|Optimization of Web Site Usability
Build a Web site and the people will come.
Ha! If it were only that easy! The Web is the one sales environment where the customer has total empowerment. They have all the resources (i.e., your competitors) just a mouse-click away.
Not only are you in competition with the millions of other Web sites owners who sell the same product/service as you, but you are also competing for users' time and attention. While search engine optimization and submission can bring you the traffic you need, only you can ensure that visitors will stay on your site by giving them a reason to want to stay. That is where Web site usability comes in.
What is Web site usability?
The International Standards Organization (ISO) defines usability as the "effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which a specified set of users can achieve a specified set of tasks in a particular environment." In simpler terms, usability is how efficiently and effectively users can accomplish what they are trying to do on your Web site.
Now that you have an understanding of usability, we'll explain the basics of what a Web site should include to make the most of the user experience:
Content is king
Let's face it, people visit Web sites for content -- they want information. Sure, it helps if your site is visibly appealing as well. But, without the right content, the results of the user experience can be fatal to your business. They simply won't come back.
Here are a few tips to remember in regards to content:
1. Be concise. Research shows that reading from a computer screen is about 25% slower than reading from paper or other print medium. To that end, you will want to edit your writing to say the exact same thing in half the words it would take if you were writing on paper. Also, think back to the last time you came to one of those really long-winded Web sites where the content may have been great, but you still had to scroll and scroll and scroll to get to the end. It can be a nuisance. So, keep your pages short.
2. Make your content scannable. When people use the Internet, they are looking at mass amounts of information. Help them get to the core of what they want by using bulleted items, short paragraphs, and subheadings to make it easier for them to find what they are looking for.
3. Write without error. There is no excuse -- absolutely none -- for poor grammar, typographical errors, and misspellings. If you own a computer, you have access to spell- checking and grammar-checking technologies. Use them. These small details will reflect upon your site. If you don't convey professionalism on your own business, how will you be conveyed to potential clients? Can they trust you with theirs? Before uploading any new content, proofread it. Then, turn it over to someone else for their input.
4. Write as if you were a Public Relations pro. Granted, many of us aren't PR exec's, but you should know how to market your business. Use the lingo that is most appropriate for your business. While you want to provide information, your main goal is still one thing: to sell. So, write to sell.
5. Maximize your keywords. You went to great lengths to select keywords and phrases that are most appropriate for your business. Be sure to use them whenever possible (without being overtly redundant) in your content.
6. Refresh, refresh, refresh. Web sites should be updated on a regular basis -- don't let them go stale. Add new products/ services, update users with new information and tools, do what you can to change your content and keep users coming back for more.
7. Know your audience. Since most audiences vary in terms of experience level with both your product/service and their experience level with the internet, you will want to simplify things more than ever. You don't want to talk to yourself - make sure potential clients understand your product/service. The best way to do this is to create content that is informative, yet easy to understand for even the newest of the newbies.
Web site design
Secondary to content is the actual design of your Web site. While the user comes to your site specifically for information, they also will want to enter an area that is easy to use and visually appealing. Here are some usability tips regarding Web site design:
1. Avoid long load times. While the latest technology for Web sites is incredibly interesting and fun, lots of graphics, Flash images, and audio can create long load times that make the user wait. And, if customers have to wait too long, they may leave -- and never come back. As a guide, users will generally wait for a site to load for ten seconds before vacating.
2. Make your pages easy to read. A common error in Web usability is the incessant need to create the prettiest Web site that ever existed. We've all seen them - every color from the Crayola box of 64 has made its mark on these pages. And, with a little bit of color usually comes a lot of cute little images that dance across your screen. In all seriousness, resist the urge to do this. Not only will it hoard a lot of memory, but it will drive your users crazy. Black text on a white background is the easiest to read. If you really want a colored background, stick with a lighter shade, but remember to use black text.
3. Create a well-organized site. Maintaining a consistent look and feel throughout your site is critical. The navigation you use on the home page should be carried out throughout your Web site. Clear navigation can either make or break your site. You are basically providing your users with a road map to your products and services. Don't let them get lost along the way.
4. Consider your space. Content should amount to 50-80% of your page design, with navigation taking up approximately 20% of the space.
5. Stay consistent with design elements. Select one or two (maximum) fonts and stick with them throughout your site.
6. Have a secure and automated server. Amazingly only 20% of current Web sites are secure.
7. What can you do different? This is probably the most important thing to remember when designing your site. Think about your business and your competition. What are you doing differently that will make users visit your site? Once you find out what that is -- whether you offer the lowest prices, have a special widget that no one else sells, or have reputable customer service -- capitalize on that one thing by incorporating it in your design elements.
There are good sites on the Internet and there are an equal number of bad sites (if not more!) out there. The good sites provide for a smooth user experience - easy navigation and easy-to-find information. The bad sites are slow to load, difficult to navigate and leave the users frustrated before they can even get to the information they initially needed. If you've already invested the time and effort into developing a Web site, you should take a serious look at the usability of your site. Here's an easy homework assignment: Some day, when you've got a few hours to spare, surf the Internet and make note of sites you think are good and which ones drove you absolutely crazy. Investigate the qualities of those sites and what made them good or bad. Pretty soon, you'll start to see some patterns that you can learn from and implement into your own usability strategy. Remember, usability is all about creating a unique and enlightening user experience. Usability is the name of the game -- isn't it time you started playing?
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