I can safely say that usability these days on the Web is much better than it was several years ago. The Web is growing up and designers are learning and discovering optimal ways of doing things, as well as optimizing and re-working their current sites to make them better and better.
Yet there are still many sites today that make basic mistakes that have a very negative impact on usability and visitor loyalty. Sometimes it’s easier to say what you shouldn’t do instead of do, so here are my 7 usability issues to avoid when working on your websites:
1. Inconsistent site-wide navigation
Site-wide navigation should do two things: show a list of locations you can use to browse the site and show your current location. It should remain the same throughout the site because it is an anchor — it must be familiar so people know what it is and feel in control because they know where they are and how to keep browsing. Changing the navigation will only create confusion, so keep it simple and consistent.
2. Links not identified by color and/or underline
Links are the key elements on a website — they’re the building blocks of the Web. Be sure to make them identifiable. The convention is to make your links blue and underlined. You don’t have to follow this if it clashes with your site’s style, but you do need to make links stand out in some way. I would stay away from making links black unless they’re located in the right context, i.e. a navigation bar.
3. Registration required to view content
Ever been in a situation where you’re searching for something on Google and after finding a good link and clicking through you’re met with a registration request? Hiding away valuable content for registered users only is a serious and frustrating barrier for your visitors and is a great method of driving away traffic.
4. Long registration forms
And not even forms that are too long — anything that’s even remotely long is bad. Registration forms are a serious barrier — you’re forcing your visitors to do some work. People hate filling in forms, so remove anything that’s not absolutely necessary and anything optional off the form. Even if the form looks long, people will be put off. Remember that your users can fill out optional stuff later.
5. Too much pagination
Remember reading an interesting article, then getting to the bottom of the page to find a set of pagination links? It’s frustrating because you now have to load several other pages to finish reading the article. This may drive pageviews up so you can charge more for advertising, but it is really worth it? Not only is it annoying for your visitors, it’s also bad for search engine optimization (SEO) because you’re separating valuable content into other pages. This makes it more difficult for search engine crawlers to understand what each page is about.
6. Text that is too long and un-scannable
Good copywriting is part of web design. Your visitors aren’t going to read your whole page of text because usually they’re looking for something specific or something of interest to them. They do this by scanning the whole page very quickly and looking for things to focus on — so give them those focus points. Use bold text, large headlines and images to provide a scannable structure to your content.
7. No contact information or contact form
Last but not least, if you visitors have a problem with your service (or perhaps want to give you their positive feedback) there should be a way to get in touch. You don’t necessarily need to go all the way and post your email and telephone number on the site, but there should be at least an easy to find contact form. There are sites out there that don’t even have that.
Have any other usability mistakes to add? Please post them in the comments below.