Improving the Usability of Your Website

The term “Usability” scares me. It’s a small word with a very large meaning. In context of websites, an entire industry has formed – called User Experience (UX) – around the idea of improving how visitors to your site can interact and consume the content. If you can make it easy to find what they’re looking for, they’re more likely to hang around and continue reading/watching/interacting. Such a huge impact for such an ordinary word.

In light of the big implications of usability, this article discusses some of the higher level concepts around UX, and in doing so gives you some practical steps to improve the usability of your site today.

Check on Several Versions of Browsers

Improving the Usability of Your Website

The browser you use is not the only one that visitors to your site will be using. Make sure that that your website does not look terrible on any browsers, and if it does, make the appropriate changes. For example, check your site on Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and use mobile devices (Android and Apple) to see how your site translates. You may find that certain elements don’t load properly, such as Flash, on mobile devices. You may need to build a completely different version of your website for mobile accessibility.

Stick with One Color Scheme

Improving the Usability of Your Website

A consistent color scheme not only is more attractive but it will also support your brand. Choose 2-6 colors that work very well together and do not vary them from page to page. Also be sure that the color scheme you choose represents your business well. This is where CSS can play a big part in making it easy to quickly brand or re-brand your site.

Choose Consistent Image Sizes

Improving the Usability of Your Website


Your website will make more sense if the image sizes are consistent. Use the same size for all of your thumbnails. Make all of your product pictures the same size. And use the same size for all of your extra images. Of course there are exceptions, such as your header graphics or sidebar images. But keep consistent whenever possible.

Use Minimal Fonts

Improving the Usability of Your Website

The more fonts you use, the more cluttered and unprofessional your website will look. Stick with two or three font styles and sizes and use them consistently throughout. For instance, use the same font and size for titles/subtitles and the same font and size for text. Consistency is the key and will improve the ability for users to decide what information on the page is important.

Create Easy Navigation

Improving the Usability of Your Website

Using standard navigation elements like a nav bar at the top of the site with common terms like “home”, “about”, and “contact” help users quickly find critical content. Search tools are a must these days as users often have a specific product or service they’re looking for. The key is to make these tools easy to find so visitors can get to the content they want.

Use a Fluid Layout

Improving the Usability of Your Website

A fluid layout allows more of your website to be viewed on a larger screen. Fixed layouts can be just inconvenient enough to chase away potential customers. With the use of mobile and handheld devices – generally speaking a much broader array of screen sizes – it’s critical that your site adapts to the user and makes it easy for them to see everything.

Feedback Interaction

Improving the Usability of Your Website

Have you ever tried to fill out a form and mistyped your email address, and there was either no explanation for your error or else simply a “form was filled out incorrectly” message without further explanation? This is an example of poor feedback interaction on elements like forms or search results. Take the time to make forms, searches, and more as easy as possible for users.

“Usability.” What a nice-sounding word. But visitors will not use nice words to describe your site if the usability is sub-par. Even worse, they will leave never to return. UX is a very important part of website design, so be sure to follow the advice of top UX designers or else hire a professional to ensure that the functionality of your website never gives visitors a reason leave you lonely.

About the Author:

Tara Hornor has a degree in English and has found her niche writing about marketing, advertising, branding, graphic design, and desktop publishing. She writes for PrintPlace.com, a company that offers online printing for business cards, catalog printing, posters, brochures, postcard printing, and more printed marketing media. In addition to her writing career, Tara also enjoys spending time with her husband and two children.

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9 Responses

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  • Joe Elliott, June 15, 2012

    Hi Tara,

    Great tips here, I think the fluid layout is going to become more used than a fixed soon, heard a lot about it. I’m still stuck on the fixed layout.

    Thanks
    Joe

  • Andy @ FirstFound, June 18, 2012

    Browsers is key. I can’t remember how many times I’ve noticed that a great design won’t work in IE.

    In a perfect world, nobody would use such a bad browser, but we don’t live in a perfect world.

  • Andy Smith, June 18, 2012

    Very nice article, it’s important to get these things right, right from the launch of the website. Too many custom fonts as well can also slow the loading of a website, again bad for usability.

    I definitely think more and more websites will be built with a responsive design in mind, rather than building separate websites for both web and mobile. Just in terms of maintenance it makes life so much easier. And with more and more different sized screens out there, a good responsive design is key.

    We wrote an article on the subject a while back: http://www.creode.co.uk/blog/responsive-design-vs-dedicated-mobile-sites/

  • Tara Hornor, June 19, 2012

    @Joe Elliott – I know…it’s hard to move away from a fixed layout, especially after it being used for so long. I agree, though, that fluid is going to become the norm very soon.

  • Alex Braker, June 20, 2012

    As Tara said in the website the main factor is the navigation and layout of the website. You should create the easy navigation through which users can easily use the website and other one is that you should create the website user friendly through which users can easily move from one page to another within a site.

  • Maneet Puri, June 27, 2012

    Hey Tara, really nice post! I feel that having a responsive web design is never enough to improve the usability of your website, which is why I found your first point really interesting. C’mon, some of us do use IE and if a so called great website is not working in IE then, I would term that website as bad investment. Similarly, instead of going for a rainbow, one should stick to a single and elegant color that goes well with your website theme.

  • Tara Hornor, July 1, 2012

    @Andy Smith – I completely agree that responsive design is going to become the major trend in upcoming years. Not only is this less work for the designer (since only one design is needed), the website is still easily recognized and therefore easier to use.

  • Tara Hornor, July 1, 2012

    @Maneet Puri – Exactly! What’s the point of having a website if it doesn’t work in main browsers? And I completely agree that colors should be limited to only a few, with only one or two main colors for the majority of the design.

  • Rocka, July 22, 2012

    I think the most challenging is making a design fits all browsers. With increasing number of mobile users, and each mobile devices behave differently with each browsers. Keeping a design simple and fluid to work in most browsers and screen sizes is very important. Especially when you run a shopping cart, we don’t want buyers to walk away from our online shop just because the shop is not working in mobile devices.

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