How to Improve Your Website's Usability and Make a Good Impression

by Jason Taylor on May 25, 2016

When starting a new book, the reader might give it a few pages or maybe even a couple of chapters to let it catch her interest. When it comes to your website, you’ve got a matter of seconds to capture her attention. According to an eye-tracking study conducted at Missouri University of Science and Technology, website viewers form a first impression in less than two-tenths of a second. Talk about time pressure!  

Usability is critical to making a good first impression and keeping your visitors engaged so they get what they’re looking for from your site. Problems with usability can lead to the dreaded “click” that gives visitors an easy exit. Pages take forever to load. Click. The website is too cluttered and unorganized. Click. It doesn’t look good on mobile. Click. They can’t find the content they are looking for. Click. Click. Click.

Door Opening to Brickwall
Usability is important.

Usability is understanding what your audience wants from your website and providing it in a way that is efficient and intuitive for them. The following explains five important areas to focus on when evaluating your sites’ usability strengths and weaknesses:

  1. Consistency – In today’s world everyone wants to be different, but when it comes to website consistency, there are some good reasons for being just like everyone else. You could get crazy and put your navigation down the right side of your page or move your “search” to different spots on different pages, but your users may not approve. Users are tremendously impacted by general practice and where they’re used to finding things. Site layout is extremely important for usability. Use a consistent layout and repeat certain elements throughout the site. Consistency helps users easily navigate your site by clearly telling them where they are, where they came from, and where they can go next. Implementing consistency throughout your pages and your sites not only makes it easier for your site visitors, it supports brand awareness and reduces development and maintenance costs. That’s a win/win/win!

  2. Speed – The first impression your website makes on a visitor is based on how quickly it loads. No matter how beautifully designed your website is or how fascinating the content might be, if it doesn’t load quickly most people won’t wait around to see it. And as more and more students rely on mobile devices to check their school website, it’s crucial to test how your website loads on mobile and to make changes accordingly to optimize speed.

  3. Scannability – According to Nielsen Norman Group, scanning far surpasses reading as the dominant mode of web content consumption. If your page is one giant block of text, visitors will more than likely make a fast exit. Break it up into paragraphs (ideally one idea per paragraph), de-fluff language, add headlines and subheads, maybe throw in some bullet points—your scannability quotient will go up and visitors will stick around a little longer.

  4. Responsiveness – Responsive web design aims to create a website that provides an optimal viewing experience for users regardless of which device they are accessing it on. According to the 2015 E-Expectations Report, 70% of students have looked at a college website on a mobile device. This truly emphasizes the importance of making your website responsive so students can not only access it on whatever device they are using, but have a good user experience on the smaller screen.

  5. Interaction – Your website is an opportunity to have a conversation with current and potential students, faculty, and staff. Taking advantage of the interactive capacities of your website can make a sizable impact on usability. Visitors can provide their perspective on a topic, like or dislike a page or another visitor's comment, create comment threads, and much more. Engaging with website visitors in this way adds a personal touch to their experience and is a valuable opportunity to respond one-on-one in a very memorable way.

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