When you open your web page in a browser, what do you see? If you’ve created a usable website, you should see 80–90% of the content that your customers are looking for. However, with most websites (yes, this site is no exception), what your customer is looking for only constitutes between 50–60% or less of the main portion of the page. The rest is ads, confusing navigation, and extraneous graphics.
The first thing you should look at when considering web usability is the content. Content is the key to a good web page and content is critical for an effective and usable website. Make sure that your content is what your customers see first and foremost.
2. Page Layout
Closely related to content is how that content is displayed on the page. While studies have shown that people are willing to scroll to read through web pages, if they don’t find relevant content quickly, they are more likely to leave. Keep your pages clean and simple. Remove elements to test if your page needs them, if the page functions without them — remove them permanently.
Grid layouts are a great way to position your content so that it is more usable. Place your primary content in the widest, most prominent column. And leave elements like advertising, navigation, and non-essential graphics to the less important, smaller columns.
Colors can affect the usability of your website. Web browsers have standard colors that are used for links (blue for links, violet for visited links, and red for active links). When you use other colors, you run the risk of confusing your customers. Also, colors of other elements of your page can affect your readers. For example, color blind customers might not recognize color coded images and color symbolism might be changing the meaning for some customers without your realizing it.
Make sure your colors are effective and not harming your site. Use color theory to choose good color schemes, and learn what makes a good color palette.
Writing valid HTML is a good way to keep your website usable. And it’s important to stay up-to-date on what browsers will and won’t support in the latest HTML. HTML5 is the most recent specification, and there are some issues with older browsers for some of the elements in HTML5. So you should choose to either avoid HTML5 completely, use only those items in HTML5 that you know work globally, or use HTML5 with progressive enhancement, so that the older browsers still get a usable page.
By learning the elements of HTML you can familiarize yourself with how your pages are built. And by testing the elements you use in various browsers, understand how to use progressive enhancement.
Like HTML, CSS is an important aspect of usability as it’s what you use to style your web pages. And with things like CSS media queries you can then define how the pages work in various browsers.
By learning the various CSS style properties, you can be sure you know how to affect your pages look and get the content displaying prominently, the colors looking good, and the layout perfect.
Access to the internet may be getting faster, but that doesn’t mean that web pages should get bigger. In fact, web usability studies continue to show that the speed a page downloads is very important. After 10 seconds, your customer has lost interest in your page, no matter how interested they were in the topic. You can’t control all aspects of the download — so it’s important to do what you can.
Plus, search engines are getting into the game. If a search engine has a choice of ranking two pages for the same topic, the faster page will get the higher ranking, even if that speed difference is only a matter of milliseconds.