In addition to your customers, take advantage of technology to improve usability. For instance, log files tell you which pages are most visited and for how long, unique vs. repeat visitors, etc. They will not tell you whether users found what they wanted, or why they abandoned their shopping carts.
Many services advise on predictable problems such as broken links, missing ALT tags for images, page load performance, but are unable to spot complex and underlying issues, such as difficulty in locating products, awkward navigation, meaningless graphics, and poor results from site search. Here are 4 suggestions to implement for your site usability today.
It is important to create a uniform feel for your website. Uniformity doesn’t mean it’s boring, rather it means consistency. When a visitor lands on your homepage, your goal is to engage the user. As the user browses through the site, a uniform feel is going to simplify the user experience. A bad website makes every page look wildly different, so the visitor never becomes comfortable with the site. If you make your web pages utterly different, it is less likely that your visitor will quickly become familiar with the site and continue using it.
There is nothing more boring than a website without images. A site with only text is both dull and overwhelming. Images can create excitement and help spice up your content. It makes the written content more vivid and easily processed for users. The most important concern with images is file size. Images can be fairly large files, slowing down the page load process. If your images are too large, or you have too many, reduce the number of images or the file size through free online tools such as Image Optimizer (http://www.imageoptimizer.net/Pages/Home.aspx).
You can’t afford to lose visitors because they give up waiting for your entire page to load. The Internet is a fast-moving superhighway, and if your website doesn’t keep up, it’s going to be left behind. Page load has to do with the file size, server performance, and available network bandwidth. While more-and-more people connect to the Internet through fast broadband connections, keep in mind the dial up users too. In 2010, there were still 4.6 million dial up users in US, as counted by AOL.
Avoid Flash websites at, almost, all cost because it lowers usability. Flash encourages design abuse as it slows websites. There is nothing worse than visiting a website and having to wait for a clever Flash animation to load. Your customers are visiting your site because they are looking for a product or service. They, for the most part, could not care less about viewing a flash movie. Sorry, the skip intro button is not much help either. Flash intros are slow, obnoxious, and will result in loss of revenue. Don’t add flash for the cool factor. Unless it serves a purpose, forget it.
Many Flash designers reduce the granularity of user control and regress to old school presentation styles that resemble television age media rather than cyber age media. Websites that force visitors to sit through sequences with nothing to do eradicate the single most important characteristic of the Internet, interactivity.