20 Do's and Dont's of Web Usability

by George Prociuk

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Designing a usable website doesn't have to be a complex process.  Often times, it's the little things that make the biggest impact on a site's usability.  However, because websites are often a form of self expression, we have a natural tendency to create the most impressive presentation we can.  Unfortunately, this often results in substituting the basics with unnecessary glitz and flash.  As a result, we end up develop sites that are technically impressive, but lack user friendliness.

For this reason, I thought I'd share some tips that I hope you can easily use to improve your site's usability.  

  • Content should be at least 70% of a page.  Everything else (navigation, ads) should be no more than 30%.
  • Always cross-platform test your web pages in as many browsers as possible.  HTML behaves differently with different browsers.
  • Pages should download in no more than 30 seconds. (50Kb maximum)
  • Always use ALT tags on your graphics.  
  • Always include width and height attributes on your graphics.  This will allow browsers to pre-allocate the appropriate amount of space for each graphic on your page without having to load the graphic.  
  • Avoid using the words "click here" for a link.  Links should always be descriptive text.
  • Use link titles to further explain the contents of a link.
  • If at all possible, do not change default link colors. Blue is for unvisited links; purple is for visited links.
  • When using frames, all hypertext links should have a Target="_Top" attribute in their anchor tag.  This makes the browser clear out the current frameset and load a completely new one.
  • Long documents should include printable versions.  Many viewers still prefer to read from paper instead of from their monitor.
  • Simplicity should be the goal of all page design.  On the web, the KISS (keep it simple stupid) approach is the best approach.  
  • When writing for the web, write in a format that encourages scan ability.  Use short paragraphs and bulleted text and lots of sub-headings.
  • Use meaningful page titles to summarize page content.  Keep titles under 75 characters.  These are the descriptions that will be used to bookmark your pages.
  • Use high contrasting colors between the text and backgrounds.  This will improve readability and increase usability.  It's incredible how many web designers break this rule.
  • When writing narratives, text should always be left justified.  This improves readability and therefore, increases usability. 
  • When writing narratives, avoid using all caps.  Your visitors find it easiest to read text that is in the standard upper and lower case format.
  • Home pages should answer the question "What is this site all about?".
  • Do not force visitors to enter your site on the home page.  The web allows for entry to your site on any page.  Use this to your advantage.
  • Every page on your site should include your logo.  This will help visitors distinguish between your site and any other site they go to via a hyperlink.
  • The most important question your site's navigation must answer is "Where am I".