Web site usability can be thought of as the level of ease with which visitors navigate your Web site and find what they are looking for. It consists of several elements such as navigation menus, page layout, browser compatibility, and Web page content. Designing a Web site for usability can mean the difference between an exceptional user experience-one that results in return visits, or a disappointing one. Giving to the later can very quickly undermine your entire online strategy.
Web site usability can be divided into three categories:
Site Design - The overall design of your Web site should be such that Web pages are grouped logically and navigation is intuitive and simple to use. Site menus should be clearly identifiable and consistent throughout the site and should allow visitors to easily jump between top level pages. Current design conventions should be followed as much as possible with a cautious approach to reinventing the wheel.
Page Design - Web pages should be designed to provide maximum relevant content to the user without becoming cluttered. Additionally, the most important of this information should appear above-the-fold*. Pages must also support multiple browsers and screen resolutions and should be optimized for the fastest possible download times. Finally, the design and layout of Web pages should be representative of the organization's values and identity with the "look & feel" of each page lending to a feeling of familiarity throughout the site.
* "Above-the-fold" is a newspaper term adapted for the Web. It refers to Web page content that is viewable to a user without scrolling down the screen.
Content Design - Site content should be interesting, informative, and relevant to your users' interests. Nowhere is this truer than on your Home page. The Home page represents the initial introduction of the organization to the visitor and must be captivating enough to entice the user to browse your site further. All site content should be designed for scannability-using short paragraphs and bulleted text, while lengthy information is broken into multiple pages. Finally, content should be kept current and fresh, which will encourage visitors to return to your site.
Done right, the investment you make today in a professional Web presence will be returned many times over.