What good is a website if visitors have trouble using it? An unusable website can kill your online presence and cost you customers. Here are 11 tips for improving the usability of your site.

  1. Use easy-to-understand navigation—I have a simple rule when it comes to web design: Don’t make site visitors think. Your navigation should clearly describe the pages so visitors can find what they’re looking for easily.
  2. Place navigation along the top or left— Web users are creatures of habit. They’ve come to expect to use the internet in a certain way. One of the things they’ve come to expect is that your site navigation will be placed either along the top of the page or down the left-hand side. Don’t change this up, as you’ll confuse them and cause them to abandon your site.
  3. Have a benefit-driven headline on each page—The headline is usually the first thing a new visitor sees when landing on your website. Each page needs to have a benefit-driven headline that hooks the reader and forces him to keep reading. It needs to let the reader know what’s in it for him, and it should also encapsulate the main message of the page.
  4. Ditch the huge banners—There’s a new trend in web design where websites have these huge banners along the top of the page. The banner takes up almost all of the space above the fold, making visitors scroll to get to the content. Banners are fine, but make sure they’re sized appropriately.
  5. Put the most important information above the fold—Web users spend about 80% of their time looking at information above the fold of the page…information they don’t have to scroll down to see. This means it’s important that you feature your most important information above the fold of your website so you can be sure your visitors see it.
  6. Get rid of the distractions—There’s something to be said for, “less is more.” Having too much on a page can overwhelm visitors, making it difficult for their eyes to focus on your main message. Take a step back and look at your website. Is there anything that can be eliminated?
  7. Limit or eliminate the use of Flash—Not only is Flash bad for SEO, but it also slows loading time and creates viewing issues for some users. If you insist on using Flash, do so sparingly. Don’t build your entire site in Flash.
  8. Optimize your website for the right keywords—Traffic isn’t your goal. Quality traffic is your goal. And to attract quality traffic, you have to make sure you’re targeting the right keywords that bring in buyers. Never guess what you think the right search phrases are. Do your research by using a good keyword suggestion tool.
  9. Use images that enhance the message—Another trend in web design is to use stock photos. We’ve all seen them: the smiling family, the businessmen shaking hands, etc. The problem with stock photos is they rarely enhance the message, and they mostly just take up space. Images should add to your message. They should be more than placeholders.
  10. Make sure your website loads quickly—Loading speed is important because web users are more impatient than ever before. If your site isn’t accessible as soon as they click your link, they’ll back out immediately.
  11. Format content so it’s easy to scan—Online users don’t actually read content word-for-word. Instead, they scan over it quickly, looking to get the gist of the page. To make your content easier to scan, you should format it with short paragraphs, subheads, bullet points, and bolded phrases throughout.

Does your website meet all 11 points on this list?