Top tips: Website usability

Shailesh Manga, of Optimal Usability, a user-focused consulting and services firm, answers queries about website usability

I've a lot of information to put on to my site. How can I organise it so visitors find what they are after?

Present the most important information first and ensure it is concise and easy to understand. Ensure the important things are more visually prominent and things that are related logically are also related visually.

Group information into manageable chunks for reading on-screen and use meaningful sub-headings, bulleted lists and bold keywords. Don't hide information deep in the site - reveal it at the earliest available opportunity.

Most people scan web pages, so ensure links are descriptive and make sense, even when read outside the context of the rest of the page. To cut words, try using pictures and diagrams to illustrate facts, ideas and principles - people prefer these to words.

How can I make my website easier for users to find their way around, more intuitive?

It should be obvious to visitors where they are at every page, where they can go and where they've been.

Visual cues such as colours, typography, icons and labels help users. The user's current location should be highlighted in the navigation bars. Avoid creating links to the current page.

What are the key elements any website should have?

Take advantage of conventions. On each page use the logo in the upper left corner to link to the home page. Change the colour of visited links. Use standard labels such as "about us" and "contact us".

How can I ensure visitors don't get "lost" on my site? What should I leave out?

Even if a site is well-organised and information is in clearly labelled categories, the design of the navigation elements can undo good work.

Navigation design incorporates things, such as the left and top navigation bars, breadcrumbs and footer links. Ensure sub-pages in the site are linked from the navigation bars.

Many sites leave basic questions unanswered. People want content that helps them answer questions and make decisions. Users rarely visit a site to read what you have to say about yourself.

What's the best way to manage links? Any tips on making online forms?

It should always be clear what people can click on. Ensure the link text indicates what will happen or where they will go. Make use of cross-linking by linking useful information together. Most forms still make many basic mistakes that the users. You want to do everything you can to avoid errors in data entry.

If errors occur make it obvious what needs to change with clues on how to change it. Ensure you highlight compulsory fields and give users instructions on how to enter dates and phone numbers correctly.

Ensure entered information is saved as soon as it is entered so users don't have to re-enter all information if they make a mistake.

On the web: www.optimalusability.com

- Herald on Sunday

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