A usable Web site means that users can easily read your online information. The other side to usability is that it can increase your search engine rankings so more people can find your Web site.
Here are some ways you can take a fresh look at your website every day to ensure maximum usability:
1. Content and Readability
Make content easy to scan. Format your content so that it’s easy to scan. Emphasize important points (or product characteristics) using headlines, bullets, lists and frequent paragraph breaks.
Place important content close to the top of the page. Check your page display at in a number of different screen resolutions to make sure that your most important content is visible when the page loads.
Add ALT and TITLE Attributes to all images. Each image should have a descriptive ALT attribute (to allow visitors who are blind or who have graphics turned off to find important links) and TITLE attribute associated with it.
URLs are meaningful and user-friendly. Meaningful keyword-based URLs are generally good for both visitors and search engines. Get new URLs and make them descriptive and friendly.
The page name is often the largest text on the page which clearly emphasizes its importance. Visually, the name of a page should appear to be framing the content unique to that page, prominently placed and styled to show that it is indeed the page heading.
2. Site Identity
Can your visitors tell immediately “What do you do” and “Why should I trust you” while visiting your site? A strong brand creates or reinforces a user’s impression of the site. The following list can help you create your web site identity:
Company logo prominently placed. Put your logo or brand where it’s easy to find, usually it is the upper-left corner of the screen. It’s also very important that the logo links back to the home page.
Tagline. Taglines are a great way to explain the purpose of a site to a user quickly. It’s just a small text shown right next to the site logo, usually no more than a few words. Taglines are not mottos which describe motivation or intention, but instead descriptions that convey the point of something.
About us page. Your “About us” page gives you an opportunity to persuade new visitors to stick around. “About us” is important on the web and people need an easy way to learn more about you.
Contact information. Similarly, visitors want to know that they can get in touch with you if they need to. It’s also hard to do business if no one can contact you. Preferably, list your contact information as text (not in an image) – it’ll get picked up by search engines, including local searches.
Online help and user guidelines. Design your site so that it requires minimal help and instructions and if needed, they are easily accessible.
Page layout and design are important as people expect things to be in a certain place on a Web site. This means content in the center of the page, a header at the top, navigation across the top or on the left, a page title, a logo in the top left hand corner and some other design features that make all of it look attractive.
Remember that graphics can often be only supplementary to a Web site and should never get in the way of users:
• Make sure that there is enough contrast between background and text. Black text on a white background is the easiest color combination to read. Light text on a light background or dark text on a dark background is not acceptable.
• Keep the design from scrolling. The most important elements of your site visible without scrolling up and down or from side to side on screens set to 600 x 800 size.
• Your content is less than 2/3 a screen-length wide. 50% of the screen or less is ideal for readability, though it might be necessary to justify the text if you want to go really narrow.
According to Web usability expert, Jakob Nielsen, a good navigation system should answer three questions:
1. Where am I?
2. Where have I been?
3. Where can I go?
For your navigation system be able to correspond these requirements, try to apply the following basic elements:
• Keep it clear and consistent. The navigation system should be in the same place on every page and have the same format.
• Put the navigational links close to the top of the screen. Things that you want readers to use most often should always be easily accessible. There is a three click rule that says you should be able to find what you want on a site within three clicks from the home page. Essential navigational elements should never be treated like clutter.
• Use appropriate text inside links. Don’t make your visitors guess where a link is going to take them. Use no links with the dreaded text “click here” or “more”. It’s essential that readers have a specific idea where each link will lead.
• Include a home page link inside your main navigation system. Visitors may enter your site via an internal page, but hopefully they’ll want to head for the home page next.
• Link from your articles to other relevant articles in this way you make sure that the search engines will find all your content and index it as well.
• Site logo links to home page. Include your logo somewhere at the top of every page – generally it is in the top, left-hand corner. Visitors expect this logo to be a link to your site’s home page.
• Emphasize text links. The most effective way to ensure this is to double-format your links by changing both the color and the style of the hyperlinked text. Using blue color or underlined text seems to be the most reasonable as studies have shown that blue-underlined text is the most reliable indicator of links and provide the most click-throughs.
• Include a site search facility which helps visitors quickly find the information on your web site they want. Make the search box prominent.
• Add a site map. Large or complex sites should always have a Static HTML Sitemap in addition to text links. Every page should contain a text link to the site map. It will help users have a quick overview of the site.
This section contains accessibility issues that might keep a visitor from being able to access the information on a website:
• Scripts, applets, & plug-ins. Alternative content is provided for scripts, applets, and plug-ins in case these active features are inaccessible or unsupported. Sticking to standard HTML/CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) used for layout also a plus for search engines.
• Images and animations. The attribute ALT= is used for images, animations, and other objects.
• Load time. Page load time is the crucial issue today. The fact is that fresh new information should be only a matter of few clicks. Make sure that pages load quickly (3 to 6 seconds) on standard modem connections.
• Frames. For frames pages, site includes the NOFRAMES option and meaningful titles.
• Multimedia. Site provides captioning and transcripts of audio and descriptions of video.
• Browser compatibility. One browser may display things slightly differently to another browser or in some cases not at all. That is why a web site should always be developed with cross browser compatibility in mind and tested in Internet Explorer and Fire Fox at the very least. Anybrowser.com offers a variety of tools that help you to make sure your Web site is compatible with multiple browsers.
• Site has custom not-found/404 Page. If a page on your site doesn’t exist, create a custom 404 page, preferably one that guides your visitors to content.
• Also you want to be sure that your Web site is designed with different screen resolutions in mind. Overall, computer users are trending toward higher resolutions, therefore it advisable to do so with your screen set to 1024 x 768.