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How To Create Usable Websites

Mar 31, 2008
A usable site will: Help users achieve a goal, usually to find something, such as information, or obtain something, such as an article; Make it easy for them to achieve that goal; Make it possible to achieve the goal quickly; Make achieving that goal a pleasant experience.

Good Content is Critical - A site with good content, regardless of its subject, is one that provides products or information that is useful or beneficial to users. A good usable site will make it clear what information or content is available and at what price AND what is not available. A good usable site should define clearly all subscription packages offered.

Ease of Access to Information - Good navigation, precise location indicators, secondary navigation, clear linked text and a well-organized structure all contribute to making information easy to find for a wide range of different users. Bearing in mind that many users are inexperienced, it may be necessary to include explanations of things you consider self explanatory. For example, an inexperienced user may need an explanation of how to use a drop down menu. Remember, make it as easy as possible for people to use your website.

Quick Access to Information - This is the aim of the majority of web users. It can be broken into two important aspects: Speed of Page Loading and Speed of Access to Content.

Speed of Page Loading - This requires, in particular, attention to images to ensure they are properly optimized and do not excessively delay load time. It may also mean breaking up long articles and ensuring that important content is at the top of the page where it will load first.

Speed of Access to Content - This is where the 3-click rule comes in - no important content should be more than 3 clicks from the home page. Some standards even say that it should be no more than two clicks. One helpful way to speed access to content is to consider each type of user, select the content that they are most likely to be interested in and create links from the home page to one piece of content for each group. This will get them quickly to the appropriate part of the site.

Cleanly Designed Pages
Cleanly designed pages are pleasant to look at and easy to read. It is almost impossible to make a site with an image shown as a tiled background usable - the whole thing is too distracting and confusing. It takes no great design skills to create clean pages; it just requires thought and adherence to the principle that when it comes to design, less usually is more.

Download Status
Most paid membership websites are limited to online access and information download rather than selling products. There should be clear download instructions provided. Your website should also state the size of the file in kilobytes and the estimated time of download for a user having a 56K modem, DSL, Cable and so on.

Usability Problems
While for large commercial sites investment in full-scale usability studies may be essential, few small sites can afford such luxuries. However, identifying problems with usability for your site need be no more complicated than asking a few (honest) friends to act as guinea pigs on your site and, if possible, watching them silently as they do this.

Watching users try to find information at your site can be both instructive and quite surprising. Remember that if at any stage you feel the urge to intervene and explain, then you have identified a usability problem.

1. The site does not state its purpose clearly Java applets, huge images, banner ads or flashy elements slow down loading; 10 seconds is about as long as the average user will wait for a page.

2. The site requires specific software to be used. Have you ever actually changed browsers or downloaded a piece of software just to see a site?

3. Poor navigation, too little navigation, too much navigation and, not uncommonly, no navigation at all.

4. Bad design leading to poor readability.

5. Discomfort due to ugly design or inconsistent design. Almost always because a designer overestimated their skills.

6. Irrelevance of content - for example the business site that includes biographies and photos of each of the board members. Happy egos on the board = bored website visitors!

7. Complexity or excessive originality of design, which requires users to learn how it works in order to use it.

8. Inaccessibility because the site cannot be used by browsers for people with disabilities.

Bottom line: A site will be generally usable if: 1. The content is good and relevant; 2. The content is easy to find; 3. The content can be found quickly; 4. The page is pleasant to look at and cleanly designed.
About the Author
Anthony "The Biz Opp Mentor" is a Best Home Based Business Ideas and Opportunities Specialist. www.pluginprofitsite.com/main-18365
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