The Web Mantra: Usability, usability and usability - Anthill Online

The Web Mantra: Usability, usability and usability

February 16, 2012
By Edwin Lucas
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In the digital age, a website is critical to any successful business. Great technology and great strategy can make a good website a great one. Equally, a sloppy mind can turn even a good website into a lousy one, and drive away users. In the online world, all that matters is usability, usability and usability.

Consultants will advise you on how to build a good website, but few will dwell on what not to do. Here is the bad stuff you want to avoid at all costs.

#1. Sorry mate, website coming soon

Can I get your business card? Sorry mate, it’s still being printed. I cannot believe many people do just that when it comes to a website.

When you make people click on your link and then show them a site still being built, you have likely lost the opportunity to make a good first impression with a potential user. Google mentions this in its guidelines and recommends that web pages without content should not be published. Such a site without real content is also bad for SEO.

From a business perspective, if you look to raise capital from investor and the first web page they see has nothing but “Website under construction (with a clock ticking),” you would make a poor impression, says Reuben Buchanan, a capital-raising expert.

Instead, give your visitor something valuable to read. Nowadays you can set up a website for free. So why not put a friendly landing page where you explain what you do, what’s in it for your audience, or give them free stuff to encourage them to subscribe.

#2. Not responding to user queries

What is paramount to users is the fulfillment of their needs at any given moment, and that includes any questions or concerns. So if you run a website, make sure users get the response they need and deserve.

To do that in timely fashion, ask yourself these questions: Why do people come to my website? What’s in my website for them? Do my visitors come to buy something, get entertainment, or simply look for information?

Your answers will tell you the right thing to do.

#3. Auto-play music

I normally close any page that automatically plays music, especially those that are loud. Even successful music companies (MTV, American Idol) don’t put music on their websites, so why should we? If you need to play an audio, let users manually play it.

Besides, there is an interesting comment from zigpress.com: “Do you have the rights to add that particular music to your website? If you didn’t compose and record it yourself, you’d better be very sure, or start putting a lot of money aside ready for when the Warner Brothers or Sony legal team comes knocking at your door.”

#4. Open a PDF file without warning

Has your browser crashed because no Adobe Reader was installed? Mine has. In any case, users hate PDF file on websites. In this article by usability expert Jakob Nielsen, people said: “I find it to be annoying. It’s slow to load. It’s hard to search within it.”

If you really need to link your web page to a PDF, put a warning next to the link that says (eg. PDF xxxxMB), especially for big files.

#5. Keeping users guessing

Have you ever opened a website and needed time to figure out what it’s all about? If people don’t understand your message or what you offer on your website in 5-8 seconds, they probably will leave and likely never come back.

Users are extremely goal-oriented when browsing. People visit sites because there is something they want to get — usually find info or buy a product.

You need to understand why people come to your website and provide them the answers in an obvious easy-to-find place, perhaps on the homepage or FAQ page. If you put up a search engine, make sure it works properly.

The above are only a few examples of cardinal errors in web development. Make sure you avoid them. A singular focus on web usability will pay rich dividends. Besides Google Search for Usability Tips, two great resources on that are: 50 Tips To A User Friendly Website; and Jakob Nielsen’s Alert Box.

Edwin Lucas is the co-owner and Business Development Director of Digital Office Builder, a web development company in Melbourne. One of his passions is to educate small business owners to maximize the use of Online Business Systems in order to experience various benefits in their business including cost reduction, efficiency improvement and business process automation. Follow Edwin Lucas (https://twitter.com/#!/EdwinLucas87) on Twitter.

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