Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Web Usability


Web usability is an approach to make web sites easy to use for an end-user, without the requirement that any specialized training be undertaken.

The user should be able to intuitively relate the actions he needs to perform on the web page, with other interactions he sees in the general domain of life e.g. press of a button leads to some action. The broad goal of usability can be:

  • Present the information to the user in a clear and concise way.
  • To give the correct choices to the users, in a very obvious way.
  • To remove any ambiguity regarding the consequences of an action e.g. clicking on delete/remove/purchase.
  • Put the most important thing in the right place on a web page or a web application.
In the context of eCommerce websites, the meaning of web-usability is narrowed down to efficiency: triggering sales and/or performing other transactions valuable to the business.

Web usability tips

There are infinite choices when designing a good web in terms of usability and in every case will depend on the goals you want to reach with your site and the content displayed. Some tips that could apply normally to the design of webs:

1. Structure your website design around update frequency

If you’ll post new content less often, have a more static and feature-focused design. If you’ll post more often, go for a blog-style design.

2. Put the logo in the top-left, menu to the right or below

Place your logo in the top-left, and put the menu either to the right of or below it – and make sure the logo is clickable and takes the visitor back to your home page. The reason for these? Accepted conventions – it’s what most web users expect, so there’s no need to get creative deciding where to place the steering wheel in your car design, so to speak.

3. Have the search in the upper left or right

Include the search bar in the upper left or right (if applicable of course ie. you have enough content to warrant search). Also, include the word “Search” in-form so people know what that type-able bar is for.

4. Make your contact info or form easy to find

Either have the contact info or form as separate page with a dedicated link in the menu or footer, or include the contact info in the sidebar or footer.

5. Make help page easy to find

Have your help page(s) – things like FAQ, technical support, documentation – easy to find, either in the menu or most likely in the footer.

6. Have as few menu items as possible

The more choices your new visitors have, the greater the indecision-paralysis they’ll have (ie. the more likely they won’t click on any navigation menu items and instead will bounce out.)

7. Include state-changes in links and buttons

You increase the likeliness of your visitors clicking on desired links and buttons – as well as making them feel less lost – when you reinforce the click-ability and actionable-ness of things. Do that by including state-changes in links and buttons ie. change the appearances when hovering and clicking.

8. Highlight the active form field

When a visitor clicks inside of a form field, highlight it to reinforce that when the visitor starts typing, that’s where text will be inputed or an action will result.

9. Make link colors as noticeable as possible

Make link colors stand out so that it’s obvious that that piece of text is clickable. This is especially important and usable for those with accessibility issues (ie. have a hard time with low contrast items.)

10. Keep everything as consistent as possible

Eliminate surprises for your visitors by avoiding inconsistency. Keep the following and anything else as consistent as possible (and that includes full-width pages vs. sidebar-included pages): colors, link colors, structure, interface, and where the elements are.

Usability testing

Usabitlity testing focuses on measuring web's capacity to meet its intended purpose. Usability testing measures the usability, or ease of use, of websites.

Usability testing may sound daunting, but in reality, a small investment can yield large gains. Jacob Nielsen, one of the best-known usability gurus, says:

“The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.”

Number of users vs Usability problems found

Just 5 users will provide enough results to help you make effective updates to your website. While you could test with 15 users to find most or all problem areas on your site, testing with just 5 will uncover 85% of issues, which gives you the most value for your money.

Other trouble spots can be identified by testing a subsequent round of users, and with each additional test, the number of issues uncovered will decrease.

It’s important to note that the very first usability test offers the greatest insight. Even a small amount of testing can yield significant results and reveal big issues and problem areas early on. This means that you don’t need to spend a lot of time or money to benefit from usability testing.

Some tools used for web usability:

  • Userfly
  • Feedback Army
  • Five Second Test
  • UserTesting
  • ClickTale
  • ClickHeat
  • Chalmark
  • Simple Mouse Tracking
  • Silverback
And, if you want, not only to measure but also to test different variants and check which one provides better results, then you may use some testing tools like:
  • Test&Target
  • Visual Website Optimizer
  • Google Website Optimizer

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