Web usability describes the user interface and how easy a website or application is to use.

What makes a website easy to use?

Psychology. Don’t make me think. A link to a page should be easy to identify. Your company logo should take me ‘home’. If I click 3 times and have another inquiry, I should easily be able to find the answer to my second inquiry in less than 10 seconds.

Intuition. Navigation should be intuitive. If there’s a floating picture that’s supposed to be a link to a page, how is someone supposed to figure out that picture actually means ‘services’? Our brains aren’t wired to the web (yet), so the website should provide a predictable and consistent path to data.

Aesthetics. A website experience should be pleasurable and not jarring. It should work and it should be easy (or sometimes fun) to work.

These three attributes cover the 5 quality components defined by Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen-Norman group, who has been conducting usability studies since the early ’90’s. These (recently redefined) components include:

  • Learnability
  • Efficiency
  • Memorability
  • Errors (user-errors)
  • Satisfaction
  • Utility (functionality)

The 6th component is equally important as the 5 usability components – not only does a site need to be usable but it should also meet the users need in terms of features. Dr. Nielsen proposes at least four problems that form a pattern for users to leave a web page:

  • If the site is difficult to use
  • When the homepage does not identify the company offerings
  • Where the user gets lost on the website
  • If the website does not answer the user’s question or is difficult to read

The usability problem

This presents a problem, especially in this age, where the human attention span is now shorter than a goldfish. You have less than 8 seconds to get their attention, answer their question, and persuade them to stay longer. Its a hefty task, as well as a 25-year-old discipline. Nielsen focuses on ensuring usability via direct human studies. Have someone accomplish tasks on your website and record their response times.

Since Nielsen founded the usability movement, it has evolved to user-based design and human-computer interaction disciplines. The former in the field of art, and the latter in engineering. Thus, there are many schools of thought with different perspectives on the issues and how to address them, but the consensus is that there are website usability problems that need to be resolved (or a translation that needs to occur for humans to interact with computers).

Currently, however, there are more users accessing websites via mobile phones than actual computers. In our country, 94% of people with smartphones search for local information on their phones, and 77% of mobile searches are conducted at home or at work, where a desktop is likely present. Which makes mobile usability, or responsive websites, highly important.

Nielsen’s Law about network connection speeds means that user experience is bandwidth-bound. From his perspective a website should be designed for mobile and adapted to larger screens. This makes sense given the RF tethers we’re bound to, however, artists argue that this approach to the design process sacrifices user experience elements. From an implementation standpoint, most development cycles follow user centered design principles relying on multiple disciplines.

Thus, your website needs to accomplish important objectives:

  • increase sales & customer satisfaction
  • reduce maintenance and access cost
  • improve performance
  • build brand credibility

Web usability basics

Everybody wants to build their own website today, but it is a rare entrepreneur who considers the aspects of user experience. Mostly, the business owner wants a big, sparkly new application that will outrank their local competitor in google search. In order to rank, the website must have high interaction rates. To have high interaction rates, the website must be usable with accurate information that meets the target audience’s needs.

That means content that is:

  • useful
  • usable
  • valuable
  • findable
  • credible
  • accessible
  • desirable

The design should follow user interface design basics:

  • Simple interface with only the necessary elements for interaction with clear labels.
  • Common, consistent design elements that aid user task accomplishment
  • Scannable, readable page layouts (with bulleted lists and subheadings for visual searches)
  • Strategic use of color to direct the users attention
  • Clear, consistent and hierarchical use of typefaces to keep content readable
  • Interactive system elements to alert the user to state changes, for example, if the form failed to submit and why, or if it posted successfully

These basics bring together visual design, information architecture and interaction design to anticipate what users might need to do and ensure elements are easy to use, understand and access.

Wisconsin SEO understands these user experience elements and can assist you in conducting small usability tests and monitor the user sentiment for your website and your brand. We build responsive WordPress themes, giving you a content management system that is easy for you (or us) to manage and optimize. We also offer usability reports which summarize the findings of the usability test, website code validations and WC3 Accessibility checklist for usability principles.