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Web UsabilityIs it time for Usability ?

1. What is Web Usability ?

Web usability is a general approach: it is as much about the effectiveness of transferring information via the Internet, as it is about the smooth interaction of an end-user with online (and offline) software. With web browsers becoming a greater part of the interaction between humans and electronic devices, the terms "usability" and "web usability" overlap in numerous ways.

Web usability is about making your website in such a way that your site users can find what they're looking for quickly and efficiently. A usable website can reap huge benefits on to your website and your business.

Your website has to be easy to navigate Users have gradually become accustomed to particular layouts and phrases on the Internet, for example:
  • Organisation logo is in the top-left corner and links back to the homepage
  • The term ĎAbout usí is used for organisation information
  • Navigation is in the same place on each page and adjacent to the content
  • Anything flashing or placed above the top logo is often an advertisement
  • The term ĎShopping cartí is used for items you might wish to purchase

There are numerous other conventions like these that enhance your website's usability - can you think of some more? Don't underestimate the importance of these conventions - as the Internet matures we're getting more and more used to things being a certain way. Break these conventions and you may be left with nothing but a website with poor usability and a handful of dissatisfied site visitors.

Pages must download quickly

Usability studies have shown that 8.6 seconds is the maximum time web users will wait for a page to download (source: Andrew B. King - Speed Up Your Site). As of March 2004 just 25% of UK web users had broadband (source: UK National Statistics) so it's essential for optimal usability that your website downloads quickly.

2. Web Usability - A Real World Comparison

You can compare a website to an actual store. Letís say you walk into one of those big retailers, looking for a new baseball glove. Now, youíve never been there before. So, you first need to find the Sporting Goods section. This store is huge. And with all the shelves and displays up front, you canít see the layout of the remaining 80% of the space.

The store might have a guide/map up front for you to check out. Then again, if itís the chain I have in mind, they probably donít. Instead, youíre going to wander around looking for signs. You also might use past experience in stores to make an educated guess. For example, you probably would look for the Pharmacy in the same area as the medicine and vitamins. Thatís where they usually put it.

Notice I didnít say anything about asking someone who works there? Thatís because it wouldnít fit our example. Websites donít have disgruntled slackers or underpaid clerks roaming around. Your sense of where you are and where what you want to go is dependent on the web designer. The hierarchy and site layout is created by them Ė and used by you.

Easy To Use = Easy To Profit

The ease of site use by your visitors is the same as the visitors to our store. How easy is it to find different sections of the site? Is there an easily located sitemap for them to look consult? Do they have a sense of where they are in the site and how to go back to a page they visited before? Without using the browser ĎBackí arrow?

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