Key Tips for Better Website Usability

  |  October 3, 2011   |  Comments

How you can fortify your website and fix usability issues.

So you have a great website that is loaded with great content but is it not converting and most of your visitors leave your site within the first 60 seconds. If this is the situation you are in, you might have a site that isn't friendly enough to your users. In other words, it isn't easy to navigate and find information within your site. As you can see from the chart below, the more problems you have with usability, the more you will see your visitors slip away.

poor-usability

Website usability is a common concept among web designers. Successful designers understand the interaction with the site's users and then develop a site around that understanding to provide a compelling user experience. Have you ever been to a website that seemed to anticipate what you were looking for and provided you easy access to that information? This is a site that integrated usability best practices into the development of their site.

It is generally known that people visit your website with a specific task in mind. If they can't find a path that leads them to a solution within the first few seconds, they will leave just as quickly. So what can you do to fortify your website and fix usability issues you might have? I have compiled a list of tips and resources to help you enhance your site's usability.

Use Keyword Phrases That Your Audience Is Searching On

One of the first things site visitors look for are some visual clues that help them feel they have landed on a site that will help them solve their problem. Keyword research can be a formidable tool to help you understand which search phrases your target audience is using to find you.

Armed with your researched and targeted keywords, you should make sure they are prominently placed on the landing page. This will help your visitors feel they have landed on the right page. For instance, if a person searched on the phrase "budget cruise ships 2011" and landed on a page that had a heading "Your Guide to Budget Cruise Ship Vacations for 2011," do you think they will linger? Of course, because they will quickly recognize the same keyword they used in their search and feel comfortable spending more time looking around.

Consistent and Intuitive Site Navigation

People are impatient and hate learning new things. Look at your site navigation and see if it follows a normal browsing design. Sometimes we try to be too clever with our navigation to show off our creativity at the expense of good usability, which then confuses our visitors and keeps them from the content they are looking for.

signpost

I remember a few years ago renting a car and as I pulled up to the gate to check out, I couldn't find the button to roll down the window. Finally I had to open the door to communicate with the security person who was checking me out. They pointed out that the button for the window was on the middle console near the armrest. Who puts the window button there? Some people may ask the same kind of question when they get to your website. If you follow a normal navigational structure, people will intuitively know how to find information on your site. Try to get too creative and you may just be creating a barrier between your audience and the information they seek.

Here are some navigational elements to consider:

  • Menus. Put menus where people expect them (either horizontally at the top or vertically on the left). Also, keep them in the same place on all pages.
  • Main menu options. Limit the options for the main menu to no more than six. Too many options can confuse visitors. Make them simple and to the point.
  • Home page. Should be a portal with limited information that can quickly point your users to the information they seek. There is no need to overload the home page with extra information about each topic of your site.
  • Secondary content. Privacy policy, shopping carts, and sign-in should be separate from the main menu but still easy to find.
  • User-friendly buttons. Should be ultra-easy to find and very meaningful to the visitor. It should help them quickly identify where they need to go.

These are just some of the basics. However, there are many more nuances that you should consider. I would suggest taking a look at Dr. Pete's page on Strategic Web Usability for some more great ideas.

Optimized Content Strategy

Content as you know is really what visitors are after in the first place. Your focus should be on mapping this content to your site structure to make it easy to find. Again, your home page isn't the place to put all of your content. It's the directory that contains simple and clear messages that lead the way to elaborate subpage content.

content-strategy

Again, with keyword research, you can identify the most popular search terms, which also represent popular content. Then you can segment this content into meaningful categories. These categories represent subpages that you can populate with rich, quality content. For more information, you can see this column on "Steps to Building a Successful Site Architecture."

There are many aspects to building a site that is easy to navigate and provides compelling content that is easy to find. Things like site load time and forms that are easy to fill out. Take a look at Smashing Magazine's 10 Useful Usability Findings and Guidelines. While you are there, click on the green "UX Design" button at the top for even more information on this very important topic.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ron Jones

Ron was president/CEO of Symetri Internet Marketing, which provides strategic SEM consulting and training. Ron was actively involved in the SEM community and spoke and trained at conferences and seminars. Ron also served on the Board of Directors for SEMPO and was one of the authors for the SEMPO Institute Fundamentals and Advanced courses.

Ron also published a book called Keyword Intelligence: Keyword Research for Search Social and Beyond. This book outlines various methods and tips for conducting keyword research but more importantly outlines many ways to use keyword research for social media, site design, content development and marketing, and even traditional marketing and branding.

Ron passed away on June 30, 2012.

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