10 Web Usability Improvements

August 1st, 2009 | Author: Chip

Based on my latest reports, it seems that users type the web address or even the site name directly into the search engine. For example, typing youtube in Google will return a list of results. The first one is http://www.youtube.com/.

The first improvement you can bring a web site is a search function (obviously, if the site did not have one). Half of all users are search-dominant and will usually head straight for the search function. This is especially true on large web sites that update their content regularly. If the site has a search function, try to improve it and to emphasize it for your users.

The second improvement is to reduce the loading time. There are numerous plugins for Firefox that help seeing slow loading elements and suggest ways to fix them. Make your images smaller and use correct formats for them. For example, use 8-bit PNG files for icons and buttons, 24-bit PNG files for transparency and opacity based images or graphic elements, and JPG files for photos.

The third improvement is a correct and valid web structure, and a scannable page. Remember that reading a web page is not like reading a book. Use headings, paragraphs, ordered or unordered lists, bold and italic sentences.

The fourth improvement is correct link design. Either nice, shiny, coloured, glossy buttons or standard blue links, Your web site should present links in a smart manner, and lead the user through them to the landing page. Non-link text should be made bold or enlarged so that it stands out – don’t make it a different colour. Graphic-based links should be adjacent to text-based-links or have text embedded in them. A graphic that refers to, and is adjacent to, a text-based link should be a link itself.

The fifth improvement are 404 pages. Smart and simple, they should exist either by web site script functions, or by .htaccess declarations. The page should be self-explanatory and tell the user that the page does not exist. Also, provide a search engine and a list of possible destinations. A large heading with 404 error will make them hit the back button and go to the next search result. I’ve seen it.

The sixth improvement is something I don’t really use, but you should do as I say not as I do. Use all CSS link states, especially the visited ones. Visitors may find it useful to know where they have already been, especially on a large site with many links.

The seventh improvement is getting rid of an old school technique of assembling a web site, frames. Or iframes. There’s no point in explaining why frames are deprecated and why you should replace them with divs with AJAX calls, or redesign your site. Contact us, we might help you. We will definitely help you.

The eighth improvement is a smart navigation system and breadcrumbs feature. Disable current page links in order to help the user know where he is, and emphasize it in the breadcrumbs. If site visitors click on a link that takes them back to the same page it wastes their time, they may doubt whether they were really at the location they thought they were at, and they may become confused, particularly if the page is scrolled back to the top.

The ninth improvement is getting rid of large images and backgrounds and replacing them with tileable textures and small icons. Text downloads and renders on the screen first, followed by images. There can sometimes be a sizable time gap between the text and the last graphic appearing on-screen, especially for those graphics towards the right and bottom of the screen. The faster the page loads, the faster the user reaches the landing page. And that’s what you want, right?

The tenth improvement is never to go against design conventions and standards. Coloured and Javascripted scrolling systems, unusual icons and cursors, wacky navigation, even an unusual web page structure may confuse the user to the point of no return.

Watch out the bounce rate of your visitors and take care of your web site the way you should. Make it usable both for modem and for broadband users. Use smart innovative features and provide help where it is necessary. Do a lot of beta-testing for your web site before launching it. Use your friends and your family. Non-technical people can be more valuable regarding usability feedback, than a skilled webmaster.


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