A Website That Works: Our in-Depth Guide on Website Usability

design web
tiffany-palmer@2x By Tiffany Palmer August 23rd 2021

The average user spends less than 15 seconds on a website.

This means that you have only 15 seconds to get your users’ attention and keep them on your site.

Unfortunately, many websites have poor usability, ranging from difficult-to-navigate web pages to slow site speeds. This results in irritated users who are more likely to just leave the website and go elsewhere. You don’t want this to happen to you.

Thankfully, there are a number of website usability best practices you can implement today. Customers will trust you and your brand more when you have a smooth and easy-to-use website.

Keep reading for our definitive guide on website usability to help your website become effortless for your users to navigate.

What Is Website Usability?

The term “usability” can generally be defined as how easy an object is to use. When applied to websites, this concept refers to how user-friendly a website is and how accessible it is to its users.

The elements of website usability include:

  • Placing items in the appropriate area of the website
  • Presenting information clearly and concisely
  • Making sure the website works on a variety of devices
  • How easy it is for users to find and access content

The more familiar you are with the various elements of website usability, the more informed you will be of where you need to make changes and improvements within your own website.

Learn Web Design Best Practices

Even if you’re not a web designer, you still need to make sure you adhere to web design standards. While it’s okay to create a design that stands out, web design best practices exist for a reason.

It only takes a user 0.5 seconds to form an opinion about your website. This key factor determines whether the user will stay on your website or navigate elsewhere.

By following web design best practices, you’re giving your website the best possible chance of attracting and retaining visitors.

Use Appropriate Colours and Fonts

Keep your fonts and colours appropriate to your brand and the type of business you run. While it may be tempting to use eye-catching colours and unusual fonts, these design elements may only work for a small number of businesses and niches.

Let’s say you are designing the website for your law firm. The fonts and colours for this type of business should exude professionalism and authority. You might go for subdued colours like black or burgundy and clear, bold fonts.

However, fonts and colours are not just important for aesthetics but are also vital for ease of use.

Even if you’re designing the website for a whimsical, Willy-Wonka style candy shop, if you’ve selected a wacky font that’s really hard to read, chances are your users are going to get frustrated and navigate away from your page.

Making your content easy to find isn’t just about putting a search bar somewhere the user can see. While search bars are a great tool, you shouldn’t solely rely on them, so make sure to create clear menus and clear categories, and use colour and contrast to your advantage.

Make Content Easy To Skim

If your homepage (or any page of your website) is just a wall of text, you can guarantee that users will have trouble finding the information they’re looking for. 

Aside from using headers to clearly separate sections of your website, there’s a simple trick you can implement to help your readers skim your content. 

Heatmap research has shown that people read in an f-shaped pattern, which is why experts recommend that you place all the most important information on your page on the left-hand side. This includes your logo, categories, and any primary navigation menus. 

This research also showed that the user’s vision trails off at the end of the f shape, which is why so many websites include login buttons and contact information at the top right corner of their website.

Utilize White Space

Plenty of white space makes your web pages easy to read and navigate. This doesn’t mean that you should skip out on providing value or make content that is too short, but it just means you can lay out your text differently.

Consider writing shorter paragraphs and breaking up long, hard-to-read sentences. You can also use images and video to break up walls of text, differentiate between sections and grab the user’s attention.

When you’re finished writing your website content, take a look at the overall look of the webpage and the balance between text and white space. Try reading it as if you were a first-time website visitor, and then evaluate.

Was your site/page easy to navigate? Where did you stumble or have to re-read a sentence? Did your attention wander at any point?

Looking at your website from a user’s point of you helps you identify where you can best make use of white space for a smooth user experience. This is one of the easiest usability tips to implement because it’s often just a matter of organization and moving things around.

Optimize User Interface and User Experience

They say content is king, but you’d be surprised to learn that a lot of issues users have are related to design and user interface. If you didn’t know, there’s actually a difference between UX and UI, and both are vital for your user experience.

In terms of websites, UI refers to the aesthetic elements of your website while UX refers to the experience your user has with your website.

For example, let’s say you are building an e-commerce website. UX would include the entire process of purchasing the product, from browsing to checkout, while UI could include the “purchase” button, the colours, and the fonts on your website.

These two elements work together to ensure that your user has the smoothest experience possible on your website.

Get Clear on Your User’s Needs

Figuring out a user interface that works best starts with getting clear on your target customer. What does this user want? What are they looking for on your website? How can you deliver it to them as quickly and easily as possible?

When you created your business model, you decided on your target audience. As you run your business, you may realize that your target audience has changed or that an unexpected portion of your audience is purchasing your product.

This is why you need to take the time to really know your target customer. When you are sure your target user is coming to your website for information, make sure your menus are clearly categorized and your blog is easily accessible.

If your users are coming to your website to purchase a product, make sure to clearly separate your products into logical categories. Make sure that the “purchase” button is easy to find and that the checkout procedure isn’t overly complicated.

Increase Your Site’s Loading Speed

Even if you have the most engaging headline, if your website takes forever to load, you can guarantee that your users will go elsewhere. No matter how valuable your content is, you must optimize your site’s loading speed to keep users on your pages.

Whenever you add a new file, image, or video to your site, the speed might slow down depending on the size of the files you just added to it. Site speed can also affect your ranking, as Google has included it in its search ranking algorithm. 

Luckily, there are several free tools available to help you test your website’s loading speed, such as Google PageSpeed.

Optimize For a Variety of Devices

Don’t forget that the majority of your users could be coming from mobile or tablet. If you’re just starting out, you might not know which devices your users are on until you have more analytics data. 

Until then, it’s a good idea to begin with the assumption that you will have users on desktop, mobile, and tablet.

Optimize for all three of these and pay particular attention to optimizing for mobile as more and more people are using their phones to complete everyday tasks.

In addition to devices, you also want to optimize your website for different browsers. For example, iPhone users use Safari by default, and Android users have Google Chrome. You want to make sure all of these users can easily access your website on their chosen browser. 

Test your website on the most commonly used browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Edge/Explorer, and Safari to make sure that your website’s easy to use across all of them.

Follow Content Accessibility Standards

Did you know that there are website usability guidelines that are required by law? The Disability Discrimination Act requires that your service is usable and accessible to people with disabilities.

Additionally, it’s important that your website is accessible to people who might have difficulty with technology. This includes elderly people, those who struggle with digital services, and users in remote areas.

Some website usability guidelines you can follow to increase accessibility include:

  • Incorporate assistive technology such as speech input software
  • Provide text for all images and other media for those who are using screen readers
  • Make sure your graphics don’t flicker in a way that can trigger epilepsy
  • Create an organized layout that’s consistent across your entire website

Conduct a Usability Test

Did you know that you can actually conduct website usability testing yourself? A usability test is where you get real people to interact with your website and observe how they complete the tasks you give them.

Usability testing is an invaluable way for you to see, real-time, what’s working and what isn’t. This testing can be performed no matter what stage your website is in.

Usability testing helps you understand where users might be getting lost or stuck. It also helps you check whether users can complete the actions they’re meant to on your website, make sure they don’t encounter bugs, and make sure the user experience is as efficient and smooth as possible.

The best people to participate in your usability test are people who have never used your website before. They should also be a close approximation to your ideal or target user.

Examples of the tasks you could ask your usability testers to perform would be:

  • Ask them to get in touch with you
  • Ask them to interact with a tool on your website
  • Ask them to make a purchase from your website

If you are conducting the usability test yourself, you can ask your tester to narrate as they are completing the task. This way, you can catch any stumbles or problem areas in real-time. You could even use a heat map during the test to see how long users stay on certain parts of your page.

Benefits of Usability Testing

The benefits of usability testing include identifying issues with tasks that require users to take multiple steps. For example, this could be a customer adding an item to their shopping cart, filling out the credit card form, and checking out successfully.

Usability testing can also help you figure out whether users are using your website as you intended. They can also notice any minor errors you may have missed, like broken links, grammatical errors, or missing information.

During your usability test, make sure to gather data that you can analyze later if you need to redesign your website based on the information you’ve learned.

Your data could just be hand-written notes detailing your observations and the problems your users ran into. It could also be a formal chart, graph, or Excel sheet. 

Need Help Improving Your Website Usability? Contact an Expert Today

Increasing website usability can be the key to increasing your website sessions and converting users to satisfied customers.

From web design best practices to conducting usability testing to make sure your strategies are working, you have a variety of tools at your disposal to make your website as easy to navigate as possible.

However, the process can also be overwhelming because it demands a variety of skills from you, and this is where we can help. Contact our dynamic team of award-winning experts to help you optimize your website usability today.

tiffany-palmer@2x By Tiffany Palmer

Tiffany comes with a unique creative ability. She is one of the quickest learners of new tools and methodology. She leads the atomic design principles within our UI & UX team that has helped us to deliver high-quality design faster.

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