does the site quickly show you how to fix the error or omission?
Many Websites Lack Good Usability
While each of these elements appear to be obvious and logical, many websites on the World Wide Web have poor usability. In some cases the website is old and was designed when web browsers and HTML were less flexible and capable. In other cases the site may have been designed quickly and carelessly, or perhaps the original designer disregarded basic concepts of usability. Finally, there are many website designers who attempted to create an original and novel design for their sites; sometimes these unique designs ended up causing visitors to be confused and frustrated navigating the site.
There are a few core concepts and elements to website usability, and by understanding and implementing these concepts and elements, you can create or redesign your website to be more usable and appealing to your site visitors and customers.
Where Should I Begin?
The first step to measuring the usability of your website is to simply test it yourself. You may have already viewed your website hundreds or even thousands of times, but begin by setting that familiarity aside and visit your website with a fresh set of eyes. Pretend you are a potential customer who has found your website through a search engine. Is your website pleasing to view? Are the text and images formatted correctly and organized in a logical fashion? If you want to find a specific piece of information, such as your hours of operation or your pricing guide, are you able to quickly and easily find the links to that information?
Formatting and Architecture
You may have noticed that one of the fundamental concepts of usability is the formatting and architecture of your content. While it is true that modern websites often employ flashy graphics, multimedia and high-resolution images, the basic concept of the World Wide Web has not changed over the decades since its inception – it was designed to easily facilitate the sharing of information. Therefore, the proper structure, organization and presentation of your “information”, or content, is paramount to the user experience.
Many web development programs, CMS platforms, and blogging software have “themes”, or standardized and prepackaged website designs, included as a default design option. Almost all of these themes were designed using basic usability concepts and best practices, therefore most modern websites that employ these platforms are already user-friendly to a certain extent – even if the website was created quickly or haphazardly and with little to no regard for the design. For instance, the WordPress blogging software comes with a default theme called “Twenty Thirteen” for blogs. MediaWiki, the free and open source wiki software used to power Wikipedia, included four default “skins”, which allow anyone who sets up a wiki-style website to utilize the core Wikipedia user interface.
What Are Some Of The Other Factors Of A User-Friendly Website?
I’m Not Happy With My Website’s Usability. What Should I Do?
Before you attempt to make major changes to your website or scrap it completely and start over, it is important to determine if your website’s usability deficiencies are superficial or fundamental. If there are usability issues related to the design elements of your website, but the core content is well-organized and the basic coding of the website is clean and efficient, fixing the usability issues may be as simple as installing a new theme, or adding a new set of colors or tweaking the navigational elements of your existing design. However, if your website has fundamental usability issues, such as broken markup and code or disorganized content, you may need to completely overhaul your site. This may include transiting to a new CMS platform or blogging software or even deploying a completely new, professionally-designed website.