It's a trap: don't fall for it! Don't trade website usability for innovative UI design! Don't strive to impress and thus undermine your site's main goal: making it super easy for your visitors to navigate through!
Instead of dazzling them away you might just... drive them away! Instead of impressing your visitors with your Drupal site's stunning design and beautiful graphics you'll be getting too demanding.
You'll demand too much effort and time, since users will need to invest way too many resources for “untangling” your innovative and therefore unfamiliar interface, instead of focusing on its high quality content.
So, what should it be? Do you want a “avant-garde”, visually-spectacular website that only you and your team would “feast” your eyes on whenever you want, for boosting your self-confidences?
Or rather an inviting website that welcomes in lots of users, making them come back for more?
If you've chosen the second answer, then here are some pieces of advice, “collected” from our team of web developers in Toronto, on how you can boost your website's usability! They're just common sense tactics that everyone knows but many ignore, you know:
1. "Bid on" Standard, Familiar Navigation
Remember: you're reaching out to users with an attention span shorter than that of a goldfish, according to the latest studies.
Therefore, you'd better use those 5 (or less) seconds wisely!
An optimized navigation menu, in terms of usability, should be:
- familiar: do not let yourself seduced by the urge to “reinvent the wheel”. Your users are already used to find the main navigation menu on top of the page, displaying links to key pages on your website, featuring concise titles. “Familiar” means “less time invested in recovering from the “surprise” of a new type of layout and less effort (leading to frustration and confusion) for figuring out how the new layout works. So, less time and effort from your users and more pleased users for you: it's a win-win situation after all!
- effective: don't fall for the trap of pulling off a multi-level navigation bar and a side bar “combo”! You risk to tire your visitor! Our advice to you is to trimline your navigation bar (stick to maximum 7 fields) instead of turning its layout into a true “maze” for your users to solve.
- accessible: making your menu quick to find you'll be enhancing accessibility throughout your entire website. Your visitors will then know where they are and where they can go next. No need to get them “stuck in wondering”: light their path with simple, straightforward navigation!
Tip: a great tool for improving your website's organizational schema is Crazy Egg. It will provide you with a heat map “enlightening” you on what sections on your page users engage with more frequently. Empowered with such a map, you'll get to effectively display and organize elements on each one of your site's pages!
2. Lead Them Through With Visual Hierarchy
Pulling off a truly effective informational hierarchy is an “art”, but one that you can master following these key principles:
- wisely “exploit” that section on your homepage that users' eyes fall on first once they land on it (the center of the page, underneath your navigation menu, or the top left corner): place your most important piece of content there, one that should provide a lower level of detail!
- use larger font size for drawing attention to high priority pieces of content
- go for visually-arresting images for signaling a higher level of importance given to a particular piece of content
It's no rocket science, it's just helping your users to easily digest your content. By pointing out to them what content is more important and which blocks of content fall on a lower level of the visual hierarchy, you'll be subtly guiding them along your homepage's content.
You'll be taking them on an enjoyable tour instead of confusing them and “bombarding” them with equally “flashy”, equally important information that they can't possibly “digest” all at once.
Tip: strive to keep each content section concise and you'll be “encouraging” your visitors to keep navigating, in a quest for some more “small dosages” of details.
3. Make Your Call to Action Stand Out
We couldn't be talking about a “usable” website lacking a straightforward “call to action”, right? It's what makes your site “usable”.
Therefore, make sure your call/s to action is well visible on your front page and on every other page: “Buy Now”, “Start Your Free Trial”, “Learn More” etc.
They will turn users' visit from just an “aimless wander about” into a journey with a clear destination!
4. Loading Time: Optimize, Optimize, then Optimize Some More
No “frustratingly” slow loading website could pass the 5 second test, right? It will just put users' patience to a test!
So, what can you do for improving your web pages' load time? Here are some optimization tips for you:
- optimize your CSS files
- optimize your images and scale down their sizes
- remove duplicate scripts
- optimize browser catching
5. The Power of Imagery: Handle It With Great Care
Stunning images are a great power which, once triggered, can help you get your users “hooked” to your site, to break up huge blocks of content, to enhance readability and even to add an extra layer of meaning to it, too. A text upgraded with images will always have a much more powerful effect on the reader.
Where do you add that beautiful and highly suggestive images will always be far more easily to digest than big chunks of text alone.
Still, make sure you handle this power with care!
For it you're overcrowding your web pages with outstanding images and even, worse, if you overload it with poorly optimized ones, the result will be: confusing, tiring the user's eye and making him lose his patience, too!
In a nutshell: use imagery to impress, capture attention and “tell a visual story”, but mind you don't overdo it!
6. When in Doubt: Use White Space
It will always “come to your website's rescue”, keeping it from looking discouragingly crowded. Any web designer in Toronto “worth his salt” would confirm you this!
Use white space for keeping your content airy and easy to navigate through and to be digested.
It's pretty much like you'd be inviting your visitors in a light and airy living room instead of a dark, boxes-stuffed basement.
Don't underestimate the impact of white space on your website's usability!
7. Break It Up With Headings and Subheadings
Instead of “serving” users “hard to digest”, big chunks of text, how about breaking it up with headings and subheadings?
Now only that it will increase readability tremendously, making your written content easier to scan, but it will also boost your SEO: H1 still remains a major ranking factor!
In order words: use heading and subheadings for improving user experience and you'll implicitly improve your “relationship” with the search engines, as well!
8. “Consistency Is Key” Is More Than Just Another Motto
Consistency goes hand in hand with “familiarity”!
Keeping the same layout, same fonts and color on every page, will reassure your visitors that they're “on the right path, that they haven't deviated from it.
Keep a consistent theme throughout your website and you'll make your website easy to use: just think about it, now only that you'll instill a sense of familiarity, but you'll be saving your users' time and effort otherwise “wasted” for “deciphering” the new theme, for understanding the new layout's organizational schema etc.
Now to boil down usability to the essentials, we've seen that it relies on 5 main principles:
- Accessibility of a site
How about your Drupal website? Would it pass the 5 second test? What other usability-enhancing tactics have you used so far? What's your opinion: what role does usability play in the “making of a website?”