The Essential Website Usability Checklist
Give me almost any website and I will point out at least one common usability mistake. Chances are your website is included in that group. You could be missing out on sales, loyal visitors and links due to a usability oversight that’s easily fixable.
This post is a simple 13-point usability checklist for webmasters. Ever good website must be able to answer ‘yes’ to each of these points. How does your site measure up? Feel free to score yourself out of thirteen and share the results in the comments section.
1. Your essential navigational elements are easy to find
The navigational links you want readers to use most often should always be close to the top of the screen. Stuffing important navigational elements in the footer area is a worrying trend I see becoming more and more prevalent. Remember: it’s not true minimalism or simplicity if you’re taking away or hiding what’s important. Essential navigational elements should never be treated like clutter.
2. Your hyperlinks are easy to pick out
Not everyone visiting your site has 20/20 vision, not everyone can distinguish between colors and not everyone has their screen set to a bright resolution. It’s essential that your links stand out for all users. The simplest and most effective way you can ensure this is to double-format your links by changing both the color and the style of the hyperlinked text.
3. Your color choices are easy to read
Black text on a white background is hands-down the easiest color combination to read. Grey text on white might look slick and modern, but that won’t count for much if no-one is reading your content. If you have to experiment, try black text on a light color. Light text on a light background is a no-no, as is dark text on a dark background.
4. Your best content is easily accessible
Your best or most important content is the real reason why your site exists. Visitors shouldn’t have to dig through obscure links and scour the nether regions of your Sitemap to find your best stuff. Link to it from the main page and make it as easy as possible to find. Not only is this good for usability, it will also help draw visitors deeper into your site.
5. Your content is less than 2/3 a screen-length wide
Text that runs a mile across the screen is hard to read. 50% of the screen or less is ideal for readability, though it might be necessary to justify the text if you want to go really narrow.
6. There are wide margins around your text
Whitespace helps frame your content and give it space to breathe. Sentences which run into your website’s sidebar will give visitors a headache and create the impression that your page elements are bleeding into one another. You want to include as much separation as possible. Resist the urge to fill every inch of the screen with stuff. When it comes to good web design and usability, thoughtful reduction is key.
7. There is adequate padding between embedded images and text
Text running into images is another readability pitfall. Always make sure there’s sufficient padding around your embedded images. The difference between slick looking content and a readability disaster is only a few pixels.
8. Your header image links to your main page
Visitors expect this and it’s incredibly simple to implement. Unless, of course, your header image is the background of a table cell. If that’s the case, make sure to include a prominent link back to your home page as close to the header as possible. Using the browser’s ‘Back’ button should always be a choice, not a necessity.
9. You’re formatting text for maximum readability
We absorb writing on the screen differently to how we absorb writing on paper. We need more variation to make it visually interesting. Using sub-headings, box-quotes and bolded text is a fundamental aspect of readability and something no webmaster should neglect.
10. Your text is broken up with whitespace
Ever been confronted with a huge chunk of text? Ever actually stopped to read all of it? Probably not. Frequent paragraphs open up your content and make it much more inviting to readers. When writing for the web it becomes more important than ever that the eye frequently be given space to rest.
11. Your fonts are readable and consistent
Little fonts are bad for readability. Tightly packed fonts are also no good. Small, tightly packed fonts are the worst combination of all. It might seem cool to use little fonts, but visitors won’t thank you for it. Adequate gaps between each line of text are also essential. Mixing too many fonts and font sizes can also create readability problems.
12. It’s clear where each hyperlink will lead
Regardless of whether you prefer descriptive anchor text or instructive ‘click here’ links, it’s essential that readers have a specific idea where each link will lead. Hyperlinking vague keywords is bad usability, even if some argue that it’s good for SEO. Where will a link to make money online take me? It could be any one of a million places. A link to 15 ways to make money with your website is much more specific and user-focused.
13. Your site has an ‘About’ and ‘Contact’ page
Unless you don’t want to be contacted at all, there’s no excuse to do without either of these elements. The most common question new visitors to your site have is: “What is this about?” Your ‘About’ page provides an instant answer to that question. It also gives you an opportunity to persuade new visitors to stick around. If your site is missing an About page, you’re missing an opportunity.
Having a dedicated Contact page is also essential. It might seem reasonable to include contact information on your About page, but think of it like this: if I wanted to know how to contact you, would I ask this question:
Can you tell me about yourself?
How can I contact you?
It doesn’t make sense to ask the first. Usability should always be conversational.