Many websites lack purpose and resemble badly stacked building blocks more than a well organized website… So, what are we talking about here? Think, think, and think…eureka? Well…here’s the answer: user friendliness! Ponder this: You may have a super cool site with great graphics and content. But, of what use is all this coolness if the site isn’t user friendly? Getting our point? If your site is difficult to use, visitors will desert you for sure. So here are 8 steps you need to successfully climb to reach the level of a good user friendly website:
1. Structure and Format Your Content
Website content not only includes planning textual content, it also involves the containers (sections) you place content in. Plan your site’s skeletal framework before you hit the textual content matter. Just put yourself in a user’s shoes and think. Would you want to go through a site that is totally cluttered and has complex navigation? No, you wouldn’t. So don’t expect your users to do it. Understanding your customer (read site visitors) and their requirements is important even with content structuring.
You need pay attention to content formatting also. Highlight your headers, bullet/number points, segregate content based on main and sub-topics. If not, you might just be looking at speedy website exits. Make it easy for readers to skim through content. Want to know more? This article has a lot of detail on information architecture and navigation planning.
2. Effective Navigation
Design your site navigation in such a way that it is neat and uncluttered. If you have an expansive website with a lot of content, use logic and break it down systematically into sections users can easily navigate between. Use concepts like drop-down menus and bread crumb navigation. If your website has many pages and your drop-down menus are getting long, shift some sections to sub-menus that appear after a user clicks on an item in the main menu. Think of your site as a department store. Plan the store (your site) in such a way that it’s easy for people to find the section they want to shop in (sections of content they want). At the same time, also make other sections they may want to shop in (other sections they might be interested in) accessible.
Menus are only a part of the deal. Navigation also includes setting up an efficient search feature, multiple ways to explore content (popular posts, most shared articles etc.), tabs that offer access to important company information at the beginning and end of the page etc.
3. Check Browser Compatibility
There’s no telling as to which browser/browser version a user will open your website on. What with the multitude of browsers and their many versions out there today, you need to prep your website to be compatible with all the major browsers and their latest versions. Statistics from June 2013 say that 52.1% people were using Google’s Chrome browser followed by Firefox (28.9%), Internet Explorer (12.0%), Safari (3.9%) and Opera (1.7%). So you need to be on your toes and keep yourself updated about browsers and versions.
Let’s say a user favors Google’s Chrome browser and your site isn’t compatible with Chrome or that specific version of Chrome. Will the user abandon their favorite browser or your site? Good guess. It’s your site they’ll abandon. If this happens, you can chalk it up to bad branding and negative impact on site usability. To avoid this unsavory situation, you can check your website’s compatibility with different browsers and their versions on the Browser Shots site.
4. Site Loading Time
How long does your site take to load? How patient do you think average users are when it comes to website loading time? Prepare to be surprised…in a recent research 47% users said they expect a site to load in two seconds or less and 40% said they abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load.
Ensure that your website doesn’t take eons to load (and on the web, mere seconds seem like eons). Don’t load pages with unnecessary items that will decrease the load speed. Use only necessary icons and widgets. You can use this tool to test your website’s loading speed. Check this out to know more about website loading time.
5. Mobile Compatibility
Ahh…we’re at the topic, aren’t we? Mobile presence has become an indispensable part of a brand’s grand plan and the company website is no exception. According to eMarketer, mobile is going to account for 15% of online retail sales and US retail mcommerce sales will touch nearly $39 billion this year!
If you don’t have a mobile site already, better get cracking on that right away (but have a proper plan in place before you start). If you do have a mobile site, check how it is using Google’s mobile site tester. If something doesn’t seem to be working, make note and rectify it as soon as possible.
6. Mark Up and Cleaning Code
A well designed website should not just load fast and be compatible with most browsers; it should also help locate problems and troubleshooting. You can use mark up validation tools to check the mark up validity of web documents in HTML, XHTML, SMIL, MathML etc. To validate specific content like RSS/Atom feeds, CSS style sheets, mobile OK content or to find broken links, you can use other validation tools.
7. Using the Right Color Contrasts
Right contrasts that make reading on a website an easier experience is one basic aspect that should not be overlooked. Aim for proper contrast between the color of the background and textual content. Lack of contrast frustrates readers which may prompt them to exit your site.
8. Webpage Forms
Forms on your site are vital interaction tools that allow you to communicate with your target audience. And psst…these forms are also a great source of leads for you. You can create a database of people who fill your forms and keep in touch with them by sending newsletters and the like. So make sure that the forms are easy to use and accessible. You can: use correct labels for all fields, keep the number of required fields to a minimum, offer suggestions and display a confirmation message on completion to make the form more user friendly.
Forms are also great feedback sources which you can use to better your site.
Also, check out this online form building tool. What else do websites need to do to become more user friendly?