What is usability? Ultimately, it determines if the site is user-friendly and self-intuitive. Usability is an assessment tool to judge whether a website works well and if the average person is able to use it how it was intended. If your website has poor usability, visitors are likely to become frustrated and leave your site, making usability one of the most important features for the success of a website (Litwin, 2018).
Each section below outlines what I found to be my top 10 tips for success with website usability.
Make it Navigable
Navigation is probably the most important feature of every website. After all, if visitors can’t navigate your website, why would they stay on it? Navigation menus must be easy to find as well as complete and organized. Navigation determines not only if visitors are able to view your content, but also what content they see. It is particularly important for retail and shopping websites, because it determines which categories viewers will shop in.
Apple exemplifies the simplification that categorization can bring to a website’s navigation menus. They feature a side-bar menu, offering specific categories related to their products. This will help viewers browse quicker, and only through the content that they are interested in. So, if a customer is looking for an apple watch, they are able to go straight to the apple watch category without having to first browse through the many MacBook or iPhone products (Apple, n.d.).
Make it Obvious
The purpose of your website should be obvious. Viewers should be able to know what your website is about without scrolling the page. They should also be able to tell what type of website it is; whether it is a shop, an informational site, or a blog. Most importantly, visitors should be able to tell what the site wants you to do. They should know whether the goal is for them to make an account, add items to their cart, or to simply continue scrolling.
This is exemplified the best on Spotify’s website. Without scrolling I was able to infer by the text on the page that the purpose of the website was for listening to music. I could also tell that the main goal was to get me to click on the green button which would begin my music listening. Spotify also features several popular album covers as well in case I desired to listen to those. Everything on their page is designed to result in visitors clicking and listening to music (Music for Everyone, n.d.).
Make it Easy
Whatever the goal of the website is, it should be easy and natural for viewers to achieve. If the goal is for the viewers to continue to scroll, the content should flow in a way that promotes this goal. If the goal is for viewers to read, then the content should be readable and organized. If the goal is for viewers to add items to their cart, this feature should be the central function on each page. If the goal is to get shoppers to check out, then the cart or checkout should be easy to access.
The Walmart grocery website has great functionality when it comes to shopping and adding items to your cart. The “add to cart” button is the main feature on each item, and you can add items to your cart quickly straight from the search page without being prompted to view a product detail page. This is ideal for adding many items to the cart quickly, as opposed to Amazon, where you can only add items to your cart from the product detail page, which results in more time spent clicking on items and loading pages before a sale. Walmart also has an easy to access cart button in the top right corner which is ideal for continuing the shopping through the checkout process, opposed to when websites locate the cart in a side-bar menu where the viewer has to search the navigation in order to check out (Walmart Grocery, n.d.).
Make it Readable
Readability is an important feature of every website. No matter what type of website you are running, if viewers cannot read your content, they cannot use your website. The items that determine if your website is readable or not include type font, font size, color, and spacing. Fonts that are naturally easy for the human eye to read are usually sans-serif fonts in a color with a strong contrast to the background color of your website. Readable websites typically feature a larger font size that is more spaced out than the standard print sizes and spacing.
Nike’s website features a very minimalistic style that makes their content easy to read. They use a sans-serif font with a large font size (especially for headlines) and a color that contrasts with the background. They also space each section of text apart from each other, even using images as a dividing point. Each section of text flows in a logical direction from the previous, making it easy for your eyes to follow, and easy for viewers to use their website (Nike Women, n.d.).
Make it Simple
Website content should be as simplistic as possible. What this looks like depends on the purpose of the website. If the site is a research site or blog, while it is more text-heavy this can be simplified by using as many sub-headings as possible to break up the text and make it easy to skim. Skimming is important because the average viewer only reads 20% of each website (Lofgren, 2020). For retail and shopping sites this means there should be as little text as possible and the content should be more focused around images of the products so visitors can shop easily and quickly.
Pinterest displays content in a very simplistic way. The goal of the website is to get viewers to click on each pin, where they can read more about each post, or in this case, chicken recipes. To encourage viewers to click, the content is focused heavily on images with a very brief post title, if one is included at all. This helps viewers scroll through content and find what they are looking for quicker without having to skim over unnecessary or irrelevant text content (Pinterest, n.d.).
Make it Adaptable
Websites should be able to be viewed on all devices: laptops, tablets, and mobile phones. Adaptability is important because 52% of global internet traffic comes from mobile devices, so if a website is not adaptable it will lose a considerable amount of its potential viewers (Lofgren, 2020). If a website is not adaptable to any device, it may not display correctly and result in visitors leaving the page. It should also be able to be viewed on any web browser, because not many users are willing to open up a different browser if the content does not display the first time.
Many students at Washington State University will remember that the website students use to check grades, notices, tuition bills, and a handful of other content features did not used to adapt for a mobile screen. This posed an issue when students needed to access the site when they did not have access to a computer. WSU was eventually able to address the issue and create a new adaptable website. This significantly benefited the users (students) as well as increasing the frequency of traffic to the website.
Make it Quick
Websites should not take a long time to load. Whether this be an initial page load or loading from page to page, visitors are typically impatient. The recommended load time for a website is just two seconds. If a website takes longer than this, a lot of viewers will be scared away, because they want instant satisfaction (Litwin, 2018).
Make it Accessible
Accessibility refers to whether or not a website meets the needs of people with disabilities. About 15% of people across the globe live their lives with a disability, and not accommodating them inherently discriminates them from being able to view your website content. The web content accessibility guidelines outline the features that affect the usability of people with disabilities (Lofgren, 2020).
The most wide-spread disability affecting website usability is color blindness. About 300 million people in the world are color blind, so websites should try to avoid using colors that can’t be processed by someone who is color blind. In addition, websites should aim to accommodate for visitors who have hearing and visual impairments, adding both captions to sound content and the option to make text content verbal (Lofgren, 2020).
Make it Pretty
Websites should be fun and easy to look at. Design elements such as color and placement are important and can determine whether a visitor stays on a website or if they leave. Design should be utilized in combination with functionality to draw visitors in and help them sort through the content that you want them to see.
Whole Foods does an especially good job at catching your eye and drawing you in using images and colors. They show you images that sell their products and make you want to shop there without appearing as a shopping site at first. The use of image and color gets your attention and prompts you to actively search for their products (Whatever Makes You Whole, n.d.).
Make it Consistent
Make sure your website has a consistent design from page to page. If a visitor views two different pages of your website with different themes, colors, layouts, and features, it confuses the brain and makes your website harder to look at, and therefore harder to use. A key part of this is content, especially for retail stores. If each product detail page has a title, description, and price, then if even one product page is missing one of these options it creates confusion and inconsistency.
While retail sites like Lululemon or Nordstrom may have very consistent content, websites that let users generate content such as Amazon have less consistent content. When you look at the two liquid eyeliners I found in the same search you see that one has a description while the other does not. This can influence not just the usability of the page for the viewer but also the success of the website and the likelihood for viewers to return to the website (Amazon, n.d.)