8 Tips to Maximize Usability

Originally published on Music Meets Social.


Usability is a crucial element for digital marketers. You can have the best content out there, but if your site users can't find it, it's like the content was never there. I recently finished Above the Fold by Brian Miller, and he broke down usability into easy to utilize and comprehend pieces. Between his book and some preexisting knowledge, I've come up with 8 tips to help maximize your site's usability.

1. Narrow down personas

  • Personas are only helpful if they genuinely reflect your specific potential visitor, so take a second look at the personas shaping your website.
  • You'll want to know their purpose for visiting, because that will help you emphasize the right content. There's no purpose for content no one wants on the home page, so save that valuable space for content people do want and/or need.
  • Another crucial part of your persona is the average technological knowledge you anticipate visitors having. Are they millennials with a great grasp on technology or should you limit the fancy coding because older visitors won't know how to work with it? Being able to answer that question is a start to creating a concise persona.

2. Limit the gimmicks

  • Spinning or moving icons may look cool, but how easy would it be for visitors to click or see around them?
  • This is more forgivable if you have a younger audience, but like I mentioned above, if your audience is older, keep content and navigation straight forward.

3. Start with the basics

  • I know this is Design 101, but you'd be surprised with some websites - keep the navigation bar in the same place. Ideally, it'd be across the top or to the left, per Nielson's eye tracking recommendations. By following best practices for page layouts, you can minimize a lot of frustration your visitors may be feeling.
Each page of my personal website features the navigation bar in the same spot. This helps visitors quickly find what they need no matter which page they're on.
  • Let's play a game, shall we? Go to any site and look for "Careers" or "Jobs". 9 times out of 10 (ok, arbitrary number, but you get the point), it is at the footer along with contact, company, and copyright information.
  • To quote one of my former professors, if you break a rule, break it for a reason. There are also sites that have contact information in the top right of the page. But, have a good reason and research to back up the change.

4. Maintain conciseness

  • Overall, being concise can help both SEO and users needing to find information easily.
  • Don't forget about navigation bars, buttons, and headers. Find the strongest words and use them. "Email & phone number" could be completely correct, but "Contact Us" or simply "Contact" is stronger and more concise.
  • Because users don't read, they scan when it comes reading online, concise headers are crucial to showing the user where to stop and take a closer look at the information.

5. Link styling

  • A pet peeve of mine is when a website uses the same font treatment for emphasis and for links. What if a user is really interested in more information about _____, but the words are really just emphasized rather than a link to more information?
  • Internet users have been "trained" since the very beginning of the Internet that blue, underlined text means a link. Colors and underlining can change from site to site, but remember that emphasis should come in the form of bolding or italicizing, not mimicking the styling used for links. (Unless, of course, links are bolded or italicized with no other changes.)
  • Remember: if users aren't finding the information they need right away, they're gone and you've lost a chance to connect.

6. Usability testing

  • This can either be a complete study with participants brought it, or some clever bribing of friends and family. (This largely depends on budget.)
  • Usability testing involves taking someone new to the site through a variety of actions, like finding a specific coat or purchasing a pair of boots, then tracking how long it takes them to complete the action and any comments or trouble they had.
  • This provides a valuable look into the mind of your visitor and how you can better serve them.

7. Make submission forms painless

  • Have you ever noticed how many forms when buying an item online will have a check box, "Billing address same as shipping"? Because people dislike filling out forms, which means that your job is to make it as easy as possible by eliminating work when possible.
  • Some browsers autofill information which also makes forms easier, but not everyone uses it, and they also aren't fool proof. (Ask me the number of time Chrome has put my phone number in the email slot...) Even though most visitors to your site may have it enabled, ignore it and focus on what you can do to make their experience better.
  • Amazon basically wins in this category. They make it easy to pick which address and payment option you'd like to use, and it's also easy to add another.
(Yes, six addresses. That's what happens when you keep moving and family uses your Prime shipping.)

8. Error messages

  • No one loves the error message. However, you can still make it less disappointing by creating more than the standard "404 error message". Google has an adorable broken robot and Twitter has the fail whale. What will you create?
I mean how adorable is that?
Nothing like a whale drifting along with some balloons to ease the pain of not finding what you wanted.
  • Give options to the user. For example, if they search for something that has no results, offer "guesses" as to what they want, or have another search bar on the same page. Anything that helps make the users experience better helps make the connection to your brand stronger.

Have you performed usability testing? What was the biggest thing you learned?

If you haven't, do you think your site/company would benefit from it?