Website usability
Navigating drop down menus that disappear before you can click, filling out forms for online payments that inexplicably clear themselves, finding yourself on a Web page having no clue how you got there or how to return to where you were—we’ve all been there. Few things are more frustrating in the online world than a website that stands between the user and the information they are seeking or an action they are trying to complete.That’s where website usability comes in. Website usability refers to how well users can navigate and use a website to achieve their goals (such as moving from one page to another, finding information, paying a bill or searching for a phone number) and how satisfied they are with that process. Generally, consideration of website usability occurs throughout the process of building a website but it truly should be done on an ongoing basis.

Testing usability is part art, part science. While usability testing often is a highly technical process that requires special tools, it can be conducted on a smaller scale to provide basic insight that can be made to improve your site.

With this basic approach in mind, we’ve compiled key factors that affect usability with tips, tools and ideas to guide you on the path to happy website visitors and a website that rocks…

Start by forming a usability task force—a group of employees or volunteers willing to help you determine and rate how easy and effective your website is to use. Send invitations to participate with a fun computer-themed gift, like screen dusters or a USB pouch. Throw in an extra enticement with the promise of gift cards in a dual-purpose case or a nice gift upon completion.

Once you’ve got the volunteers, you’ll want to assess how they use your website by asking them to complete a series of tasks. Record their experiences and follow up with them, asking:

  • How easy was it for you to learn to perform the desired task? (Learnability)
  • How obvious and easy was the task to accomplish? (Intuitiveness)
  • Are there any ideas you have for reducing the time it takes to complete the task? (Efficiency)
  • If you made a mistake while performing a task, how quickly did you recover? (Fault tolerance)
  • How easy was it to repeat a task? (Memorability)

After addressing tasks, move on to seek feedback regarding other aspects of your website, like readability, navigability and accessibility.

Readability
refers to the copy and overall content on your site—is it easy to read and comprehend? Look at these indicators:

  • Ease of comprehension: Is the content easy to understand and internalize? Are the words being used familiar to the average Internet user or are they too complex and uncommon? Are sentences and paragraphs concise?
  • Legibility: Are fonts big enough? Is there enough contrast between the text and its background?
  • Reading enjoyment: Would users appreciate and enjoy the content? Is the information accurate, of high quality and well-written? Do font characteristics such as size, spacing and colour make reading longer passages easy or do they strain the eyes?

Navigability refers to how easily visitors to your site can move from one page on your site to the next. Navigability consists of a variety of things like menus, search boxes, links within the copy of a web page and more. Consider these indicators to assess how your site measures up:

  • Information architecture (IA): How well are webpages categorized and organized? How well are navigational features constructed?
  • Findability: Are there sufficient site features such as search boxes, archive pages, links and navigation features that aid in finding relevant web pages?
  • Efficiency of navigation: How fast and in how many actions (number of clicks, how much text, etc.) does it take to get to page of interest?

And finally, accessibility. This refers to how well people—especially visitors with disabilities or impairments like colour blindness or limited mobility—can get to your site and interact with it once there. It also refers to the level of accessibility someone has with your site from varying electronic devices.This is especially critical with the rapid adoption of mobile devices, tablets, netbooks and Web-enabled TVs and gaming consoles. Internet users also have a much wider array of Web browsers than ever before: IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and so forth.

All of these options render our work in different ways and present interaction challenges. For example, selecting a link on a touchscreen tablet is completely different from clicking it on a desktop computer.

Take these considerations into account when performing Web accessibility analysis:

  • Cross-browser/Cross-platform compatibility: Does the site work in as many browsing situations as possible? Is the site responsive, flexibly changing the layout depending on how the user views it?
  • Colour choice: Are the colours used high contrast? Do the colours create a hindrance to people with colour blindness or poor vision?

After compiling responses and feedback from your task force, follow through with your promise of a small gift, like a thermo lunch container, a T-shirt or gift card. Review your responses with your IT and marketing teams to brainstorm ways to improve the usability of your site. Then, implement to your heart’s content.

Your government agency’s website could be aesthetically pleasing with a plethora of information and amazing functionality. Yet, if visitors to your site can’t figure out how to use it or how to access the information it contains, none of the bells and whistles will matter.


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