Useful Information for Information Architect, Usability Analyst, Expert Reviewer, User Experience Designer, User Interface Designer
28 April, 2015
How to Improve Website Usability: Top Guidelines
Who said it is that easy to design, craft and maintain great websites that are both beautiful and effective? Surely, there is a million ways to do that, but also a million ways to fail. Let's see what to do to achieve the desired result!
Generally, websites come in 3 types:
1. The main feature of the 1st type is a creative and stunning design. Websites like this will make you say “Wow”. But, unfortunately, sometimes, they have nothing more to offer. 2. Websites of this type may lack in creativity and design, but they will give you what you’re looking for in less than a minute! Don’t you agree that’s a good reason to close your eyes on the fact they don’t attract you visually? 3. And here go the winning ones. Websites, creators of which managed to combine usability and eye-catching design. The best type, especially from a marketing perspective. Websites like this will keep users coming back again. In short: they work. BUT: Who actually should be the winner in this everlasting battle of Usability vs Creativity? To answer this question you should go deep in user’s psychology. Good-looking websites cost nothing if they don’t help to get leads, increase conversion, or sell. You should do something more than just causing aesthetic pleasure to your users, if you want them to come back, not to just admire and leave. (Surely, not counting the case when what you provide is design service or anything related).
Hence, if your aim is to keep users coming back and staying loyal, you should consider the key principles of good website usability and user-centred design. This means focusing on users’ needs, providing them with products that are efficient and easy to use. If your website meets these requirements, you’ll gain trust. Simple, isn’t it? Also note that usability is not user-experience, though is correlated with it. The latter is about the positive feelings of the user. Nevertheless, making the website easy-to-use will make users happy, thus leading to better UX.
So let us start with simple key principles on increasing usability.
#1. Don’t Make Users Think
We didn’t invent a new bicycle. This is the most important usability rule, formulated by Steve Krug. (BTW, his famous book ''Don't Make Me Think!'' served as an inspiration for this post.) The idea here is to make the web-page understandable on intuitive level, without conscious reasoning. Users should guess where to click and where to navigate to get what they want instinctively, without much thinking. This is what inevitably makes them feel happy about your website. As an epic example we picked the website of MailChimp
Focused on simplicity and perfectly usable, it proves that to succeed you don’t have to do anything groundbreaking. The right things in the right places (where users expect them to be) make it all. Another thing which is amazing about this website is that it sets the users free of such an awful thing like "Paradox of choice". So, we are slightly going to the next must-know principle.
#2. Avoid "The Paradox of Choice"
When somebody is faced with too many options, he/she can end up not making a decision or just choosing something already familiar. This paradox can be faced not only on web-pages offering too many options but anywhere in life, for example in a cafe with a broad menu. Paradox of choice can really annoy and make users leave or look for other more familiar options somewhere else. To set users free of struggling to decide where to click on the website, MailChimp made it maximally easy. Note, that only the essential options are offered and the right emphasises are made on call-to-actions, like SIGN-UP-FREE. The secondary options can be found in MORE, preventing the users of being paralysed by too many suggested options.
#3. Give Users What They Need Right Away
Users, navigating on the web-site, usually behave themselves just like in an ordinary store, where buyers don’t examine absolutely everything in details, they are just looking for the exact things they need. Similarly users are not reading, but just scanning the website. As soon as something matches their requirement, they are ready to click. Lesson learned: Don’t make users think “This looks like too much reading.’’ Go visual to meet the needs of speed readers. Here’s a good example of nicely visualized Pricing Plans of Bang2Joom .
Without making hard efforts the user can learn the advantages of each pricing plan, choosing the most suitable. No need to read extra texts and to try to compare. Everything is clean and simple!
#4 Include "SEARCH"
BUT: do it with caution if your website has limited content which isn’t frequently updated. It’s better not to have SEARCH form, than to disappoint the user, who didn’t find what he/she was looking for. However, in case of the websites with a lot of different content, like Wikipedia , SEARCH form is a must.
In addition, check the best-practice for Search Form:
Search-box is set up on all the pages, not only the home-page.
Search box is long, just like on Google, in order to make it easy for users to review or edit what they typed.
Search should have logic. Offer your users an autofill for similar common searches. Besides, if users search the word "help", you may additionally offer some "Recommended Results" to support the users in need.
Apple’s website is one of the best examples of this practice.
#5 Know Your User
Young geeks love to explore new things. A bit complicated website, in case of a good content, may seem extremely interesting for youngsters. They may even love the challenge of discovering its options with curiosity while navigating through it. Just take a look onGamestop. There was a time I spent hours on this website and never even considered the fact that it is a little bit difficult to navigate through.
In case of adults, situation is not the same. They are more conservative. They love simplicity and are getting used to new things with unwillingness sometimes.
Hence, keeping the target auditory in mind while designing the website is essential. Take Google for an example. Its users' age groups are extremely broad, but no one actually faces difficulties due to the right balance between simplicity and functionality.
Now let’s go through some more quick tips as a bonus!
Always consider "Banner Blindness" - the fact, that users usually ignore anything that looks like an advertisement. They notice ads, but still ignore it. Try to avoid any elements on website, which look like an ad (for example, boxes of info on the right of the page).
If you require registration, value the time of users. Minimize the number of fields to be filled, leaving the essential ones.
Allow to UNSUBSCRIBE with one click. (And try to craft such valuable content, so that your users never even know, that UNSUBSCRIPTION was that easy).
Never forget mobile users. Go responsive!
Don’t make users use browser’s features to navigate. If they need to go “Back”, let them do it with using the option on the website, not on browser.
Match the design and the content.
Emphasize links. Never expect users to search for them hovering on words till the cursor changes to a pointer.
Hopefully, you’re now armed and willing to start improving your website usability to make visitors have a much more enjoyable experience browsing it next time.
Just keep in mind that these principles don’t pretend to be one-size-fits-all rules. Everything depends on details. Summing up, we left one thing that actually works in any case. The last, but the most important one.
Testing - this is the key to your next project success. As said above, there is a million of ways to design, build and maintain a great website! Just try to find yours. And, after taking any actions, be sure to check the efficiency and improve your strategy to achieve the better results! Good luck!