There are many aspects to creating a successful website. When designing and building your site it is important to consider both marketing and usability aspects to ensure your site will accomplish your goals. Search Engine Optimization and other marketing techniques will help you to attract visitors to your site. Having a clear, concise and easy to use site will help you to convert visitors into customers. In this article I will focus on website usability.

Some concepts to consider:

  1. People don’t read websites they scan them.
  2. We are typically in a hurry so we choose the first thing that appeals to us.
  3. If we don’t see anything we like, we go back and try the next site.
  4. We won’t spend much time trying to figure something out. If it doesn’t make sense right away we will try something else.

Home Page

The most important part of your website is your home page. It must clearly communicate your site’s purpose and create a positive impression. The majority of the home page information should be available “above the fold”, i.e., it should be visible without having to scroll down. Your home page should include information about all major options available on your site.

Keep it simple. Omit needless words. Use the technical writing convention of eliminating any words that don’t add to the meaning. If there are too many words, your visitor won’t see what you want them to see.

Clearly communicate your site’s purpose. Use a tag line. A tag line tells your visitor what is most important to you. Add a welcome blurb. This is a short description of the site, displayed prominently front and center on your site.

The home page will set up the look and feel of your site. Establish site conventions that ensure the major components on your site look the same on all site pages.

Provide easy access to the home page from every page on the site. Be careful about only using the site name or logo as a link back to the home page. Clearly label the “Home” link.

Usability Testing

One way you can check the usability of your site is to try the trunk test described by Steve Krug in his book Don’t Make Me Think, 2006, New Riders. Open any random page on your site and try to answer the following questions quickly by scanning the page.

  1. What site is this? Your site name should be the most prominently displayed information on your site. It is customary for your site name or logo to appear in the upper left corner of your site.
  2. What page am I on? Be sure to have the current page name prominently displayed at the top of the page.
  3. What are the major sections of this site? Clearly mark the major sections of your site. You can use font size, images or color to highlight these sections.
  4. What are my options at this level? Have clear and easy-to-use navigation. It should be readily available and easy to identify. This satisfies a visitor’s need to browse before asking questions.
  5. Where am I in the scheme of things? Include “You are here” indicators or breadcrumbs so users can see where they are in the site’s architecture and move back to the home page or other pages easily.
  6. How can I search? Have a site search box clearly visible and easy to use. If they don’t see what they want in the navigation they can quickly search to see if you have what they want. This satisfies a visitor’s need to ask for help.

Cheryl Calhoun is a co-owner of WildIrisMarket.com and Wild Iris Books. She is a professor of Information Technology Education at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fl. Wild Iris Books is a New Age Feminist and Metaphysical store located in Gainesville, FL. WildIrisMarket.com is an on-line multi-vendor e-commerce market place providing a store front for a variety of New Age retilers and wholesalers.

References: Krug, Steve (2006). Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition. Berkley, CA:New Riders.

This article was originally published in COVR Newsletter, March 2011.