Usability Makes a Comeback

Once you’ve lost a customer on your Web site, you’ve lost that customer for good. This happens for many reasons: faulty or ambiguous navigation, bad interface design, long download time, incompatible technology, and so on.

What can you do about it? The answer is simple: Find out what your site visitors want your site to do. The earlier you discover their needs, the better.

If you have a site running and still don’t know why the logs aren’t meeting your expectations, try testing your site for usability. One way to do this is to create dummy sites to test various scenarios of users transporting themselves through your site.

Usability is an integral part of the design process. It should not constrain good design. Rather, it should enhance the ability of a good design to create a highly functional and usable site.

To make it easy for you, I have created a Usability Checklist that can be used to test your site before launch.

  1. Purpose of the Site

    • Is your site fulfilling its purpose?

    • Is it designed to give your audience what they want?
  2. Abilities of the Site
    • Is it efficient?

    • Is it intuitive?
    • Does it behave and appear consistently throughout?
    • Is it engaging enough for the user to feel in control and relaxed?
  3. Branding
    • Does the first screen from your Web site portray your business in a distinctive light?

    • Does the branding appear on all the pages of the site?
    • Does the branding appear in a prominent area on the top of the page, like on the left side?
    • Branding can serve as part of the navigation system, as a link back to the home page.
  4. Navigation
    • Does the main navigation of the site appear in a prominent place before the scroll?

    • Is your site navigation in the form of images? If so, consider also having text-based navigation on the page.
    • Do the image links have tags filled in?
    • If JavaScript is used for the navigation tools, have you also provided text links on the page?
    • Are there any dead links on the site? Scan them and remove them immediately.
    • Does your site have a site map or search engine for those who prefer to reach the information without having to navigate the entire site?
    • Are the navigation tools and system consistent across the site?
    • Does your site give the user his or her exact location within the site, with clear options to move back or forward?
    • Do the links tell users where they lead to?
  5. Images
    • Are images used in context with the content?

    • Are images optimized for their file size?
    • Consider chopping a larger image into smaller pieces; this enhances the speed of download.
    • If there is a need to describe an image, is the description clear?
    • Have you added text to the tag for the image?
  6. Animations
    • Avoid continuous cycling animations unless they serve a purpose, as these can be distracting.

    • Use Flash animations only if they are indispensable. They take long to download and often require a plug-in.
  7. Sponsors and Advertising
    • If your site has ad banners, have you considered optimizing the file size? Banners add to page-download time.

    • Where have you placed the banners? If your site is e-commerce-enabled, consider placing the banners on either the top right or bottom right side of the page. (According to research, the maximum number of clicks are achieved on the right side of the page, closer to the scroll bar.)
  8. Content
    • Is the content in sync with the context of the page or the site?

    • Is your content brief and precise? Avoid telling stories. Users scan content for relevant information alone.
    • Have you cross-linked the content to documents or sites with related information?
    • Avoid horizontal rules to separate your content. It could be interpreted as the end of the page’s useful content.
  9. Technology
    • Are the interactive widgets on your site compatible with your target audience’s browsers, or does your audience need to download a plug-in or software to use them? (Users resent the extra effort required.)

    • If it’s important to use such a technology, have you informed the user about its need and importance?
  10. Overall Interface
    • Does your site have a pleasing interface, with colors matching the need and flavor of the site?

    • Does the layout have enough white space to be pleasing to the eye?
    • Is the interface consistent, vis-`-vis layout and colors, throughout the site?
    • Does the site look the same on different platforms and browsers? If not, code it in a manner that makes it look consistent across the maximum number of browsers and operating systems.
  11. Feedback
    • Do you provide an appropriate feedback mechanism for any action on the part of the user? Example: If users submit a form, are they advised of acceptance?

    • Do you give users an opportunity to provide you with praise and/or suggestions or to make an inquiry on any issue related to the site or its content?
    • Does your site give users access to your email and postal address, phone numbers, and fax?

When testing your site for usability, you can, undoubtedly, add more things to this checklist. But using this checklist as a guide should give you a nice snapshot of your site’s functionality and whether or not it’s pleasing to your users.

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