However great you may think your site looks, If it’s difficult to use people won’t come back. If you want to have a successful website, then you have to make sure it’s designed around the requirements of your users. As designers and developers we are sometimes just too close to our sites to see their problems. In this article we have showcased 7 common usability issues that are often overlooked or simply ignored.


Say what it does

Anybody who visits your site should be able to understand what it does within a few seconds. Be mindful that the majority of your visitors will probably not enter via the home page. Write a good tag line explaining what your website does, include it next to your logo or somewhere prominent, this will help get your message across to new visitors.

Who gets it right: Twitter.com

Further reading:
Turning Visitors into Users
How to Write a Strong Value Proposition
Tips on Making Great Taglines

Keep homepages clutter free

Be ruthless when deciding what needs to be on your homepage. Just include the necessities, when someone visits this page it should be instantly obvious what your site is and what their next step should be.

Who gets it right: Ning

Further reading:
The Ten Most Violated Homepage Design Guidelines
UX matters – Home Page Design

Be consistent and use conventions

Try to use standardized ways of performing functions. That new jQuery menu you just made may be cool but it might just confuse your users. Try to keep the user experience consistent, keep navigation elements in the same format and position at all times. Having to continually search for key elements every time they go to a new page is going to frustrate your visitors.

Who gets it right: Amazon.com

Further reading:
Design With Web Conventions
Top 5 Web Conventions
Design with Consistency
Why Consistency is Critical

Navigation

Navigation is perhaps the most important element of any web design. Tabs can be a really effective means of primary navigation, they are also commonplace so everybody knows how they work. Whatever form of primary navigation you choose make sure its consistent across your site. If you have a big website that’s well categorized you should use this to your advantage, include a prominent list or related categories or other categories in that section.

Who gets it right: About.com

Further reading:
CSS Showcase – CSS Navigation Menus
10 Brilliant Multi Level Navigation Menu Techniques
50 Beautiful And User-Friendly Navigation Menus
webdesignpractices – Local Navigation
Create apple.com-like breadcrumb using simple CSS
Breadcrumb Navigation Increasingly Useful

Response and load times

Most users will not tolerate a slow website, if you ignore this issue you are going to lose a lot of potential page views / visits / customers. You want to aim for your pages to respond in under a second and ideally in one tenth of a second.

Who gets it right: Digg.com

Further reading:
Optimizing Page Load Times
15 Quick Ways to Shrink Page Load Times
Pingdom Free Tools – Full page test


Let your users search

Sounds obvious but its surprising how many sites don’t have a search box or hide it away somewhere. Many web users are search-dominant and use search as their primary method of navigating, if you don’t have a search facility or it doesn’t work as it should, they wont be sticking around.

Who gets it right: Apple.com

Further reading:
Sphinx – Free open-source SQL full-text search engine
Google Site Search Implementation


Test early and often

Everybody should be usability testing their website. Don’t assume just because you know how to use it that your site doesn’t have any problems. Testing doesn’t have to be expensive either, start with your family and friends watch them use your site. Ask them to perform certain tasks (like signing up or posting a comment) and take notes. It’s amazing how much you can learn this way, when you have identified a problem fix it and test again.

Further reading:
8 guidelines for usability testing
Why You Only Need to Test With 5 Users
Written by Christopher Lee