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Design With the Visitor in Mind
The best starting point when considering the design and function of your website is... the end point. In other words, what, ultimately, is the user's experience?
Usability is a valuable component in the success of your website. If the end user cannot access information quickly and easily, he/she simply won't come back. In fact, a visitor may even settle for your competitor's inferior product/service if that competitor gave him/her a more convenient online experience. Consider these tips:
Be consistent with the overall feel of your website. This promotes a sense of security and stability in the user. If your site seems disjointed or chaotic, your business/organization may be judged the same.
Use intuitive navigation. The internet has been in common use long enough for users to have developed expectations about how a website is supposed to work. Users are busy, and they do not have the patience to learn a new navigation system just to browse your website. Obvious navigation patterns attract users. This is not the time to get too creative, but you might consider combining search results and navigation via bread crumbs or cookie crumbs.
Though it may break your high school English teacher's heart, always write for the web. Break text into short paragraphs that can be easily skimmed. Most people jump around to find information, so make it easy to locate. Also be leery of background images, as they can make text harder to read.
When it comes to text, readers have a subconscious assumption of placement. Typically, the most important elements should sit in the upper left region of the page. The further down and to the right you go, the less emphasis is placed on an element. (While images and graphics may not follow this rule, it is standard for text.)
If you include a form on your site, place your informative text at the top, with boxed fields below. You will save your visitor time and encourage him/her to maintain contact.
Finally, take advantage of usability testing. It will offer great insight into your online presence. Start by having a test group of users, whose reactions will give you a clear picture of the site's workability. Then test for accessibility by other browsers and the effects that different screen resolutions cause.
In the end, your website is not just for you. It is your business agent, speaking on your behalf. Like any good representative, it must be easy to approach. Employing the tips above can increase the success of your website's usability.