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 Is Your Website a Health Check Failure
 Under the Hood of Good Web Design
 How User Friendly is Your Website ?
 User Friendly Web Page Sales
 Making a Website User-Friendly
 Recommendations After Website Audit
 Optimizing After a Website Audit
 Example Website Audit Findings
 Website Auditing Conflicts

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How User Friendly is Your Website ?

Making your website user friendly

Look Inside @ Amazon BookstoreBeing user friendly can have a significant impact on the profitability of the website. It affects visitor retention, visitor return rates, bounce rates, individual page conversion rates and overall site conversion rate.

Making a website visitor friendly is something that should be addressed during the design of the website by the web designer, but in the many usability audits we carry out, it’s an aspect that often seems to get taken for granted or assumed.

Download PDF Book PreviewThe International Organization for Standards (ISO) defines something as user-friendly if it effectively and efficiently satisfies a specified set of users by allowing them to achieve a specified set of tasks in a particular environment.

In our web development checklist this means designing a website to effectively and efficiently satisfy the visitors the site was designed for, which is one reason why it’s important to know who the target visitors for a site actually are.

This means a site does not have to satisfy all visitors, which is practically impossible. It doesn’t matter if children find it difficult to use your website if children are not the target visitors.

Basic web design usability

The aspects for a website to be considered visitor user-friendly are:

  • Effective navigation and orientation
  • Appropriate and efficient functionality
  • Access to help and support
  • User control and error management
  • Keeping users informed of progress
  • Working the user’s way
  • Using words the user understands
  • Being consistent
  • Accessibility
  • Visual clarity

The extent to which these various usability aspects need to be taken into account on a particular web site depend on the type, content and size of the website. They should however all be considered during the early design of any website, so I will briefly cover each one.

Navigation & Orientation

On a website, navigation provides the means to get from one page or place on a page to another and orientation gives the user their current location within the overall web site. There are generally three main forms navigation can take and they are, Global, Secondary and Breadcrumb but not all of these are appropriate on all sites.

Other supporting forms of navigation include search functions, hyperlinks, progress indicators and appropriate page titles and headings.

Regardless of what form or type of navigation is employed on a website it needs to satisfy the user’s basic need to know:

  1. Where am I ?
  2. Where can I go ?
  3. What can I do when I get there ?

Appropriate and Efficient Functionality

Appropriate and efficient functionality means giving users the capabilities they expect to find on your type of website that work efficiently and without errors. A web design analysis should include some form of web usability testing.

Particularly on older websites, problems start to occur with functions that no longer work, links that get broken and pages that don’t exist. It is therefore important to also carry out usability testing of websites at intervals during the life of the website.

Help & Support

While on most websites very few visitors will ever need or use help and support, many more visitors will expect to see it present on a site, just in case they need it. You could almost consider it to be a form of reassurance, a comfort to the visitor to know help is available and someone can be contacted if they have a question.

But if you have help and support, even if it’s only a contact form, you should occasionally do a usability audit to check it still works, because functionality on all websites becomes broken. In our experience this usually happens when the web-host or the webmaster does updates that affect the site.

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User Control & Errors

Building trust with site visitors is an important factor in improving the conversion rate of a website which is why we often advise caution in restricting or removing control from the visitor.

Websites that bombard visitors with exit pop-ups that simply will not close, or if they do, another one appears, are examples of removing control from the visitor. These sorts of control restrictions if applied too aggressively can actually back-fire and harm site conversion.

This is why we always recommend split-testing this sort of feature to see if it’s of any benefit or not. Just because the latest functional addition to any website is being marketed with “mind-blowing conversion” doesn’t mean it will work that way on your website with your target visitors. You must split-test and use web usability testing with your target site visitors.

Sooner or later a user will do something on your website that causes an error. If the error messages your site gives to a user doesn’t help them complete the task or worse still adds to their confusion, you will more than likely lose that site visitor.

How much focus you need to pay to the error messages your site produces depends on the type and complexity of functions on your site. In our experience many of the problems we see are from website functionality that has been installed using a commercial or free software script that comes with standard error messages.

Sometimes standard error messages that come with a website script are not appropriate for a particular website or they were written by someone with a poor grasp of English. For this reason you need to assess web design usability by testing things on the website that will cause errors. It is better for you to use web usability testing to see what happens before your visitors do.

Keeping Users Informed

By this I don’t just mean sending users an email, although that could be part of keeping a user informed, for example after they submit information in a form or make a purchase. Other means of keeping visitors informed include progress indicators, for example, showing the remaining loading time for a video or how many steps remain in the purchase process.

Where these progress indicators are placed is also an important factor to consider as many users don’t look at what’s happening outside the area their eyes are focused on. There have been many web usability studies on this effect, but basically it’s like the user is looking at a web page by viewing it down a narrow tube, like the cardboard center of a toilet roll.

Working the User’s Way

Your website should not compel people to do things in a set way unless it’s absolutely necessary to the task or process. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of setting up ways of working that are convenient for the site owner or back-office personnel who administer the website, but that are not very user-friendly to your website visitors.

Using Words the User Understands

We are all guilty sometimes of using words that we are familiar with and take for granted that other people will also understand them. This is particularly true with websites that use jargon or profession based terminology, like this website.

When you are close to a subject it’s very easy to use terms and abbreviations that you assume your visitors will also understand. I have actually done that in this article by using terms like conversion rate and bounce rate and assumed you will know what they mean.

You should also consider the readability of your content. One way to test the readability of your site’s content is using software that makes use of the Flesch Reading Ease test. This is a United States governmental standard to determine how easy a text is to read. Scores between 60 to 80 indicate the text is optimal and easy to read.

There is also software that uses the Flesch Kincaid Grade Level standard to measures the approximate level of education necessary to understand the web page content. A score of 7 indicates a typical US 7th grade student (12 years old) could understand the content.

This page has a Flesch Reading Ease score of 59 and Flesch Kincaid Grade level score of 11.2. This means it's reasonably easy to read but requires someone around age 16, to understand it. This grade level score is no surprise given the use of subject related terminology.

Being Consistent

Your website should ideally be consistent so as not to confuse the visitor (user). This particularly applies to the placement of common navigation and search boxes being consistent from web page to page.

The website should also observe generally accepted practices and rules of design, since visitors will often expect to use rules they have learned elsewhere on other websites, even when they don’t apply to your website.


When applied to a web site, accessibility generally means content should be easily accessible by visitors with impairments such as blindness, impaired vision, deafness, learning disabilities, limited movement, speech disabilities and photosensitivity.

The extent to which accessibility issues need to be taken into account depend on the target audience of the website. However all websites should cater to the visually impaired using standard HTML markup which makes them more accessible to electronic text readers.

Visual Clarity

One aspect of website design that almost everyone has an opinion about is the visual appearance. The opinions that get expressed about the visual look of a site greatly depend on the background and experience of the viewer.

The untrained casual observer rarely sees beyond a site “looking nice” but to the experienced observer there is a whole lot more to consider than whether a site looks good or not.

Ben Hunt, the principal designer at London based web design consultancy firm Scratchmedia has this to say about good looking websites:

"Many web designers will stop listening at this point, but it's a fact. A beautiful web page isn't necessarily a better one. Comparative tests have shown that sometimes downright ugly, cheap-looking design can outperform slick professional designs."

"Attractive design can get in the way of the communication. The design of your page will either support the message you want to share by drawing attention to the message, or it will detract - by drawing attention to itself."

Visual clarity to a professional observer is a measure of not only the extent to which a website has a clean uncluttered appearance, but also whether the visual content adds to the clarity of the message or impression the website is trying to create in the mind of the visitor.

The professional observer considers visitor psychology when deciding if the color scheme and layout of the site is appropriate for the market the site is targeting. They also look at how efficiently and effectively the visual elements have been used, whether they occupy too much or too little space and whether they should be there at all.

The bottom line for visual clarity should be if an image or graphic adds nothing to creating a desired and clear impression in the mind of the visitor it should be removed or replaced with an image that does.

We're are not saying we are experts when it comes to visual clarity, but we know a lot more about what should be in a good web design than many web designers seem to do, judging by their website designs.

Website Auditor
Tony Simpson
Website Audit Expert