How to Improve the Usability of a Website

by
Stephanie Corrigan
How to Improve the Usability of a Website
Usability is an essential feature of a well-designed website. In this article, we're diving into everything you need to know in order to create top-notch websites with an outstanding user experience.

As web designers, our job isn't just to create beautiful websites; our job is to create websites that are both visually stunning and user-friendly. The importance of usability in website design can't be overstated. If you've ever landed on a website that was aesthetically pleasing and yet impossible to navigate, you'll understand why.

Check out the video below from the Flux YouTube channel to hear Ran Segall's take on beautiful vs. usable website design:

A website with a good user experience helps users find what they're looking for quickly. This results in happy users, who are more likely to return to the site. Happy users are also more likely to convert into leads, customers, or subscribers. In other words, good usability is a win-win for both website owners and visitors.

5 principles of website usability

If you're new to web design, or just not really sure where to start when it comes to improving website usability, you're in the right place. Keep reading to discover five important ways to improve the accessibility and usability of a website.

1. Mobile optimization

Optimizing a website for mobile is one of the most important things you can do to improve usability. And yet, a surprising number of active websites out there are still not mobile responsive.

In today's age of the smartphone, more than half of all web browsing is taking place on mobile devices. And that percentage just keeps increasing year after year. It goes without saying that websites that aren't mobile optimized are creating a poor user experience for the majority of individuals browsing the web.

Example of a mobile-optimized website design (source)
Example of a mobile-optimized website design (source)

How to improve mobile optimization

If you're new to web design, you might be wondering: what does it really mean for a website to be mobile responsive? Here are three ways to ensure that a website is optimized for mobile:

  • Minimize loading time to three seconds or less.
  • Increase text size for better legibility. In other words, don't make users have to zoom in to read your text.
  • Reduce the number of steps needed to perform an action, such as calling a number, making a purchase, or searching for a product.

Check out this article from Google to read more about the importance of mobile optimization.

How to test for mobile optimization

Once you've implemented all the best practices for mobile optimization, it's important to run some tests to make sure that the website will actually perform well on mobile.

Here are a couple sites, both brought to you by Google, that you can use to test your websites for mobile performance:

2. Simple navigation

The way a website's navigation is structured can make or break the user experience. Clear and simple navigation goes a long way in improving the usability of a website.

For e-commerce websites, the goal of the navigation should be to get users to wherever they need to go to make a purchase in as few clicks as possible. Too many roadblocks along the way can cause users to get frustrated or bored and ultimately give up. For example, requiring a user to create an account before purchasing anything could be considered a major roadblock, resulting in a lot of money left on the table.

Example of clear and simple navigation with a dropdown menu (source)
Example of clear and simple navigation with a dropdown menu (source)

For websites that don't sell products, clear navigation is just as important. Most people land on a website with a particular goal in mind. The quicker they can achieve this goal, the better.

We often think of website navigation as the primary menu, but in fact this principle applies to all links and buttons on a site. As you scroll down a page, it should be clear which elements are linked to other pages, and what those pages are. A link that just blends in with the content is easy to miss and therefore doesn't create a good user experience.

3. Visual hierarchy

Visual hierarchy is a principle of design that is used to draw attention to the most important elements in a design. Without visual hierarchy, the user has no idea where to look and what to focus on. Since clarity is key for usability, creating visual hierarchy in web design is a great way to improve the usability of a website.

Creating effective visual hierarchy is important for any type of design that is intended to communicate a message; however, it's especially important on the web, where you only have a few seconds to grab someone's attention.

Example of effective visual hierarchy in a text-heavy website design (source)

How to create visual hierarchy in web design

There are a number of different techniques for using visual hierarchy to improve website usability. Here are some of the most common ways to create visual hierarchy in web design:

  • Size. The largest element on the page is typically the first to draw the eye.
  • Color. Contrasting colors stand out visually and can draw attention to important elements, such as buttons.
  • Negative space. White space divides elements and is important for adding emphasis and limiting overwhelm.
  • Alignment. Using appropriate alignment in web design helps organize the content so that it's easy to follow.

Click here to read more about visual hierarchy and how to achieve it in web design.

4. Accessibility

Web accessibility refers to the practice of creating websites that are accessible to individuals with cognitive, visual, auditory, motor, or speech disabilities. Creating websites that are accessible is not only good practice; it can even prevent lawsuits. A website that wasn't created with accessibility in mind could be seen as discriminatory towards disabled individuals.

But web accessibility doesn't just benefit individuals with permanent disabilities; it's good for everyone. For example, if you're browsing the web on a slow Internet connection, the images may not load, and if they don't have alt tags, you'd be forced to try to fill in the blanks yourself. If you want to watch a video but are in a setting where you can't use audio and there aren't any subtitles, you're out of luck. These are just two examples, but there are many ways an inaccessible website can create a poor user experience for disabled and non-disabled individuals alike.

How to improve website accessibility

So what can you do to improve the accessibility of a website? Here are four best practices to incorporate on every website you create:

  • Add alt text to all images. For SEO purposes, you might be tempted to stuff your image's alt tags with keywords. Or maybe you're not utilizing the tags at all. For web accessibility, it's important to write out alt text that describes the content of an image so that Screen Readers can convey that information to the user if they're unable to view the image.
  • Create color contrast. Make sure that all the text on your website contrasts strongly against the background, whether it's a solid color, image, or something else. The higher the contrast ratio, the more accessible the website is. Use this contrast checker to check for compliance.
  • Use proper HTML header tags. Using proper heading tags (h1, h2, h3, h4) is important for organizing the content on a page so that it's easy to follow and understand, especially for individuals relying on Screen Readers.
  • Include label tags for form inputs. When adding a form to your website, make sure every input field has a label. In other words, don't just rely on placeholder text, which isn't accessible to every user.

Click here to read our in-depth guide on accessibility for websites.

5. Credibility

When someone lands on your website, one of the things they're looking for, consciously or not, is evidence of your credibility. If you're creating content or offering services, people need to know that you're legitimate in order to trust your expertise. Simply put, credibility builds trust.

Credibility can be built into a business in many ways, but it's especially important on a website, which is often the first point of contact between a consumer and a business. Thus, designing your website with credibility in mind can give you a leg-up on the competition.

Testimonials are a great way to add credibility to a website (source)

How to improve website credibility

Fortunately, there are many ways to build website credibility that don't require winning the most prestigious awards in your industry. Here are a few tips for baking credibility into every website you create:

  • Check for grammar and spelling mistakes. This one may sound like a no-brainer, but it's easy to overlook. Simple mistakes like these look lazy and unprofessional.
  • Provide contact info. Ideally, every website should include some contact details, such as an address, phone number, and email. These details help legitimize the business.
  • Include testimonials. Third-party social proof goes a long way in building trust and credibility.
  • Create an About page. This is one of the most important pages of every website. Share a bit of backstory to humanize the brand.
  • Show off your expertise. Awards, publications, and other features are a great way to build expertise and credibility.

For more ways to build credibility on a website, check out this helpful article by Neil Patel.

How to create websites that are both beautiful and usable

In this post, we covered five of the most important principles for improving the usability of a website: mobile optimization, simple navigation, visual hierarchy, accessibility, and credibility. With these strategies in hand, you're well on your way to creating high-quality and user-friendly websites for your clients.

To get the best results out of the websites you create, however, it's important to combine the best practices of both usability and visual design. Our course, The $10k Website Process, teaches just that and more.

The $10k Website Process is a 9-module course that teaches Ran Segall's step-by-step process for creating high-value websites. With 12 hours of video content, done-for-you resources, and expert support, the course offers everything you need to know about the art and strategy of web design in one, comprehensive package.

Click here to learn more about the course and join our active community of over 3,000 professional web designers.

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