Your site usability in 20 key points
This article is an extract from Web Usability and Interface Design Guide (V3), a Groupe SQLI/TechMetrix publication.
We recommend observing and collecting visitors' impressions before devising a future version of the site, and potentially widening the target population with access to the site.
An online questionnaire covering site usage will enable you to gain a first level of information: practicality of menus, ease of access to information, ease of orientation, general feelings, relevance of published information, interest of topics covered, interaction with service, etc.
Moreover, user tests (analysis of consultation sessions) will bring to light any difficulties with navigation, potential graphic design improvements (enhancing of items, size and position of images), and allow you to collect users' impressions in detail. They show how often search engines are used, when users resort to the site map, selection of printable versions for hard-copies, use of the progress bar during navigation, and so on. Consultation scenarios may cover specific points. The person being tested might be set a goal (buy product X and product Y) and then the navigation methods employed by the user to achieve this can be analyzed.
The site categorization can also be tested: relevance and understanding of titles, organization of categories and subcategories, editorial tone (i.e. the tone, choice of words and turns of phrase used to relate to the audience being addressed).
The aim is not to set up a heavy, complex system, but to remember that the site is aimed at users, and it exists for them and because of them, and they can inform the designers about the suitability of their decisions, in ergonomic, editorial and graphic terms.
User tests are essential when designing Web applications: intranet and extranet. They allow you to include a sample of your end users when creating the tool, and to optimize the effectiveness of the final application.
Analysis of log files provides information on where users come from, while statistics from business intelligence modules can provide valuable information on the users' browsing patterns through the site.
Statistics are an analytical tool that come in addition to other user feedback such as emails to the webmaster, phone calls (hotline), online questionnaires, letters. All this information makes it possible to gain an insight into site users, in order to offer them an interface that meets their needs.
Your site usability in 20 key points
How can you check whether your site meets the main usability criteria?
You can assess the quality of your site design by considering these five main points:
- Accessing the site
- Reaching and remaining on the site
- Finding the information required and getting around
- Interacting with the site
- Utilizing the content
- Is the site compatible with the technical environment of target users (platforms, OS, browsers, screen resolutions, required plug-ins)?
- Are accessibility recommendations (particularly relating to visual disability) taken into account?
- Is the name of the site easy to remember and enter?
- Is the description of the site homepage correctly expressed in the results of the main search engines?
- If an internal page appears in the list of results of a search engine, is its description correct? Does the link shown in the results send users to a page giving access to the homepage?
- How does a link to a page in the site appear when sent by email or bookmarked? Is the link explicit?
- Referencing: Does the structure and coding of site pages help optimize the action of search engines?
- Is the time to access and load the homepage and inside pages (particularly master pages and content pages) satisfactory for a standard connection (56K modem), or network connection (intranet)?
- Are images named (ALT tag)?
- For the choice of language, you should opt to automatically detect the language of the user's browser, and offer the possibility of changing the language on each page. This means the homepage can be displayed without forcing users to pass via a pre-homepage. Is this the case?
- The actual homepage provide clear answers to these questions:
- What is the reason for this site? (raison d'Être)
- How is the user concerned by this site? (target)
- How is it organized? (range of services and content available)
- How is it used? (navigational aids)
- Prioritization of display: are navigation and text elements loaded before images and animations to avoid waiting for the entire page to load?
- When displaying the homepage, is there a "preloader" (indicator of loading time) when loading time is greater than ten seconds?
- When there is an animated Flash intro on the homepage, can users skip it? Does this introduction work with the most widely-used version of Flash? Does this Flash introduction bring a real added value to the user?
- When a site is developed entirely in Flash, is there also an HTML version of the site (via a pre-homepage or automatic detection)?
- Can users find their own way around easily? (Where have they come from? Where are they? Where can they go?) Is there any visual guidance in the navigation menus? Is it always possible to return to the homepage from every page (logo + text link)?
- Is a re-routing page provided in case the address of a page has changed, or the page has been deleted? Does this page give access to the homepage?
- Are the design, organization of pages and navigational aids between or inside pages consistent, and shared by all pages?
- Is there an acceptable number of categories, subcategories and sections within each subcategory (depth of site, number of clicks to get to final information)?
- Are categories evenly distributed?
- Are titles ("wording") of categories, subcategories and sections predictable, intuitive and understandable by all?
- Are text and image links, and action buttons easily recognizable as such, without needing to hover the mouse over them?
- Are the titles of links clear?
- Do the links - images and action buttons - associate a text explanation with the icon, in the form of a hypertext link and ALT tag?
- Are updates and content authors clearly indicated?
- Does the design improve the readability of pages?
- Is the simple search function (input field) clearly accessible for all pages in the site? Are the results relevant?
- Is an advanced search necessary for the site? If so, is it accessible in the same way as the simple search?
- Are the search results ranked and sortable?
- Does each result present enough information to help with a decision (qualitative criteria such as text and/or visual description, size, price, volume, availability, etc.)?
- Are results paginated so that users can navigate through them?
- Is the search field always visible so that a search can be carried out again, and does this field retain the keywords entered?
- Is the sign-in module clearly positioned on the homepage and if necessary, on all pages when there is restricted access to a part of the site? Or is this module accessible from the homepage?
- Does this module feature both registration and identification, with the possibility for users to find their connection settings if forgotten?
- Can users sign out at any time? If so, is a sign-out confirmation page displayed?
- Is there an information page in the event of a session time-out?
- Do all the forms in the site have the same presentation and operating logic?
- Do the input fields offer tips and clear examples for data entry?
- Are the mandatory fields clearly indicated?
- Do the form objects enable keyboard shortcuts to be used as effectively as possible (tabulations)?
- For complex data input, is local input help available?
- Are the action buttons (confirm or send, or preview, clear or delete) explicit?
- Is the use of keyboard shortcuts optimized?
- Are input errors or omissions clearly indicated by the field itself? When the form is displayed with notification of errors, are the fields still all filled in?
- Before definitively sending the form, can users preview their input and modify it by going back to the form, with the fields still filled in?
- Is a confirmation page displayed when a form has been validated, and does it recapitulate the data entered by the user?
- Does the FAQ present questions in chronological order in a list, classified by category?
- Does it offer the possibility of asking a question for a given category in the FAQ?
- When signing up for a newsletter, are two types of format offered: HTML or text?
- Can users unsubscribe via the newsletter itself?
- When subscribing, do users receive a confirmation email reminding them of their alias and password?
- Is the display format of the newsletter suitable for reading in an email program (approximately 570 pixels available for main information)?
- Do the typefaces have no serifs and are they big enough?
- Do visuals and photos have captions?
- Are tests suitable for on-screen reading (scanning pages)?
- Do content pages offer a printer-friendly version, sized for letter/A4 format printing?
- Does the printable page version open outside the main window?
- Is the "print" function in the browser enabled?
- If a "print this page" link is provided on the printable page, does it work on all browsers?
- Does the link to launch a download specify clearly that it is a download, along with the file format and weight?
- If the download file requires a plug-in in order to be readable (Acrobat for PDF, video player for MPEG, for example), is the link to install the plug-in clearly set up?
- Is the "send this page" link clearly labeled and associated with the page in question?
- If it opens the email software on the user's machine ("mailto"), is this function compatible with all browsers and email programs? Is another option offered?
- If a form must be filled out to send the email, are fields explicit enough, and does the form provide a free field (comments)?
- Is the page name clear enough and does it reflect the content of the bookmarked page specifically?
- Is the booking/purchase link/icon intuitive and accessible for all pages?
- Does it indicate how many items are contained in the basket?
- Does the page listing the basket contents offer the possibility of unselecting everything, browsing through the list, printing it, consulting the detailed information regarding the reserved item?
- Is a preview mode available for created/modified pages?
This article is taken from our Web Usability and Interface Design Guide (Version 3), which focuses on compliance with ergonomic standards and criteria, and is the fruit of Groupe SQLI's seven years of Web experience. Find out more...
Copyright 2003 TechMetrix Research. TechMetrix is a technology-oriented analyst firm focused on e-business application development needs. TechMetrix is also backed by its parent company, a European global system integrator - SQLI - with more than 800 developers in the field.
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