Usability is actually a very simple concept, but it’s one that people often get so, so wrong. When people who aren’t professional web designers put a site together, the focus is far too often on the visual aesthetics rather than the underlying functionality of the site. For this reason, you can often end up with a site that looks nice enough but is actually unusable for great numbers of people.
The thing to remember is that all people are different. Just because you can use the website, or your designer or your friends can find their way around it, not everyone will be able to. Simply looking at your bounce rate in your web stats will indicate whether or not people are finding it easy to navigate your website.
It’s all about the user experience, and you need to put far, far more effort into this aspect of your website than most others. Here are some ways not to make your website accessible.
1. Confusing or dysfunctional navigation
It’s important that your site follows a hierarchical navigation structure, divided into logical sections which can be easily navigated by users. It’s all about limiting the number of things the user has to do, including mouse clicks. If a user can’t find what they’re looking for in under a minute, they’re likely to disappear off elsewhere. Orphan pages, masses of white space and a lack of search functionality will all turn off huge swathes of visitors who’ll probably never come back.
2. Setting links to open in a new window
The common view is that opening an external link in a new window will ensure that users stay on your site, at least in one browser tab. This is actually counterintuitive. If the user wants to leave the site by clicking an external link, let them. It’s all about enabling the user to find the information they want. If they don’t find it on the external link, they’ll probably hit the Back button anyway. You should never assume that your website’s so great that you shouldn’t let people away from it.
There’s a fine line between limiting white space and user clicks and over-cluttering a web page to the point where the user is overwhelmed and can’t find anything anyway. White space is a good thing in moderation and should be embraced. It creates order in your page; the contrast which allows your important content to actually be seen. You know the old saying about not being able to see the wood for the trees? That applies here.
4. Use infinite scrolling sparingly
Infinite scrolling is a great way of putting all your content in one place without having to worry about loading times and clutter. After all, the extra scrolled content will only load if the user explicitly scrolls down and loads it. Brilliant, right? Not exactly. First time users won’t always know about infinite scrolling and key content certainly shouldn’t be placed ‘below the fold’ in this sense. Crowding the top half of your site, though, isn’t great either and can put first-time users off (remember that bounce rate?). For users on slower connections, too, infinite scrolling is not much fun. Use it sparingly.
5. No on-site support
You should never assume that users know how to navigate your website — or any website, for that matter. Make sure you include a help desk system, tech support or even just a simple set of FAQs. These should address problems the user may encounter on the website and should be advertised prominently, especially if you’re using some form of groundbreaking design which could confuse some users. Even just knowing the help and support is there if they need it can be enough to encourage some users to explore more fully rather than panicking.
6. Trying to move towards click-free design
This is an interesting trend, but not one which is without its problems, to say the least. Having a website respond every time you move (or stop moving) your mouse can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you’re just there to read an article or find some information. Most users don’t mind having to click (after all, they’re used to it) to confirm where they want to go. It’s far less frustrating than being taken somewhere they don’t want to go and haven’t clicked on, anyway.
As you can see, usability can be a minefield. Embracing new technologies is an exciting way of beefing up your website and keeping one step ahead of the game, but the end user should always be the one you try to please. Not everyone will be amazed by new technologies. In fact, most will just be confused. Keeping things simple is usually the best way to approach usability. Very few people surf the web to look at cool designs or funky new web technologies; most just want to find the information they’re looking for, and quickly. Give them what they want.
If you want to ensure your website is fully accessible from a usability point of view, why not give us a call? We can analyse your current design and let you know where you might be able to make some improvements, increasing your ROI and reducing your bounce rate at the same time.