Web usability has a direct correlation to your potential to effectively make money online. This is largely because the usability of your website very strongly affects the number of return visits you will see from search and referral visitors, as well as your ability to sell any product or service.
Visitor loyalty and the overall size of your audience base determines how much money you will make from contextual advertising, affiliate marketing or subscription-based monetization strategies.
Ideally, you want to capture every individual that stumbles upon your website and entice them towards a specific action, such as visiting an affiliate website, buying a product, registering as a user and subscribing to your blog feed or company newsletter.
Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen is an authority on the topic of user-friendly websites and has written extensively about the importance of Usability for online businesses.
Here is a quote from his seminal Introduction to Usability:
On the Web, usability is a necessary condition for survival. If a website is difficult to use, people leave. If the homepage fails to clearly state what a company offers and what users can do on the site, people leave.
If users get lost on a website, they leave. If a website’s information is hard to read or doesn’t answer users’ key questions, they leave. Note a pattern here?
There’s no such thing as a user reading a website manual or otherwise spending much time trying to figure out an interface. There are plenty of other websites available; leaving is the first line of defense when users encounter a difficulty.
I’ve recently been on a Nielsen rampage and have been reading voluminously about web usability. His articles are really interesting to me because they offer some excellent tips on how to improve your website or blog in order to attract and add value for site visitors.
50 Web Usability Tips to Attract and Retain Web Visitors
This list was developed as a result of personal notes which I’ve recorded while reading Jakob Nielsen’s articles as well as several interviews with him on the topic of usability. They are rephrased in my own words so that they make sense outside of each article’s context.
I’ve categorized them according to topics and have listed them in digestible point formats so you can easily scan through and pick out the ones which are suitable for your own websites.
References for these tips are listed at the bottom of this post and should you have the time or interest, do you visit these articles to learn more about usability. I’ve found them to be very helpful indeed.
Web Design and Usability Tips
- Response or load time for a website is fairly important. If your site is slow, visitors are likely to go away and it will also be difficult for them to learn new or foreign concepts.
- Remove the ‘homepage‘ link on the homepage because it can increase navigational confusion. This will make the user doubt that the homepage is indeed the actual homepage.
- Follow conventions for web design (”blue for hypertext links“) This will allow site visitors to mainly focus on your content instead of using their mental power to learn how to use your website.
- Fluffy flash designs that do not support real user needs are not recommended because they weaken usability.
- Splash screens are not useful because it gives the first impression that a website is more concerned with its own image than other user’s problems. Websites need to communicate respect for the user’s time.
- Website usability tests can be easily performed by getting users to interact with your design while they think out loud. Record their comments and filter it into your quality improvements.
- Simplicity is Rule #1 for usability. The less features there are available in a design, the less there will be to compete for the user’s attention.
- Try to mainly rely on typography instead of bloated designs and graphics. The goal is to enhance appearance without delaying the response time. The blandest sites can get the most page views and users.
- Serve senior web users by making making your website more readable and clickable. Use large text for hypertext links and minimize usage of pull-down menus and moving interface elements.
- Change the color of visited links. This will allow users to decide where to go next on your website. Links that don’t change color can cause navigational disorientation in users.
Copywriting and Usability Tips
- Large amounts of text on one webpage do not work well because it makes it difficult for users to extract useful information. “The more you say, the more people tune out your message.”
- Good copywriting style should be to the point and should not be dominated by internal niche jargon and ‘marketese‘ or marketing sales speak.
- Write so that lower-literacy users can understand and appreciate your content. Sites which target broad audiences must make lower literacy users a priority.
- State the most important information in the first two paragraphs because most users will read this material and scan the rest of the article.
- Split your content into subheadings and use bullet points. Also highlight keywords or important phrases by making them bold.
- Use brief headlines with strong information-conveying words. People scan headlines and content blurbs in feed readers faster than email newsletters.
- Do not use tiny font sizes or small text because of it will not work for a large part of the web audience (Teenagers and People in their 40s onwards).
- A website’s tagline must explain what the company does and what makes it unique among competitors. Your tagline should communicate your site purpose within the crucial first 10 seconds.
- Use old and familiar words when writing to be found by search engines. Supplement unique words or madeup phrases with known or legacy words because they are used the most by customers and visitors to your website.
- The headline must make sense when it is detached from the rest of the content. This is important because online headlines are often used in a list of articles or email programs, which sets it out of context.
- Make the first word of the headline an information carrying word that will help with scanning. Examples to be used include the name of the concept or company discussed.
- Do not start your page titles with the same word all the time because it will cause difficulty when scanning a list. Move common terms to the end of the list and place it in brackets.
- Show numbers as numerals. Numerals will catch the attention of users better because numerals represent facts. “It’s better to use “23″ than “twenty-three” to catch users’ eyes when they scan Web pages for facts, according to eyetracking data.”
- Blog links should say where they go. This information can be provided in the anchor text or surrounding words. “Life is too short to click on an unknown. Tell people where they’re going and what they’ll find at the other end of the link.”
Content Infrastructure and Usability
- Do not have a list of links on your sidebar without providing explanations on why each of them are recommended.
- Navigation and user-interface elements need to be simple so as to allow users to find their way around the website.
- Online content should be short and includes the use of bulleted lists and highlighted keywords. Write for scannability because users scan, rather than read.
- Include a editorial focus and direct your visitors to specific material, i.e. Top stories on CNN or Top posts on a blog.
- Information architectures should not mirror the organization chart and do not use bloated graphics or jargon.
- Discover the reasons why users visit your website and build your site as a fast and obvious response to these reasons or queries.
- Local navigation (”see these related products”) should be given more importance than global navigation. A minimalist navigation system should be used to match the user’s model of the information space.
- Don’t make webpages stand-alone units. They need to connect to related information.
- Provide interactive content features which allow visitors to do instead or just read. This includes online voting, games, message boards, forums, user submitted content and feedback forms etc. This especially appeals to teenagers.
- Do not use PDF files because they break reader flow and attention. Only use PDF files for distributing manuals and large documents or reserve it for printing purposes.
- Optimize your Page titles by using different Page Titles for each page. Page titles are used in taskbars and when users bookmark a site. “Don’t start with words like “The” or “Welcome to” unless you want to be alphabetized under “T” or “W.”
- Indicate link destination when using within-page links or mailto links. “For example, add a short statement that says something like: “Clicking a link will scroll the page to the relevant section.”
- Use Breadcrumb navigation. Breadcrumbs offer one-click access to higher site levels, take up very little space and show users their current location as well.
- Author Biographies should be included for blogs. Users want to know who they are reading and biographies are a simple way to build trust.
- Highlight Popular Posts. Integrate them in your navigational system or link to your previous articles in newer postings. This is important because you need to provide them with some useful background on the topic or your opinion.
- Keep your content focused. The more focused your content, the more loyal your readers will be. Building a specialized website allows you to be an authority in your niche.
- Provide new or follow-up information at the same location of the original information or transaction. For example, if you have a cornerstone and heavily linked article on social voting platforms, you should return to this article to update it with new links to current and future articles on the same topic.
Usability, Monetization and Online Businesses
- Websites can differentiate themselves from competitors by focusing on visitor needs and figuring out how they access or use data. Differentiation is about being valuable and useful to site visitors.
- Do not run pop-ups, such as in-content ads or pop-up or pop-in squares because they can often feel intrusive and overwhelming.
- Good usability will positively translate into profit and will even lead to a very high ROI or Returns on Investment. Nielsen estimates ROI to be around 1000%.
- Building visitor trust is a big problem that all websites face. Important to affirm the credibility of a website and its respect for user’s rights.
- Corporate policies which promote usability and user-centered design standards should be essential to all businesses.
- Have a decent error message that ensures that you don’t lose your user due to programming or server malfunctions.
- When replying to visitor emails, edit and use subject lines which relate specifically to their query. A good subject line is vital for building stronger relationships with customers or site users.
- Use confirmation emails and automated messages to close the loop in E-Commerce and other transactions. Tell customers what they need to know. This builds trust by customers for online businesses.
- To achieve high survey response rates, keep them short and clear. Ensure that the process is quick and painless for users or customers by asking fewer questions and using different surveys for different users.
If you’re interesting in reading more about web usability, a good article to start with would be Nielson’s rant on the Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design as well as his article on Weblog Usability.