10 Killer Ways to Boost Your Site’s Usability

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  • August 6, 2009

Usability is the measure of how easy it is for a user who has never seen your site before to be able to navigate throughout its pages, to find information they’re looking for and to interact with its content.

In the following list, I’m going to be providing you with some practical tips for dramatically enhancing your site’s simplicity. I’ll walk you step-by-step through the best ways to drastically increase the overall quality of your user’s journey through your website. Follow these simple guidelines and you will dynamically improve the usability of your website or blog.

  • Make the most important links large and easy to read.
  • Create multiple access points to important content like subscription options.
  • Eliminate unnecessary obstacles like captcha systems or mandatory logins.
  • Move your advertisements so that they don’t get in the way of the content.
  • Place a link to the home page on every page in case a user gets lost.
  • Provide a clear and complete about page and contact page.
  • Don’t clutter your sidebar with unnecessary links or widgets.
  • Provide targeted content and links in the post footers.
  • Use a large, comfortable font and provide space between each paragraph.
  • Conduct simple, old-fashioned usability testing.

A Practical Exercise in Usability Testing

For many of you that last point was probably a bit confusing. Usability testing simply means that you allow a user who has little knowledge of your site to browse it and to provide you with honest feedback. Take a few minutes out of your day to perform the following practical exercise at your site. This is usability testing in its simplest form and it will provide you with invaluable feedback that can empower you to take your site to the next level.

Practical Exercise: Find someone who has never seen your site before. Have them browse your site for 3 minutes as you stand over their shoulder and watch. You are not allowed to talk to them or answer any of their questions during those 3 minutes. You are only allowed to watch.

At the end of the 3 minutes ask them for their feedback. Do not get defensive about anything they say or ask. For emphasis I feel that I need to repeat this: do not get defensive. Write down their questions or confusions on a piece of paper and make it your goal to eliminate any other users from having those confusions.

You’re natural reaction will be to explain to your test subject the answers to their questions. Remember that when a new user hits your site, you won’t be there by their side to answer their questions so you have to make it easy for them.

About Nicholas Cardot

It's my personal quest to enable every person that I can to unlock that dormant potential concerning their online influence. Also, I'm a geek.

36 Comments

  • Eric B. says:

    Great tip about the usability testing. I’ll probably try doing that on my site sometime.

  • Bruce says:

    I have my about me page and contacts page rolled up into one, but I bet if somebody wanted to contact me they probably wouldn’t know to find my email address in the about me section. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before. I’ll have to fix it. Do you ever get to a point when your not always fixing your site? :P Thanks bro.

  • Arisu says:

    But don´t try it with someone completely oblivious to computers… like your grandmother… -giggle-

    Anyway, great advice! You can measure usability, but also get a really fresh first impression – cause friends may say nice things when asked, but body signs can´t lie.

  • Extreme John says:

    If only everyone would follow these tips it would make cruising through sites mus more efficient and easy on the eyes.

    You would be amazed how many blogs I see a day that have like a Font size 1 as their content font size, ridiculous.

  • InternethowBlog says:

    I am sure my site has a lot of usability issues it self. However, I make sure, I seperate the advertisement from the main content. Also, as I choose a template for my blog, I try to go for more settled colors.

    Also, spacing between the lines is also very important as it makes it easier to read.

  • 10 Killer Ways to Boost Your Site’s Usability | Design Newz says:

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  • Nicholas Z. Cardot says:

    Eric B. >> If you do I don’t think that you’ll regret it!

    Bruce >> Separating those pages will make it much easier for your users to find out who you are and to get in touch with you!

    Arisu >> Ha ha! I don’t think my grandmother knows how to use a mouse. LOL. Your right that body signs don’t lie!

    Extreme John >> I believe that large, easy-to-read fonts and a few well-placed pieces of empty space can make it very easy on the eyes.

    InternetHowBlog >> I think that people put the ad in their content to increase clicks but they usually lower the quality of the site and reduce the number of visitors which in turn reduces clicks.

  • Jeff B. says:

    “Use a large, comfortable font…”

    I think this is one point that Site Sketch 101 did a fantastic job at. Believe it or not, the size of the font on the blogs and comments are just right for me. It’s so easy on the eyes and very comfortable.

    Excellent layout here IMHO!

  • InternethowBlog says:

    Yeah, i agree completly. I used to put adsense ads within the posts by wrapping the text around. i must admit I was getting a lot of clicks. however, after a while i realised that visitors don’t stay on the site long enough to read my posts. Now, I removed the adsense from the posts and visitors hang around longer.

    • Nicholas Z. Cardot says:

      InternethowBlog » It’s one of those things that I consider ‘selling out’ where you sort of throw away the quality of your product for the chance and a few more nickels in your pockets. I was helping my dad do some work in a crawl space under a building and I said to him, “Why are you worrying about this being done so particular? No one is going to know about it.” His reply was simple, “I’ll know about it.” I want my site to be high quality. Not just set up to make money but set up to be something that I’m proud to put my name on. I think that bloggers with overbearing ads remind me of door-to-door vacuum salesman. They don’t care about helping you. They just care about making the next sale.

  • Performance Design says:

    This is the first time it hit me – I don’t have “Related” links on any of my page footers aside from a context sensitive sidebar navigation. I’ll have to implement that. I love that on other sites, just never occured to put it on mine! Thanks.

    • Nicholas Z. Cardot says:

      Performance Design » If people read your content and enjoy it, then one of the best things that you can do is to try to draw them in by presenting them with some more of it. Make it look nice, though. Don’t just throw anything down there. I hope it helps you!

      Liane YoungBlogger » You’re right. I hear it said often that ‘Content is King’ and I believe that. Great content brings in the visitors.

      George Serradinho » Great! Don’t ever underestimate the power of your user’s feedback. Too often we dismiss people’s feedback because we are the ‘designer’ and they are just the average person. But we have to design our blogs for the average person.

  • Liane YoungBlogger says:

    I follow a lot of rules in maintaining my site’s usability. But in the end, the main principle is just simple “useful content”. That’s what readers are after in the first place ;)

  • George Serradinho says:

    This post is just what I needed. I was told by another user to have a few less pictures and distractions and I’m working on that.

    Funny thing about my about page is that I updated it yesterday. It has more info and I feel more comfortable about it now.

    I will try your exercise and see what the new user has to say, wish me luck :)

  • Joe says:

    Nick, I’m a long-time web designer but brand new to blogging and internet marketing, so I really appreciate the advice you give. But, while I can understand the selling side of the need to “Eliminate unnecessary obstacles like captcha systems…”, on the practical side, couldn’t this mean a mailbox full of spam? I was planning to implement a captcha on my mail sign up form, but maybe I don’t need to :-)

    • Nicholas Z. Cardot says:

      Joe » I’m going to be honest. I have not noticed any increase in spam since I’ve eliminated my Captchas and I have honestly seen a drastic increase in comments and emails. I know that they are there to prevent spam, but it has not been a problem for me.

  • WordPress Top50 says:

    Hi,
    thanks for your tips. We have created a new design for our Hompage. WordPress Top50 List in Germany. We use your tips.
    Special thanks.
    Kindly
    Karina

  • Customized Marketing says:

    I agree about the font size. Some sites have fonts so small, that it is such a chore to read the posts and pages.

    • Nicholas Z. Cardot says:

      Customized Marketing » And if it is a chore then people aren’t going to stick around. I know I’m not going to stick around somewhere if it’s a chore to read their content!

      Hua Chen » You’re welcome. I hope it helps you!

  • Hua Chen says:

    The practical advice you give is clever! Thanks!

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  • HRM says:

    This post is an eye-opener for me Nick. Thanks.

    Now, am seriously thinking of redesigning my site.

  • Typhoon says:

    Well I think my blog is good on all those points. Just having one question in my mind whether my font size is readable or not. It’s a default font used on almost every website. But should I make it bigger?

    Can you tell me by checking my blog?

    • Nicholas Z. Cardot says:

      Typhoon » I would make it bigger, but then I use a completely different style than you do. My font here is larger. I don’t use a black or a white. I use an off color font to make it blend more nicely with my template and make it easier on the eyes. That’s my professional opinion.

  • Typhoon says:

    Ok Thanks for your opinion Nicholas.

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  • Daniel A. says:

    Thanks for the tip. I been reading all of this tip and stuff and they really are working. They are really helping me with my website

  • ZXT says:

    I’ll ask a co worker to check out my blog and see what will be the reaction. Thanks for the tip Nick.

    • Nicholas Z. Cardot says:

      ZXT –> Make sure you don’t get defensive if he or she says anything negative.

      • ZXT says:

        No I didn’t get defensive. I can take it :)

        Need to ask a couple more co workers. Now would it best to ask a co worker who knows a lot about internet or a co worker that log less online?

        BTW, whats your font Nick?

  • Web Overhauls says:

    I’d say number your top 10 lists. And make sure the layout works in Opera. (Hint: I’m talking about this article).

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