Website Usability – How to Make Your Website User-Friendly

a. Do visitors know which page they are viewing?

The best way to ensure your visitors don’t get lost on your website is if you title your pages. Make sure this title is the title in your navigation area too. On your home page, or the one that is your “index.html” or “index.htm”, you don’t have to title the page “HOME PAGE”. It could be titled “About Us” or a page you want your visitors to see as soon as they open your website. If your “index.html” page is your “About Us” page, then put the header/title “About Us” at the top of the page. In other words, every page should have a heading so that your visitors will know what page they are currently viewing.

b. Can your visitor easily get to other pages using your navigational area?

Make sure that if you have 5 main pages in your website, there are 5 links in your navigation area with the exact titles as the titles on your pages. With this in mind, don’t make your titles too long. If you have articles on your website, make one link titled “Articles” in your navigation area. On the “Articles” page, list your article titles in the body of that particular page because the article titles will be longer.

c. Does my background color and text color make a good combination?

You will need to take this into serious consideration. If your color scheme is unappealing, visitors will leave no matter how good your subject matter may be. If the combination causes eye strain or headache, your visitors will leave your website and may not return. Examples: blue background with red text, lime green background with yellow text, red background with yellow text, etc. One other background I would like to mention: patterned/tiled backgrounds. These can be overwhelming to the eye. No text will be readable on these types of backgrounds – at least not without difficulty. If you must have a patterned/tiled background, make it look like a watermark – full color patterned/tiled backgrounds will send your visitors away quicker than ice cream melts on a hot stove.

d. Are my photos too big or do I have too many on a page?

If it takes longer than a few seconds for your webpage to load, then your images are too big or you have too many on a page. It is not necessary for a photo to take up the space of an entire browser window. Too many photos, without a doubt, will slow your website down to a crawl, even on a high-speed connection. Most people will leave your website before the images finish downloading. You can make the images small enough for a slideshow or create thumbnails so that your visitors can select which images they want to see. Once your visitors click on the image to see a larger view, make even that image small enough to see all the details, but not big enough to slow down your website. There are quite a few image editors out there to use – some are even free. I use Macromedia’s Fireworks to optimize my images. They have a tool where I can make my images smaller without losing clarity.

e. How do I test my pages for errors and user-friendliness?

Have a few other people look at your website. If you don’t think that friends and family will want to hurt your feelings, find a site with your color scheme; tell them that this website is not your website, but you would like their opinion on the color scheme and if it is difficult to read. You can also post your URL to various forums to ask them for a critique of your website. If this is your first time testing, you can ask for feedback so that you can get a variety of comments. Keep a copy of the answers you get so that in the future you can refer back to what people have said about certain features. Later on, you can put together a checklist to go by for every website you design. I wouldn’t use just one checklist to check all websites, but a checklist would be a good start. Whether you are a beginner or expert website designer, you will always need to test multiple times. You have a great deal of choices to check for errors on your site. I like to use W3C’s validators to check for errors and to bring my websites up to standard.

Making your website user-friendly is one of the best things you can accomplish for yourself and your visitors. Taking the time to ensure usability is nothing compared to how many visitors you will lose if you have a not-so-friendly website. Ensuring readability, fast downloading, and performing multiple tests will get you started in the right direction of designing user-friendly websites.

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