13 website usability tips to get you started...

It goes without saying that some forms of usability are intrinsically linked with good SEO (Alt Tags, custom 404 pages) - but sometimes we as SEOs forget about how important usability is for keeping users happy. An unhappy visitor is likely to forget all about your site if their first visit is disastrous. With this in mind I have a usability review that I use with clients to help them understand how other people are going to interact with their site. There is no point spending precious time and money on an Internet Marketing campaign to get the traffic if they are going to leave your site dissatisfied.


image via: uservision.co.uk

So, whether you are a seasoned SEO (these tips should serve as a reminder of the main points of website usability) or the owner of a website (these tips should point you in the right direction for a more successful site) print off these tips to ensure you aren't missing a trick. As always, this isn't meant to be a definitive list - merely a quick checklist to help you on your way.

Never forget that internet users are impatient

1. Is your site loading quick enough? Not only do users want information, they want it yesterday. And we all know that Google understands the importance of this as it is now part of the algorithm. Head to WebsiteOptimzation for more help and whole bunch of great recommendations.

2. Have you got a custom 404 page? If people can't find what they are after they will be off. the best 404 pages combine usefulness with great design - but remember usability first, design second - help your users find what they are after. These guys have a nice selection of custom 404 pages.

3. Does your logo link back to your Home Page? Not so many years ago this wasn't normal protocol...now it is and people expect it. If a user gets lost on your site they will always be able to find there way home.

4. Is it easy to find your contact information? I still come across sites where the contact details are hidden away, make it easy for people to contact you (for whatever reason), don't be shy! The user wants the information and they want it now!

5. Have you got a search function? I still find it amazing that not all sites have a search function - not everyone has the time to browse around until they happen across what it is they wanted. Website owners tend to forget that the people visiting the site do not know it like they do ("oh yes, the pencil sharpeners?...you just click on products, then office supplies, then extras, then pencil-related extras, then pencil sharpeners...it's easy" - er, no it isn't!). Check out this great post on search box design.

Internet users do not read your stuff

This always comes as a surprise to website owners at the start of their journey, but that doesn't mean you neglect text altogether (definitely not from an SEO point of view).

6. Can the user digest your Home Page in a few seconds? Get your key points across quickly and make sure that a user can understand the essence of your site swiftly. I am not advocating a text-less Home Page, merely saying that you should design it so it easily digestible, otherwise you may lose visitors very rapidly.

7. Make sure you logo is visible and clear, probably in the top left corner (its conventional, so don't change the position unless you have a good reason to). Internet users have slowly become used to these conventions (based intuitively on newspapers and other forms of written text) and breaking them can cause confusion.

8. Make sure that your pages can be easily scanned by the human eye - if you think about your behaviour on the Internet you are scanning until you find something (a link, a picture etc.) that resembles what it is you are looking for. Don't overload your page irrelevant text and hundreds of links, it will just lead to confusion.


image via: pointofview.bluehighways.com

9. Make sure your main points are above the fold - users may not even have the inclination to scroll down your page - get your main Calls to Action above the fold.

10. Make sure your navigation is clear and concise and understandable.

confusing road signs

image via: jokesandhumor.com

Internet users fear change

11. Be consistent, all the time - your navigation, your design, your message, your links, your Calls to Action, your URL's, your fonts, your body copy style, your voice, your tag lines, styles, colours...just be consistent, make the user know that you know what you are doing and that they can trust you.

12. Do not opt for radical design - go instead for a useful site that just happens to look beautiful as well.

Internet users want everything to be easy

13. And that means everything, especially an easy to understand and short payment process - it is crucial that you do not spill customers along the way. Tell them how much they have to fill and what details to have ready - make it as painless as possible.

So there you have 13 essential tips for cracking website usability, whilst there are many more things for you to consider (font size, type and spacing, flash, add ons, meaningful URL's, contact forms, questionnaires, headings and much, much more), I think this enough to set you on your way!