If you are designing a websites for a living or you run your own business online. There are 14 tips in this article that you can read and remember.

You can have the best design skills out of this planet, but if you build a website that works like crap and really doesn’t allow the visitor to feel comfortable going from item to item and page to page, then you are missing core ingredients of a good website design. So in this article I will go through some do’s and don’ts of usability on the web.

1. Do make your navigation easy to find and readable

If you’re designing a site and your navigation is supposed to take your visitors to point A to point B, why the hell would you place it in a weird place or even use images that do not generally describe what the type of link it really is (i.e. using a house for the home link is generally ok, but a unicorn for service isn’t)

Tip: Try and keep the navigation easy to read and up then top of the website so the visitor can easily navigate through your site.

2. Do not make your “contact” link in your navigation a mailto:link

More people these days (including myself) will hover over a link and see what the bottom of our browser screen say before we click on it. Especially the contact link since some people think it’s a smart idea to link directly to your email address but this causes your email client to open up.

Tip: How about creating a contact page and put your email address in there but also include a contact form your user will thank you and by doing this those visitors will actually email you more often.

3. Do Not flood your website’s sidebar with tons of widgets.

We all get that you’re running a blog that’s great but also there are a literally hundreds of widgets you can use on it but you don’t actually need to use them all. Think of it like your bedroom. If there’s clutter everywhere and it’s not clean then that special someone you brought home might not want to stay so tidy up and keep things organised.

Your readers in most cases don’t need to see your Google friend’s, Facebook friends, or even your FriendFeed friends and the various other social profiles you’re a part of, so leave them alone and stick to the things that matter most for the user experience on your site.

4. Make sure that your website displays well on various browsers

We all know that IE6 is dead (hooray !) and no one is complaining about that, but do not forget that there are still a lot of users on IE7, IE8, Safari, Firefox, Chrome etc. Just because your website looks good on one or two of them doesn’t mean the visitor using another browser will like that your site isn’t displaying properly. Take a couple of hours and dig into the code to make sure it all works across the various browsers.

5. Don’t make your visitor jump through multiple hoops to fill out a form

Your contact form shouldn’t be a mile long and neither should a sign up form. Keep things simple. The chances that nearly all people will turn away when they’re faced with a 30 part sign up form is far greater than if they were staring at three simple questions (name, email, comments) simple isn’t it.

Image Credit: Adrian MacLeod at Write Thinking (http://www.writethinking.co.uk/)

6. Ensure your various pages are consistent in structure

Unless you’re a design blog and you’re structuring and designing every one of your posts different like ‘insert names here’, you need to remember that people want familiarity when they’re viewing your site. If they feel like they’re somewhere different when they load a new page up, they’re going to click the back button very fast.

7. Don’t forget a print stylesheet for those who want to print your content.

This is especially true for blogs and content sites. If your reader wants to print off content and many still do, especially older visitors, you shouldn’t require them to print off your entire design, plus all of the comments and advertisements across the page that is just a waste of ink and unnecessary paper.

8. Do make sure your content is easy to scan and follow along with

Generally, people have short attention spans. So, by utilising section titles such as (h2, h3 or h4 tags) to split your article up, you are allowing the visitor to scan the article quickly and see if it’s something they’re looking to read and if they’ll be able to get anything out of it.

So when you’re writing your content, you should also be aware of the size of each paragraph as users will tend to get tired of scanning 20+ lines in a paragraph. Things are much easier to read when split up into 5-10 lines (at most).

9. Do Not cram more into a space than what can fit comfortably

Crowding things into a small space and not allowing the user’s eye to focus on the important stuff is countered productive. Yes, you’ve got a ton of information above the fold, but why would you worry about the fold so much? So allow your design and content to breath and your users will thank you in the long run.

10. Do make sure to include breadcrumbs in your design

Breadcrumbs are really useful by giving your visitor control over where they’re at and what they’re going to do next. If they’re on a sub page of your about page, your breadcrumbs will look something like this (Home > About > Our Staff). This tells the user exactly what page they’re on and how to go back various levels if they’d like to.

11. Do check for broken links and images

Checking for broken links and images in your older articles or pages is great because you may have visitors coming to your page from a search engine and if there are broken links, they’re going to assume one of two things:

  1. You’re an old site that isn’t being updated anymore.
  2. You’re not keeping up to date on the value of your site, so they’re going to go elsewhere.

Tools for checking broken links.

lastly but not least you can even create 404 page to keep visitors after coming to a broken link.

12. Do not neglect your footer and the power it has.

You’re on a website and you scroll through everything and you get to the bottom of the page but only to find a bland, single line of text telling you that there’s a copyright on the site. Boring. Why not spice your footer up a bit, add some extra content into it like your popular pages, a search box or even a newsletter subscription ect.

13. Do use wire framing in your design process

Drawing out wire frames for your site on paper or in simple box shapes in photoshop can really because this can help you visualise what’s the most important aspect of the page and how you can use it as a central focus point. By doing this, you’re also able to experiment with various layout options without having to break up a killer design you may have been creating already.

14. Do Not write for search engines but write for your readers

You should be writing for your readers, not search engines. Keyword stuffing may have worked in the past and may still today, but if you have an actual reader come across your page, only to find the word “designer” 100+ times in just 3 paragraphs, what do you think the odds are that they’re going to hit their back button and never take that virtual step back on your page again.

The odds of that happening are extremely high. Here is a tip I’ve heard before is to read your content out loud and if it doesn’t sound like a natural flowing conversation you’d normally have, rewrite it until it does.

Have I missed something in this article.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop a comment and let us know what usability tips you’ve acquired over the time you’ve been a designer.

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14 Do’s and Don’ts Of Usability On The Web