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Steps to Usability

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Websites are built for specific types of viewers and must appeal to a definite target market. Users must be able to view your site, scan everything, and immediately understand what the website is about.

Similarly, for maximum usability, your website has to appeal to the needs of search engines. Usability comes down to three main areas: site design, page design, and development. If carried out properly, these elements will bring both users and search engines to your site and keep them coming back for more.

Site Design

Site design starts before the user ever views your homepage. The download speed of your website can immediately spark the user to click on another site. Excessive graphics or graphics that are not properly optimized for the web can slow down the load speed of any website. By avoiding this concern and designing your website with your user’s goals and needs in mind you will create a more positive user experience. Similarly, thinking about the navigation, how the site will work, and why users are coming to your site will give you greater insight to what you need to achieve when designing a new website. Don’t let design elements be a usability handicap. Placing pertinent information in highly visible sections of the site will be most effective and will ensure that the design is functional as well as aesthetically pleasing.

Page Design

Page design consists of graphics as well as content. The overall visual impression can easily lead a user to an uncomfortable experience if the graphic placement is not thought out. Contemplating meaning and presentation is a challenge that every designer and developer must face everyday. If graphics are just thrown onto a page with out any thought they could confuse and distract users are dilute the message you are trying to convey. Usability is about making the user feel at ease. Noticeable navigation and scannability of call to action areas makes your message very clear. Users will scan pages only reading headlines and titles until they see something that catches their eye. Cleverly written headlines will draw more users every time and keep them on your website longer. Users are scanners and scannability is key to any website design. Take a moment and scan a page on your website for 3 seconds. Are you able to understand what your company is about? Are your key elements prominently displayed? If not, you need to think about the structure and organization of the page design. Consider the meaning of your site and its purpose. To maximize overall usability, the information on each page needs to appear in a specific order. For example, if there were no graphics in your website, you would want the page structure to look like an outline. If the structures of the key elements are in place, then it should be very easy for a user to understand your site. For example, websites like craigslist get thousands of viewers a day. This traffic doesn’t stem from the site’s visual appeal, but from its ease of use. Even if it is your first time on the site, you can still easily navigate to what you’re looking for. This is part of the success of craigslist and other Ugly Websites that Work.

Development

The development is possibly the most important step in the exposure to your website. Designing an attractive website is useless if no one can find it. Placement on the search engines is the vital lifeline that maintains any online business. That visibility is determined by how well your website is catalogued by the major search engines. Developing websites with web standard code allows your website to be as accessible as possible. Proper code means giving all of your headings H tags, using style sheets for all of your formatting, and using proper HTML and XHTML markup for all other elements. In order for your content to appear semantically correct, the proper web standards must be applied to the development of the website. You want the most important information to appear closest to the top when search engine spiders come to crawl through your website. Making your website accessible and usable to search engines is just as important as usability to your viewers.

Proper development and structure of your content should look similar to this:

Main Topic (H1)
Subcategory (H2)
Aspect of subcategory
Aspect of subcategory
Subcategory (H2)
Aspect of subcategory
Aspect of subcategory

This outline structure is useful for both search engines and users. It is logical and easy to scan.

Using web standard compliant code also allows you to reach the largest number of viewers with and without disabilities. Attributes such as alt text, for example, make it possible for screen readers to vocalize text to blind users where graphics are used. The mass retailer Target Corporation recently became aware of the importance of this development step after being smacked with a lawsuit for failing to make their website accessible to users with disabilities. The Target website did not contain the proper HTML markups that disabled users commonly depend on to browse the Internet. Proper site development can also ensure cross browser compatibility and improve your site’s usability on portable devices like cell phones and PDAs. Designing with web standard compliant code reduces the amount of headaches when it comes to testing your site’s overall usability because more browsers recognize web standard code rather than clunky hacks.

Site design, page design and development of all websites go hand in hand. You cannot have a successful website without each of these elements being carefully thought out and constructed, from the text that goes into each button to where you place the content on every page. All too often, people jump into websites and just want to get something up online. However, the days when simply having a website was an accomplishment are gone, and a half ass effort simply won’t cut it. To make a positive impression today, your website must be informative, professional, and above all, usable. Focusing on proper website design, page design, and development are the 3 essential steps to creating a functional and successful website.

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Drew Stauffer and John King started Wildfire Productions in 2003. Focusing on web standards and usability, Wildfire develops custom websites for their clients that out perform their competitors.

Steps to Usability
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About Drew Stauffer
Drew Stauffer has been a website designer, developer, and SEO consultant for many prestigious companies, including Einstein Industries and Jackson-Dawson Marketing Solutions. He has published numerous articles on website development, search engine optimization, and online marketing strategies, which have appeared on Google News and WebProNews. Additionally, in 2002 he founded Alibi Productions, a company focused on website promotion and online marketing.

Marketing Pilgrim posts WebProNews Writer
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