What is Website Usability?

Mary McMahon

Website usability is an important concept in web design which is occasionally overlooked in the rush to launch a website or brand. Put in simple terms, website usability involves building a site which is easy, fun, and logical for users, so that they can enjoy using the site and they can utilize it to find what they need. This consideration is critically important for companies that want to build brand loyalty and attract customers, as people are turned off by websites which they have trouble using.

Pay close attention to website aesthetics, including layout, color, and fonts.
Pay close attention to website aesthetics, including layout, color, and fonts.

Ease of navigation is one of the key features in website usability. When a site is clearly and cleanly laid out, with a logical progression of areas and topics, it tends to appeal to users. A tangled mess of a site is hard to move around on, and it may be challenging for people to access the information and topics they want. If users get frustrated enough, they may give up altogether and take their business elsewhere. Being friendly for search engines is also important to many webmasters, as most people want to attract traffic to their sites.

Readability is an important part of a website's usability.
Readability is an important part of a website's usability.

Design aesthetics are also an important aspect of usability. If a site is well designed, it is clear, easy to understand, and easy to view. If the design is too cluttered, ornate, or illogical, users may struggle with it, especially if they have visual impairments. A growing number of websites are thinking about visual impairments and other disabilities in the design phases so that sites will be accessible to everyone, not just people with young, healthy eyes. Things like cute visual features which look neat but make it hard for people with screen readers to use a site are being eliminated in favor of more friendly design.

Another characteristic of website usability is the functionality of the site. If a website has bugs, broken links, pictures that don't load, and other issues, people will have trouble using it. Nothing frustrates a user more than clicking on a link which leads nowhere, or trying to submit a form which will not go through. If a user does encounter a bug or problem, navigational tools which help the user report the bug and then return to what he or she was doing are critical, to make sure that users know that they are valued, and that site owners find bugs just as annoying as users do.

The centerpiece of website usability involves designing a site which is oriented around users, rather than a website which views users as secondary to the purpose of the site. A user-oriented site will respond to user feedback, and incorporate features into its design which keep users comfortable and encourage people to return in the future.

A website's coding and design can determine its usability.
A website's coding and design can determine its usability.

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Discussion Comments


Here's something else that impacts usability -- the age of the site. It's happened more than a few times -- a site that is actually quite good is put up, but little efforts are made to change it over the years. The sites that don't keep up with the latest in technology and Web design to at least a reasonable degree come off as looking "old" and unfriendly to visitors. The better sites incorporate those new technologies and design elements as time goes on, thus remaining current. It's simply not a good idea to use the "set it and forget it" approach to maintaining a site.

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