Focusing On Website Usability

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If you have been using the Internet for a while, you have no doubt come across your fair share of poorly designed websites. There is more to web design than just how a website looks. For a website to be considered a good design, usability also has to be part of the equation.

Wikipedia defines usability as follows; "Web usability of a website are broad goals of usability and presentation of information and choices in a clear and concise way, a lack of ambiguity and the placement of important items in appropriate areas as well as ensuring that the content works on various devices and browsers. The end-goal a website creator wants to achieve is to provide the users of the website a better experience".

Usability is perhaps the biggest factor to consider when looking at optimal website design. After all, websites are meant to attract users, and most importantly retain their attention. A website that scores poorly on usability may mean the loss of clients or sales.

When building a website, it is important to take it through its paces and conduct usability tests. Usability tests ensure that the site is performing well on usability factors and considerations.

There are several factors that a website should have assessed to ensure that it meets usability standards. These are factors that web designers and developers have to consider and their clients have to check that they do.

1. Loading Speed

No one has the patience to sit through a site that takes forever to load. It is annoying to see a loading spinner or some other loader running for minutes on end. A site has to load fast enough or else it loses its audience.

The average loading speed of top ranking websites on Google is under 3 seconds. It is therefore a rule of thumb to ensure that your website loads in under 3 seconds. The shorter the time it takes to load the better are its prospects.

Loading speed is a factor of 2 things; the code and the hardware. The way in which a site is coded and the components used to build that website all determine its speed. By optimizing code, the speed of a website can be increased significantly.

Websites are hosted on web servers and the quality of web servers can vary widely. The better the server specs the better a website will perform on speed. Most websites are hosted in shared environments where server resources are shared. If this is the case the shared environment should be chosen carefully to ensure that a site runs fast.

2. User Interface and Navigation

The user Interface of a website is very important to usability. For one thing, an attractive website will in turn attract users. People will leave a website from first impressions poor; hence the need to strike a good first impression .

The placement of elements on a web page can make a big difference to the usability of a website. It can result in engagement or abandonment. For Example, placing a button on the right column or in the main body of the sight can result in widely differing results.

Navigation is critical to a website's success. It is important to emphasize links to web pages that need emphasis. The placement of navigation links and their emphasis should be well thought out to ensure that visitors to a website easily find what the website has to offer.

It is worthwhile to test various layouts with a group of selected users to determine which layout works best. By studying the responses of test groups, the most optimal layout can be determined.

3. Content and Media

They say content is king; and I believe he reigns forever. Content usability does not only have to do with the content itself but also in the way it is presented. It can be tempting to just fill up a web page with words in order to meet a target word count. This should be avoided. Content should be relevant and must present a good read for the user.

Using good content formatting such as paragraphs and headers instead of continuous blocks of text results in good readability and usability. Cluttered and disorganized content should be avoided.

Other presentation approaches such as using tabs and sliders can help condense long pieces of content and allow the user to expand the content they want to focus on. In other instances it is better to split content over several pages and link them appropriately.

Media, in the form of images and video should be used to aid the usability of a website. Video and images that support content enrich a website and make it more interesting and usable.

4. Responsive Design

We are living in the age of mobile devices. Over half of the world's Internet traffic is now from mobile devices. It would be a big oversight to not take this development into account when developing a website.

The days are long gone when you design a website that users have to scroll sideways in order to view part of it. This is a big usability non-no. In this day and age, it is only acceptable for users to scroll only in one direction; the vertical.

Responsive design is the technique of developing a website to automatically scale to fit the screen on which it is being viewed and is great for usability.  With responsive design, one website is designed whether or not someone is viewing the website on a mobile device or a computer.

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