Web Marketing: How to Design for Optimum Usability

By John Arnold, Michael Becker, Marty Dickinson, Ian Lurie, Elizabeth Marsten

Assuring that your website is usable by your marketing audience is partly the responsibility of the designer and partly the responsibility of the programmer. If something as simple as a link to another page isn’t functional, for example, a visitor will quickly become frustrated and leave the site searching for a better solution.

How to incorporate usability standards

Follow this ten-step checklist to evaluate the usability of your new website before its launch:

  • Have all links on the site been tested to be functional?

  • Does a CSS file contain all font sizes, colors, and table border details?

  • Is alt text (alternative text) used for all images that have a possible description?

  • Are links descriptive of what the user will see on the landing page?

  • Does the site operate similarly on multiple browsers, versions, monitors, and operating systems?

  • Can the navigation be easily followed and understood?

  • Are text links underlined and blue?

  • Does individualized metadata exist on each page of the website?

  • Do you have a link to the homepage on every subpage?

  • Are the URLs descriptive of what will be found on each page?

After you’re sure that your website has passed the usability basics test, now it’s time for the ultimate test — a live test for usability.

How to test live for usability

Usability testing is one of the most neglected aspects of creating and launching a website. Maybe you have had your friends or family take a look at the new design but have never brought in a focus group (folks who’ve never seen your website). After all, who has time for that?

If your website is a hobby for you, usability testing might be put on the back burner. However, if you’re in business and you plan for your website to be a major contributor to your annual revenue, usability testing is essential.

You should always test your own website for usability by viewing it with multiple browsers, multiple versions of those browsers if possible, multiple screen sizes, and multiple computer platforms (PC versus Mac).

The ultimate test to see how truly usable your website has become is to invite people to your location and have a focus group with a live review session. That way, you can be present in the room to see visitors’ first reactions. Here are some things to consider when testing for usability with a live group:

  • Test each person on the same computer.

  • Give each reviewer a checklist of things to try to find on your website.

  • Write their comments as each navigates the site.

  • Don’t say a word.

    Offer no assistance. That’s what a usability study is!

  • Share the results with the group at the end and allow open discussion.

  • Be grateful for all feedback that you receive. Remember, if one person has a problem with your website’s usability, another thousand future visitors will experience the same issue. So, don’t be offended or angry; just fix the issue.

“Hot seats” are becoming more popular at seminars and workshops. In essence, a member of the audience volunteers to have her website brought up on-screen for all in the room to critique. If you ever have the opportunity to be in the hot seat, jump at the chance! Having several first-time visitors provide unbiased, immediate feedback about your website is worth the entire price of your registration.

The best news is that the work you do on the design, layout, branding, and usability of your website will serve as a tremendous training ground for when you begin to promote your core business through multiple websites.