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Internet users have limited patience. Faced with a slow-to-load website, or one where they cannot find what they want, they will often simply leave and look elsewhere for what they want. Just two seconds of delay in loading may nearly double the rate of buyers abandoning a shopping card, according to research from Radware. Improving your website’s usability can help keep viewers on your site and improve your business’s stats and sales.

Research shows we all look at web pages the same way. Put important information where people look the most – above the fold and on the left-hand side. Do not hide important links such as “Contact us” down at the bottom of the page. The Crazy Egg tool can be useful as it generates a “heat map” showing where your viewers’ eyes will naturally focus on your site.

Less is more: remove the chatter and clutter from your web pages. Too many links or choices prevents users from finding the content that they want.

Make effective use of space. White space helps users can quickly to see where important information is. A web page that is too full makes scanning and navigation difficult and ultimately will make users head somewhere else.

Make sure you do not have dead ends or broken links on the site. Check external links regularly to make sure they work. A site refresh can change page addresses and make your links fail. Ensure that whatever content is added to your site, a check is made on all links both to and from the new page. Shopping carts need to work consistently and smoothly.

Use the same layout across the site. If you display some products with pictures above and information below, and other products with the picture to the left and information to the right, users will feel disoriented and will not know where to look for the information. Having consistent navigation links is particularly important.

Using the right font and right size is crucial to making your content legible. Do not use too many fonts. Two is usually enough, one for headlines and one for body text. It should be big enough to read clearly in a color that contrasts well enough with the background to be easily visible. For example, dark grey on light grey is never a good idea.

Ensure the website loads speedily. Optimize images for the web, optimize your cache headers to speed up the experience for repeat visitors; and make sure your host is giving you enough bandwidth. Being stingy with your hosting costs, if it means your site is slow, is counterproductive.

Avoid too much scripting. Especially blocking JavaScript and CSS that prevents your page from rendering in the first roundtrip to the webserver. Defer these scripts to load as bandwidth permits. Scripts that prevent the page from loading or slow it down will frustrate your users.

Use headlines, catch lines, and bold type within the body text to stress the most important words. With longer articles, break up the text using catch lines or sub-heads every four or five paragraphs to help users skim-read and focus on the parts most relevant to them.

Put thought into your navigation schema so that the headings you use reflect the way users think about your subject matter. For instance, a tour operator offering adventure travel could divide the site by geographic destination or by type of activity. Knowing how most users decide on their next vacation could help select the right navigation for the website.

Making your website more usable is an investment that can deliver high returns. By improving usability, you will retain web users longer, reduce shopping cart abandonment rates, and increase your sales.

Michael Williams

Author Michael Williams

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