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Web Usability: Standards & Definition

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Web usability deals with the effectiveness and efficiency of website design. In this lesson, you'll learn more about web usability, best practices for creating a site that delivers, and how to improve a visitor's experience.

Defining Usability

The term 'usability' originated in the early 1980s and referred to characteristics of a product or service that made it more user-friendly. Other definitions of usability have been handed down since then, all focused on the effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction by which a consumer interacts and relates to a product.

Web usability, then, must be focused on how efficient and effective a website is and how easily a user can access the desired information to lead to a satisfactory result. Is your website user-friendly? Think about these elements of the last website you visited:

  • Was the information presented clearly?
  • Were important features easily located?
  • Could you access the website on a variety of devices or web browsers?
  • Were you able to complete your desired action, such as a purchase, quickly?

If you answered 'yes' to these, chances are you were engaged with a website whose owner understands usability guidelines. If not, here are some principles those websites should consider when crafting their pages.

1. Is your website available? It may seem like a silly question, but if your website cannot be accessed, that presents the largest usability problem of all. Look for links on your website that are broken or don't lead to the appropriate place. There are even specially made plugins like Broken Link Checker that will email you if any of the links no longer function correctly.

2. Is your website fast? Lagging load times create a wedge between your site and your site visitors. There are programs that can help you check your load time and give suggestions as to how to speed it up (lowering your image resolution for example).

3. Is your information presented clearly? Concise design focuses on simplicity and consistency. Structure your site in a logical way that is easy to navigate.

4. Can features of your website be easily learned? Visitors should not need a long list of instructions for browsing a website. New concepts are fine with appropriate guidance through the initial learning curve, but complicated concepts make your site cumbersome.

5. Are you credible? Credibility is typically focused on a customer's perceptions, but you can assist by offering honest, mistake-free content; references, or customer testimonials; and, an 'About Us' section with a physical location and telephone number.

6. Are you relevant? People are coming to your website for something. Are you delivering relevant content? How recently did you write a blog? Is your information up to date?

There are scores of other important qualities that contribute to web usability such as customer satisfaction, the speed with which web tasks can be performed, the frequency of user errors, and other attributes. Good usability features keep visitors from being frustrated by your site, getting lost on your site and, ultimately, leaving your site.

Creating Usability

Usability standards are sort of like best practices for web design and digital communications. The most comprehensive source for these standards comes from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which has named their standards covering human-based design, usability and accessibility ISO 9241.

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