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.

31 Responses to “The Essential Website Usability Checklist”

  1. Sam Freedoms Internet Marketing Blog on December 12th, 2007 2:12 pm

    You forgot to mention that naked pictures of your sister should be less than 2 clicks away.

  2. Dito on December 12th, 2007 4:14 pm

    Thanks for the tips…only thing I might need to work on a little on my site is the whitespace…hard to tell how much is enough vs too much.

  3. SpostareDuro on December 12th, 2007 5:12 pm

    Thanks for the great tips. I can sure use em’

  4. Nathaniel on December 12th, 2007 9:00 pm

    Awesome list. Because of the nature of blogging it might also be useful to include tips for blog usability. Such as never requiring registration in order to comment because it deters people from commenting… among other things.

    Keep up the good work, and I’ll keep up the reading.

  5. g1smd on December 13th, 2007 12:01 am

    Typeface consistency comes easily when using CSS. That innovation has been a great time and energy saver.

    Scored 12.5 on my latest project. Hmmm. Going to claw that last 0.5 back some time next week I think.

  6. Alex on December 16th, 2007 8:01 pm

    Useful post.

    Some of those could do me good. Perhaps colours are something which I should work on but most of those I think I took care of without actually knowing.

    Asking readers about what they’d change in the layout or blog, always helps.

  7. Jermayn Parker on December 17th, 2007 1:11 am

    Good tips while the most simplest tips, usually these like you said are what is forgotten!

  8. Warren on December 17th, 2007 4:36 am

    Great Tips. Feel free to give me some advice on my website Always looking for help to improve. 😉

  9. Paulo on December 17th, 2007 2:48 pm

    Skellie, your posts are excellent. Congratulations!

    I’d like to add a tip that is very nice for me: use the left column for your text.

    Why? Because it looks better when I read it in larger fonts (I usually press CTRL + three times in Firefox).

  10. Keith on December 24th, 2007 9:20 pm

    Very nice article!!!

  11. Domainer on March 24th, 2009 11:35 am

    These points will remain valid even in 10 years time. this article is a couple of years old, but is still totally relevant.

  12. free bets bonus codes on July 11th, 2010 9:58 am

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  13. on October 5th, 2010 6:27 pm

    Article very interesting, thanks.

  14. mariana047 on October 17th, 2010 9:39 pm

    After reading your article i have checked my site and it seems ok.

  15. Gamingfan2000 on January 31st, 2011 1:51 pm

    Thanks for the article although I think my website already covers all of this except an About page as visitors would be aware of what the site is when they visit it.

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