In the current competitive scenario, in which consumers are increasingly connected but less willing to accept errors, problems and long loading times, the usability and ease of use of a website have become important differentiating factors. In this article we delve deeper into what usability is and how to make your website easy to navigate.
When developing or restyling a website, one of the main factors to consider is usability. Developing a digital product that is visually appealing or a web page full of interesting content is not enough if we want to win over users and encourage them to use our products again. The first rule of having a good website, in fact, is to ensure that it is as beautiful to look at as it is easy to browse.
It seems obvious, but it is not. Just think, for example, of how many times we landed on a site and got lost navigating it without finding what we were looking for; or to all the times we have encountered problems in loading a web page.
Being able to make user interactions – and, in general, the user experience – as simple and intuitive as possible is therefore a fundamental goal for every business, as it allows to increase visits, conversions and improve the ranking of our site on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
Fortunately, there are techniques to be adopted when developing a website that allow you to improve its usability. So, here are the 5 things to put into practice to optimize your website navigation.
Table of contents
What is usability?
Jakob Nielsen, web usability consultant and founder of the American consulting firm for UX Nielsen Norman Group, defines usability as a quality indicator that defines how simple an object/platform is to use. More precisely, it outlines the degree of learning and efficiency for the purpose of use. If the user fails or does not want to use a given functionality of an object or program, that functionality may as well not exist.
Very often the term usability is mistakenly confused with that of User Experience (UX): in truth, usability is the most important phase of a wider UX project. While the latter concerns a more holistic approach that includes all the aspects that revolve around the interaction of a user with a product or service of a company, the term usability focuses on the performance and satisfaction of users in achieving their goals in certain contexts of use.
What characteristics should a usable product have?
According to Jakob Nielsen, the 5 main features that a product – be it an app, a website or any other digital tool – must incorporate are:
• Learnability: ease with which the user performs basic tasks the first time it interacts with a product interface;
• Efficiency: speed with which a user is able to learn how to use the interface and complete a task once it has learned it;
• Memorability: time it takes a user to become familiar with a product after a period of inactivity;
• Errors: number of errors made by the user, the seriousness of the error and the time required to resolve it;
• Satisfaction: user satisfaction in using the product.
To test whether a site reflects these 5 characteristics and, more generally, to verify the usability of a product, a test called Usability Test is usually conducted at the final stages of the development of the product. This test involves a panel of users and consumers, thus allowing the evaluation of a product from the users’ point of view.
The principle is simple: developers ask participants to perform tasks and observe how users interact with the product, if they encounter errors and problems and if the product meets their expectations.
Finally, there is not a precise number of usability tests to run: generally, it is preferable to run a test at the end of the development phase and before the launch of a product. There is not even a precise number of users to involve, although experts say that with around 15 users you are able to identify 100% of the problems and consequent improvements to be made.
From theory to practice – 5 things to consider
1. Speed up your website
The loading time of a website is essential for many factors. First of all, improving the loading speed is important to prevent users from leaving our site immediately: statistics show that users leave a website with a loading time of more than 3 seconds.
Not only that, every millisecond is also essential for Google, as the loading speed contributes to ranking your site on search engines, determining which are the websites that deserve to get a better position within the SERP and consequently have greater visibility.
There are many tools online that allow you to check the speed of your website. One of these is PageSpeed Insights, a Google tool that analyses your site by assigning a score from 0 to 100: the closer the result is to 100, the faster the site is.
In addition to calculating the score, PageSpeed Insights will also show useful tips to improve performance and resolve any issues.
2. Pay attention to each element
Content is the king, but even the best content in the world is not enough to give users an excellent browsing experience on your site.
Leave nothing to chance and pay attention to all the elements that make up your website: from the menu structure to the information in the footer.
Regarding the structure of the navigation menu, there are some best practices that we will have to take into consideration:
- Split your content into primary navigation and secondary navigation. The primary navigation includes the main sections of the site while the secondary navigation includes the related subsections;
- Primary navigation must be visible on all pages to allow the user to switch from one section to another or from one page to another at any time;
- The “home” item must always be present to allow the user to return to the home page. Usually, the logo, as well, is used to redirect the user to the home page;
- The sections of the menu must concisely communicate the landing page;
- The menu must be as readable as possible and must not contain too many items to prevent the user from getting lost;
- The menu must also be present in the responsive or mobile version;
- The user has to always know which page he is on through the so-called “you are here” indicator. There are various ways we can make users understand their position within the website, including bold, colours, and pointers.
- To instantly indicate the location of a user within the website, we can also take advantage of breadcrumbs. This term indicates the “path” made up by the pages previously visited by a user until the current one. Usually, breadcrumbs are displayed at the top of the page, below the title bars or headers and have a structure similar to the one in the following photo.
Finally, don’t forget the footer: giving the bottom of the page “the short end of the stick” is wrong. The footer can indeed be used to display your contact information, show the user – once again – the sections that form the site or encourage users to carry out an action (i.e.: subscribing to the newsletter).
3. Make your website mobile-friendly
Designing a mobile-friendly site in 2021 is basically compulsory. The number of users who browse from smartphones and tablets is constantly growing and has now exceeded the number of users who surf from desktop.
So, if until a few years ago users accepted the idea that mobile browsing was incomplete compared to the variety of contents that can be accessed by laptop, now this is no longer the case.
Having a responsive website or a mobile version specifically designed to meet the needs of users browsing from smartphones is the prerequisite to avoid losing a large portion of users.
As a matter of fact, if your site is not designed properly, the user will be forced to enlarge and resize a web page on a smartphone every time he finds relevant information. This will generally force the user to leave the page and, disappointed by the unpleasant navigation, will not return to our site easily. In addition, in March 2021, Google launched the new Mobile Indexing First update which resulted in the exclusion of all desktop-only content from the SERP. You can find more information in our article: 6 digital marketing trends to follow in 2021.
4. Make the most important elements visible
Each website should be structured according to an attractive visual hierarchy that allows the user to grasp the information and the most important elements at a glance. Often, when we talk about visual hierarchy we tend to focus on the hierarchy of texts, without paying much attention to other elements that make up our page such as images, videos, icons, etc.
Yet, the human eye analyses everything it sees on the screen, unconsciously defining similarities between the elements or differences in shape and colour between the various objects. In fact, as Steve Krug, a professional in the field of user experience, writes:
“One of the best ways to make a page easy to grab at a glance is to make sure the appearance of things on the page – every visual clue – clearly and accurately portrays the relationships between the objects on the page: what things are related to and what things are part of other things. In other words, each page should have a clear visual hierarchy.”
How to put this into practice?
- You should emphasise the titles: play with the font size and the types (bold) or choose a different font from the rest of the text. Users read at first the texts with a larger font, as the human eye is naturally attracted to anything that takes up more space.
- To highlight the titles, you can also play with colours, for example by choosing strong shades such as red, black and blue that are able to grab the attention.
- Make CTAs visible by using buttons or particular colours.
- Make links visible by marking them with a different colour.
- Use bold to highlight the most important concepts.
- Create bulleted lists to attract the reader’s attention.
5. Take advantage of blank spaces
As we have seen in the previous point, improving the usability of a site and offering users an optimal User Experience also means to pay attention to the visual dimension of a website, resulting in another discipline included within the holistic concept of UX we talked about earlier: UX Design.
A fundamental tool that a UX Designer cannot live without is blank space (or negative space).
In Web Design, negative space indicates the empty space between and around the different graphic elements or sections, that help to improve the balance of your website, its readability and make your project smooth and clear.
The blank spaces also allow the user to “take a breath” between one section and the others, without feeling overwhelmed by the information. The following image shows what has been defined as the worst site in the world. The succession of texts, colours, images and banners makes the homepage too confusing and messy, so the user is not intrigued in continuing the navigation.
In addition to producing high-quality content and an eye-catching design, we have seen that the underlying structure of a website is of utmost importance, as well. Ensuring an optimal user experience and being able to design an easy-to-use site is certainly one of the most crucial steps in order to achieve success and online visibility.
If you need more information on how to make your website more efficient, contact us and discover our consulting services.