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Build Customer Relationships When Building Your Website

September 14, 2008

E-commerce, or doing business through the Internet is certainly picking up. This may primarily be because of the ease and convenience of shopping online, not to mention the savings from a significantly lower overhead compared to brick-and-mortar stores.

However, regardless of the benefits of e-commerce, why is it that traditional brick-and-mortar stores are still around and seem to grow instead of decline?

One major reason could be because these kinds of stores still represent and hold a significantly higher degree of security to the consumer as compared to a website. The sense of permanence, familiarity and reliability that a physical location holds is what brings customers back to the store.

While online businesses cannot compete with the physical assurance brick-and-mortars have, web-based enterprises can still develop a degree of familiarity with their customers that fosters a relationship of trust and reliability. And majority of this is built around the design of a website.

The One Unchanging Principle: Think Like Your Customer
Whether your business has a physical or virtual location, one principle in building relationships with your customers remains – and this is to think like them.

The more successful businesses have prospered because they have made their customers’ mindset their own. For traditional businesses, it meant everything from convenienctly locating goods to offering ready and credible assistance.

Successful websites should follow suit. With the lack of tangible contact, a potential customer could have little basis for forming a relationship with an online store. And if building customer loyalty is your goal, then suitable substitutes must be found.

Looks and feels familiar
First impressions last. As soon as a visitor clicks on a link to your site, he expects to see something that he will like, and therefore trust.

Take an online garden supply store for an example. A cut and dry layout of columns and rows, with little to no pictures won’t give the visitor the impression he has accessed a gardening store. Not a lot of hits would result, much less in sales.

However, if that same site was built to look like a garden shed, for example, the customer might feel more at home with shopping there because the look of the site used a familiar concept with the customer and incorporated it into the over-all look and feel of the website.

Being able to capture and retain your visitor’s attention is the first step in converting a visit into a sale and eventually working towards a strong business relationship.

Ready Assistance and Assurance
A customer appreciates a ready source of help and information when he or she is shopping. So again, thinking like a customer, find ways where a visitor can access answers to common questions about your products. This could be in the form of a prominent FAQ page or a concise product description alongside a picture.

It helps to strategically locate short but strong testimonials from satisfied customers among your products so visitors can see right away the reliability of the service and goods you provide.

Safe and Secure
While familiarity and assurances of reliable service is great in building customer relationship and loyalty, the bedrock of any relationship is trust. So place a good deal of emphasis on this.

Almost all business and financial transactions over the Internet are now performed over a 128-bit encryption system. So settle for nothing less than this. It will also help to prominently display this information on your payment and sales confirmation page to assure your customers this measure of security.

Build on the Relationship
The beginnings of a lasting relationship start from a good first impression. Hopefully, the look of the website has drawn your visitor in comfortably enough to make them want to purchase something from you for the first time. Once they have done so, it is still well within your control to assure that that first transaction will lead to many more.

You can do this through a number of ways, the most common of which is to thank the customer for purchasing from you and to assure them of your products’ warranties (if any apply).

Offer your customers useful tips and information on a resource page so they can visit you again, even if to purchase is not the primary intention. Most online transactions require an email address to be submitted so invite the customer to subscribe to your e-newsletter (if you have one). You may offer perks and / or discounts if they do subscribe. However, to avoid being labeled as spam, make sure the material is clearly solicited for and is sent in timely manner.

About the best indicator of loyalty is when your customer sees you as an expert in your line of business. Aim to be this through your website and your customers will begin to see you as more than just a supplier, but a trusted consultant.

By taking the necessary steps with your website in cultivating familiarity and trust with your customers, results will be reflected not only in your sales but with your customer relationships as well.

Written by Olegs Marhelis · Filed Under Business, Web Design, Website Usability 

Locating Links: Enhancing Website Usability

September 12, 2008

The Internet is what it is because of connections, bridging one computer to a host of others. Because of this we are able to access information at a click of a button.

The things we click are called links, and they can be likened to the synapses of a brain – connecting the user from one document to another.

One of the main tenets of website design is that a page must be able to link to another page. Failure to do so renders the page dead – and is a lot like crashing into a brick wall as you speed down the information highway.

That said, website designers, both pro and amateur, make it a point to include links into every single page they design. But it is simply more than just slapping on links anywhere. Links are as vital to a web page as the content on it for without it, a visitor will be hard pressed to connect to other documents on the Internet.

In any website, there are different kinds of links. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to laying out links on a web page. But over time, certain conventions have emerged that seem to have become an unspoken standard in design. Deviations certainly will not depreciate a website’s over-all impact, but it may require some amount of time for the visitor to get oriented.

Whether you tend to follow conventions or not, it is best to be acquainted first with the rules, so that you will know what to break and how to break them.

But first of all, for the sake of clarification, imagine a website to be like a book. Of course, you know that a book holds several pages. In the case of a website, the pages are called web pages.

A web page basically has two kinds of links: Internal and External.

Internal links are what connect pages of the same website to each other. Going back to our book analogy, an internal link connects a page to another from the same book. So a visitor can access the contact page of a website from the home (or index) page via an internal link.

An external link, on the other hand, connects a web page to another web page from a different website. So an external link is something like a connection between two pages from two separate books.

Layout Conventions
Over the years, as more and more users and websites are added to the Internet, certain conventions or assumptions about the location of links have been formed.

The most common of which are the internal links on either the top or left margin of a page. Seeing that these two areas are the ones first noticed by a user, designers felt it was natural to place internal links that would connect the pages of the same website together. Because of the nature of its location, links on these sides of the page are prominent and graphic designs on them.

Another area where internal links are located is at the bottom of the page, usually where the copyright information is placed. However, unlike the top and left margin areas, the links at the bottom are discreet and usually rendered in small fonts (like the copyright info). This is done primarily to avoid redundancies in design, while still providing alternate sources of links should the others fail.

External links are usually found in the body of the text or in the right hand margins of the page. No specific rule exists for this, and the conventions arise merely out of common usage.

However, some designers have surmised that the tendency to place external links within the body of the text is done because references to information outside the website should be described or explained, whereas internal links need little to no explanation at all.

Another theory is that the right side feels like the outer part of page. This assumption is built on the observation that reading is done from the left to the right. So the right part of the page indicates the end of a page, thus references outside the website find themselves allocated to this area.

For some reason as more and more text advertisements (such as Google AdSense) proliferate, the location for such external links are designated at the center or the right side of a web page.

And yet, as mentioned before, these are merely conventions and NOT rules set in stone. Designers have all the freedom to layout information and links however they want. Deviations from such standard practices simply make the surfing experience for these websites slightly more interesting than the rest. The important thing is that connections are made and everyone can continue to cruise and surf the Web one link to one page at a time.

Written by Olegs Marhelis · Filed Under Website Usability 

Is There Such a Thing as Optimal Web Design?

September 8, 2008

When talking about design across-the-board, it’s harder to define what is the best based on a singular standard, as compared to deciding which is more aesthetically pleasing than the other. After all, like most human creations, there may be no exact definition or standard to define or embody perfect design at any cost, especially given the subjective perspective by which each individual may look upon any object.

However, there is such a thing coined by many as optimal web design. Optimal, by virtue of its definition alone, already means the most favorable or desired form of any particular subject. This then translates to what is optimal web design—which is web design that best suits the tastes of the greater majority, while at the same time working within the feasibility constraints of any undertaking.

What then makes web design optimal? Web design is optimal when it seeks to provide maximum utility to users while providing business or operational viability. In this way, the designer is able to best provide for the demand of both the end consumers as well as the people who plan and conceptualize for the purpose of deriving profit.

Putting the end users in mind is another means in order to emphasize what’s in every web designer’s mind—friendlier usability for each and every user. This means taking into consideration the fact that people visit websites in order to find particular content; therefore, it is imperative that the content must always take the precedence over any other accents and extraneous designs or artwork.

The more effective web designers are not afraid to make use of white backgrounds, or generally very clean lines in their website. By limiting the use of unrelated pictures that may even cause loading the page to take longer, and adding in very integral elements like the title and an outline of the contents of the page, it brings attention back to the content over anything else.

Pictures, unless completely necessary, should be used sparingly. When it would take longer than usual to load due to the size or the volume of pictures, it is recommended to forewarn users so that they may opt out of viewing pictures and instead proceed to seeking content they need. Moreover, advertisements and their placements, when possible, must be planned so that while they will serve their purpose, they will also in no way cause distraction or distaste to the visitors of the website.

Moreover, navigation is made consistent and simple in order to make accessing content as simple and as easy as possible. After all, who’s to say if everyone who surfs the Internet have the same capacities to grasp and decipher navigational tactics and the like.

Integrate into the design a means through which each and every visitor may have access to basic information about the website and its proponents (usually in the ‘About’ page), as well as a means of access to the privacy statement of the company. After all, the latter has played a big role in building—or inversely destroying—many relationships on the Internet.

An additional means in order to have an optimal web design is by using rudimentary conventions in web design—like making clear buttons, describing links accurately, and displaying links in the conventional blue. In this manner, the website will accommodate even the older users without the same sort of grounding with the use of the computer, and will make sure that users have the least amount of trouble in just trying to access a design.

However, there are also particular selling points that will assure marketability and will reflect business viability to its necessary degree. First and foremost, aesthetic design and code design are very much limited by the resources made available by the company. It is also important that the website has the capacity to meld in with the strategies undertaken by the company.

The first consideration in the optimal business viability of a website are the limitations experienced and set in order to create it. This includes the limitations on space, the domain address, as well as the terms and conditions that a company would have to sign in order to enlist services.

Moreover, optimal web design when it comes to business applications when the website is able to integrate itself to all the collective efforts, like marketing strategies and the like, of any company hoping to gain an edge through the Internet. This means that in the end, while aesthetics play an important role, creating an optimal web design is still one that best accommodates without alienation its users, sponsors, and web design planners.

Written by Olegs Marhelis · Filed Under Website Usability 

Well-designed Headings to Improve Usability of Website

September 5, 2008

When people go online in order to seek information, they usually end up utilizing means in order to best find the content they are looking for. At the end of the day, when they are able to determine if a web page contains the information they are looking for, they become better equipped in searching, deciphering, and even choosing the information they want to access at any given point, but particularly through search engines.

Headings play a particularly important role when it comes to finding information online, and secondly, facilitating the use of the website within which the content or information desired is to be found. It can be illustrated in two-fold scenarios, one before the website is found, and one when the user is already within the website.

Headings in hypertext protocol or HTML are a group of text rich with content, usually composed of primary keywords that give a clue or idea about the content of the website. In general terms, a heading is a line or hierarchical label that informs the users as to the content of the website, alongside pertinent information as regards the nature of this content.

When it comes to searching for particular websites, headings play a pivotal role in having the page show up at all in the results of any search engine query. Search engines, when they ‘crawl’ through the Internet looking for relevant information and related websites, usually put into consideration the heading. Headings are so important here that in order to search engine optimize one’s website, many believe that it must then contain major keywords that truly characterize the content of the page.

Moreover, aside from the HTML content rich code headings, it’s also important to put primacy upon the heading that is present within the main text body displayed on the website. This is the huge hierarchical label or title that gives the readers an idea of what is contained in the page.

In search engine results, these in-text headings are extremely important because they are what most search engines use in order to label each individual link derived from the search. This then can then determine if the user will find the heading relevant enough to the search he or she is looking for. By providing an efficient heading, one is already providing a great convenience to the user by making the website readily accessible and usable.

More importantly, once the user is already within the realms of the website, headings in particular guide them as they explore its complete contents. When the heading reflects effectively the very content of a single page, the website as a whole is made more usable as no page is designed to mislead the user into thinking the information he or she is looking for is within that page.

Another great function of headings in a website that may be used to subdivide various information contained in them is that it facilitates the scanning through of information of users in a page. As it is, users are oftentimes not interested on the content found in its entirety in a page, but only a particular part of it. By allowing them to be guided by headings, websites become more usable, friendly, and convenient for all its users.

Moreover, it gives users a general idea about the hierarchical structure of the website and how information is organized. The flow of this information, and the understanding of the users of this particular flow, is of importance to users as this could very well determine their understanding of the concepts explored in the information presented.

Headings also imply that when users scan for information they need selectively, they may pick out particular portions of the text in between headings without necessarily compromising understandability and being taken out of context.

The most convenient use of headings is when text-heavy pages utilize a small portion of table of contents at the top of the page, where the information is subdivided into their respective headings. In this way, users are already able to have a general understanding of what the website contains in a direct and straightforward manner. Thus, if the table of contents is also link-activated, it will allow for them to skip only to the information they need.

At the end of the day, headings improve a website’s usability by simplifying information made available to users and organizing them into a format most convenient. It allows for users to first, find the information they need through a search engine, and once within the website, determine and scan through the text easily in order to find the information they need in a short time and with very little trouble.

Written by Olegs Marhelis · Filed Under Website Usability 

Information on Websites: Moving Around, Saying a Lot, and Remembering More

September 4, 2008

Arranging information in a website is hardly different from laying out furniture in a house. As much as you would group different kinds of furniture together in certain rooms, so would you group different kinds of information in certain pages.

If you’re just starting out in building your own website, then this is a useful metaphor for you when it comes to positioning information effectively in your website and avoiding a confusing, unorganized mess.

Grouping information together
Beds, dressers and closets belong in a bedroom; kitchen appliances, cupboards and pantry shelves belong in the kitchen – you get the idea, right?

The idea is to categorize information. You don’t want to be hopping from one page to another and back again to get a coherent set of information. You’d want them all conveniently contained in one page.

So for example, if you sell items on your website, group these into one page. (Of course if you have a lot of items to sell, categorize them into the different kinds of products as well).

If you maintain a website about your family or an association you’re part of, group pertinent information together. It probably won’t be helpful if you lump the family tree with the photo albums and the contact information all in one single page. That’d make for one very cluttered site.

Typical websites have major headings or categories, which are:
– Home (also called index) page
– About Me / Us page
– Resources page
– Contact page

A Home page should contain information that answers the question “What is this website about?” It should also display the other categories so a visitor can easily access them.

The About Me / Us page holds information about the person or organization who owns the website. Some websites don’t have these, but it adds to reliability and attachment to the site when visitors are allowed information that lets them know more about the site’s owner.

The Resources page holds useful and practical information for the visitor. Some resource pages also contain trivia and games, which many visitors enjoy. The resources page is usually the page that gets updated the most as resources are added or renewed. Updates on this page is usually the main reason a visitor comes back to surf the site again.

A contact page is usually the last page to be viewed by visitor when accessing a site. It is usually done only when the visitor wishes to directly communicate with the website’s administrator and / or owner. While the information for this could have been included in the About Us page, a Contact page makes this getting information easier for the visitor. And ease in accessing information is an important factor in good website design.

Laying Them All Out
Now that you’ve got your categories and the information ready, now is the time to lay the information out on each page.

First of all, it is highly recommended that you maintain a uniform layout for all your website’s major pages. This is to help the visitor orient himself quickly to your site navigate easily.

For example, if you locate the major headings of your website at the top area of your Home page, it is best that you do the same for all the rest of the pages. Getting a different layout for each page tends to confuse the visitor.

Hot Spots, Weak Spots
With a uniform layout, now it’s time to begin prioritizing information. As it is with a room, a web page has choice focal points and weak spots. You should identify these areas on your web pages and lay out the information accordingly in degrees of priority.

Even with animation and graphics, the main medium of the Internet is still text. Since this is so, applying the principles of reading when laying out information on your website will make it so that viewing each page is easy and effective.

The English language is written (and therefore, also read) from left to right, top to bottom. The website visitor will skim the pages in this general pattern. So the information you consider the most important should ideally be located at the top left area of your web page.

Of course, the information may not necessarily be text as it could very well be a picture. But rest assured, what will be located in the top left will get the first and therefore, freshest attention from the visitor. It would do well to present your core message in this area.

Other information follows as the progression from left to right, top to bottom continues. However, despite this pattern, a visitor is capable to digressing from such a pattern. In fact, next to the top left area, a visitor tends to notice the left and right margins of a page. Usually, links to other pages are located in the left side of the page, while pictures or advertisements are located at the right.

The center can either become the weakest or strongest area of a page, depending on how the other elements are laid out.

It becomes weak when the body is uniform all throughout (as one continuous block of text or pictures). However, if the body is strategically broken up, the center of the page becomes a prime focal point and therefore may rank as the most important area next to, if not higher than, the top left area of a web page.

While it is possible to have an endless length for a web page, it is highly discouraged. It is much preferred to have several short pages that are concise with easily seen information, rather than to have a few long ones that are crammed with text and pictures.

As you layout the information you wish to share on your website, keep in mind convenience and practicality as would in laying out tables and chairs in a room. You will soon find that you have come up with a website that is not only informative, but memorable as well, because of how well you laid it out.

Written by Olegs Marhelis · Filed Under Website Usability 

A Fitness Plan for a Lean & Mean Website

September 2, 2008

In this age of instant everything, hardly anyone wants to wait. That is probably the main reasons why drive-thrus, instant messaging, one-touch photo printing and all sorts of “now” technology and products were invented and are profitable today.

The same can be said when surfing the Internet. Recent studies conducted on Internet habits show that users get irritated when a web page takes more than 10 seconds to completely download; beyond 15 seconds, more than half leave the site entirely. That is how demanding the average Internet user is.

Some web designers and developers would probably argue that with broadband access, download time should no longer be an issue. However, what these people fail to mention is that only 3 in 10 users in America have hi-speed access. A great majority of Internet users still surf the Internet via dial-up modems. At speed of about or below 50 kbps, web pages heavy with unnecessary baggage easily lose the race for the user’s precious attention.

So how do you keep your website lean, mean and quick? Here are some tips:

1. Use lean graphics.
Graphics, even in .jpeg or .gif form will still take a while to load. But since images do enhance a website’s appearance, it is very likely you will find these necessary. However, keep the loading time for the images down by specifying the height and width attributes of your images. That way, the user’s browser will be able to map the page’s layout while the images are being loaded.

If large images are necessary for your content, use a thumbnail a link to the bigger version of the picture. This allows the user choose what images he will wait for to load and saves him from needing to wait for those pictures he’s not interested in.
Another nifty trick for quick-loading images is to use software that cuts up large graphic files into smaller pieces that can be put back together using a table. Software like PictureDicer (by ShoeString) or Online Image Splitter does exactly that and generates HTML code for a table tag. However, be sure to reduce 256-color images to 8-bit colors before processing the picture.
2. Cut down on the flash intros.
They may look nice, but they take forever to load. And if these animated presentations are at the front door of your website, you stand to lose a lot of visitors (practically half) even before they saw your actual site.

If you simply have to have a flash introduction, please do not forget to include a “skip” button prominently displayed on the page as an option for those who don’t want to wait to load the intro.

Another caveat that comes with flash intros is that (as of now) search engines are unable to index content on flash format. So if you intend to present most of your important information via flash presentation, you stand to lose a lot when it comes to hits from search engines.

3. Maintain an ideal page size.
Experts vary in opinion on what is the optimum file size for a web page. As a middle figure, somewhere between 30 to 50 KB file size (including fonts, graphics, html and JavaScript and so on) should do fine and load pretty quickly.

4. Keep the pages as shallow as possible.
No one wants to go through so several clicks and links before accessing the page they intend to reach. When creating your site’s over-all organization, make sure that every page can be accessed from any point within 2 clicks. (3 are ok, but it’s pushing it.)

That said; try to keep all your pages no further down than 2 levels deep from the home page. If the site grows to have so many pages that making deeper levels is inevitable, consider creating an archive page where outdated pages may be kept for reference without causing delay to the more current content.

Having a quick-loading page show that you value your visitors’ time. They will show their appreciation by staying longer to know what you have to say. It also enhances your company’s brand, showing that you can be efficient, but substantial.

Paying attention to what is important and useful rather than what looks good but offers little in content will result in a website that is not only quick and lean, but usable as well. And for your target audience, that is the main and most important key.

Written by Olegs Marhelis · Filed Under Website Usability 

Website Usability Tips

August 30, 2008

Web usability according to research, was proven to be the most significant factor in web design. In fact, it is the influential element that keeps visitors returning to your site.

Usually the most overlooked aspect when designing a website, nonetheless in actuality, usability has power over the web. When your visitors can not easily navigate your site, chances are, he will not utilize your library in search for information and just go to other sites.  Note that all sites are just a click of the mouse away. Hundreds of thousands of other online stores that offer the same services or products as you are crowding the internet, making online shoppers more selective and choosy when concluding whether to stay and continue their browsing or just leave.

The internet offers online shoppers ample freedom and various choices; nobody will ever waste their time on a poorly constructed website.  In order to provide web usability, you must involve or think of your prospect clients in designing it.

Not like a traditional “brick and mortar” store, a lot of online stores or websites do not permit their visitors to “walk through” inside the site as they can in a traditional store set-up. While this may seem an unworkable task to accomplish, if done correctly, a “user-friendly” approach to web design will easily accomplish this task.

When online shopping, all things must to be located where visitors expect them to be at. The practice of flooding a client with abundant item choices all at the same time and making them search for certain items that they need, is most definitely not the concept of web usability.  

Your visitors must be taken into consideration all throughout your planning as well as designing process. Bear in mind that web usability must never be considered after the construction of a website.

Fixing and then testing your website only after construction is useless and will not yield satisfactory results. Your best approach would be to combine a replica of “pervasive usability” unto your web design and construction process.

According to surveys, here are top 12 reasons why visitors want to go back to your site:

• Easy navigation   74%

• Quick download time  65%

• Frequently updated information 58%

• Content quality    57%

• Content quantity   30%

• Content organization  40%

• Prompt customer service  40%

• Website search tools  25%

• Layout of homepage  20%

• Enjoyment   19%

• Website appearance  18%

• Inclusion of animated graphics   9%

Basing from these reasons, here are usability tips to help you design your website:

1.  Become familiar with your visitors based on their preferences.  You need a website with personality as well as content quality that accommodates your visitor’s taste; you should understand and recognize their color choices, technical skills, etc.

2. Create obvious and simple interface. The more apparent and recognizable the web interface is, then your visitors never have to undergo frustration in guessing how your site really works, and instead on concentrating on the interface, they should be concentrating on your site’s content.

3. Website readability.  Create “easy to read” paragraph, not using small text or font size. 

4. Quick loading.  You need a fast downloadable page as visitors hate to wait.

5. Avoid hidden navigation, as your visitors need to know where and what to click in order to go someplace.

6. Get visitor feedbacks so you will know what is working and what does not.  Learn from your prospects.

7. Investigate on website visitor performance.  Determine how long it takes to perform a certain task? It should not take too long, the faster the better.  If not, work on your user interaction so to improve performance.

8. Provide a help section.  If your website visitor does make a certain mistake, then they truly will appreciate it if you provide ways to assist them.  “404 page” is great for directing “spiders” to crawl unto your webpage.
Testing for usability

Testing for usability is not complicated and very inexpensive to carry out. The easiest answer is to design a simple sequence of undertakings for web users to carry out trials.

Invite people or friends to your workplace, then request them to navigate your website, watching and observing while they surf.  Do not wait when your website is done before you test it; test it now.

The work can be simple like finding out a product’s information or finding out how a certain firm can be contacted or one can order a product and finding shipping policies information.

After testing, fix any problem and test it again.  Continue testing and refining web usability of your website until such time that there are no problems found, that the experience is efficient and pleasant.

Remember that website usability is concerned to not just the appearance of a site, but more importantly how your site performs and particularly, it gives emphasis on the experience of your visitors.  

Written by Olegs Marhelis · Filed Under Website Usability 

How to Make a Website More Appealing to International Users

August 28, 2008

More and more people around the world are using the Internet, and the numbers are increasing everyday. The Internet has become the primary source of information for many, and because of that, web sites have to constantly improve the content and image of their web pages in order to keep users interested in accessing their sites.

What are the measures that should be implemented by web designers in order to make their sites more appealing to users around the world? Here is a list of issues that can be encountered in web design and the necessary action to be considered:

1. Availability of basic features
First, the design of a web site should be compatible to any browser. It should be able to pass HTML and CSS validation tests. Second, web sites should be able to cater to disabled users. This won’t be a problem as long as designers adhere to web standards. Third, the process of navigating a web site should be simple enough for all users. No user likes to encounter a new site, and then he or she has to figure out how to navigate around it. Fourth, status bars should be available. It shows the destination of links as the cursor is being moved. The status of the current page is also displayed as it loads.

2. Appearance of the pages
There are four elements that make up the appearance of a web site. They are the fonts, color, graphics, and writing.

Fonts are not just a matter of personal preference of the user and the designer. The primary importance of font choice is that it affects how fast the users can read the information being presented. Arial fonts are usually recommended over the Times New Roman and the Verdana.

When applying color, it is important that there is enough contrast between background and foreground in order for the content to be readable. To achieve maximum contrast, black text against a white background should be used. Link colors should be established at standard settings.

When it comes to graphics, bear in mind that some pages get too overloaded because of the use of too much images. As much as possible, use graphics only to support the content being presented to users. A lot of people actually have the tendency to shut off the images when browsing for information.

Web designers should remember the distinction between writing for the web and writing for print. Web content should be short and straight to the point.       

3. Site performance
There are three factors that determine the overall performance of a web site. These are speed, tables, and connections.

Since everyone is hankering for more bandwidth, the best that designers can do is to avoid the usage of design that will take up too much bandwidth, because not every user has access to fast Internet connections.

To avoid making the site appear like it takes forever to download, avoid loading putting a whole page inside a table. Instead, divide the page into several tables.

Web designers should not cloud a page with too much items for the simple reason that each item requires a separate browser for the whole page to be downloaded.

4. The occurrence of bugs
Of course, no one wants to have bugs in his system. To avoid this, body text should be set up with relative font sizes. One has to consider that there are users out there who have poor eyesight, and they would like to adjust the font sizes through their individual settings in order to read the text more clearly. The relative value recommended for this would be:

font-size: -1

or

font-size: 100%

In case of URLs, it should be simple and short, containing no punctuation or spaces. Users should be able to copy a URL and paste it into an email message without it being wrapped in multiple lines. To avoid dead links, redirects should be established, in order to avoid the breaking of bookmarks and links.  

Web designers should make sure that navigation features will be present at all times, whatever the size of the window the user is using. Browser windows should be maximized when applying design, because not every user will be surfing the Internet in a maximized window. 
 
 
 

Written by Olegs Marhelis · Filed Under Website Usability 

Use Familiar and Readable Fonts to Improve Website Usability

August 24, 2008

There are many factors that affect the usability of a web site. To make sites noticeable to users, site owners must make use of attractive design and functional content. The usage of fonts is one of the factors that can draw or veer away visitors to a web site. Good fonts are important because it has an effect on how fast users can read whatever content that is present on the computer screen.

Fonts are utilized to make the majority of the web page elements, such as navigation bars, buttons, links, and menus. It is the text that will express most of the web site’s content.

At present, the fonts that are commonly used in the Internet are Times New Roman, a serif font, and the Arial, a sans serif font. The primary edge of serif fonts is that it is more comfortable to read it on paper, because serifs help individualize each letter. However, this advantage can be rendered useless when the fonts are viewed on computer screens, since factors such as screen resolution can affect the clarity of texts.

So how do fonts influence the overall usability and legibility of a web site?

There are two major categories of font faces:

1, Serif
These are fonts that contain small appendages in the upper and lower part of a letter. Examples are Times New Roman, Century, Bookman and Courier. These are the choice faces to be used for large quantities of text.

2. Sans-serif
These fonts have only primary line strokes, and possess a simpler shape. Examples of these fonts are Futura, Helvetica, and Arial. They are usually utilized for short phrases.

Font style pertains to the usage of elements such as italics, underlining, and boldfaces to give better emphasis to the contents of a page. It is not advised to utilize underlining on web pages, since most of the users are used to associate underlinings with links. Boldfaces should be used in a strategic way. Too much usage of boldfaces can be distracting from the content, since they are extremely visible. Since italics are not very legible on the screen, they should be used infrequently, just enough to provide emphasis and definition to terms.

Avoid using absolute font sizes. Doing so may hinder users the ability to adjust the sizes of the text to go along with the specifics of display devices that they are using. It is recommended to let users manipulate the size of the texts, especially if one plans to keep the web pages short.

Choosing font colors should be done with care, it should maximize the legibility of the text in contrast to the background of the page while setting it apart from colors used for links. For light backgrounds, one should used fonts in black, dark green, dark brown, and dark blue. If the background is dark, fonts in white, pale green, and pale orange should be used. If possible, use only one or two font colors in a page, excluding the colors for the link pages.

There are images that look like fonts. Avoid using them. There are several reasons why one should not utilize .jpg or .gif images to acquire special effects. First, images takes a long time to download, and when it appears, the quality is not the same as the text produced by the by browsers. Second, there usually is a problem when resizing images. Third, these images cannot be recognized by voice-enabled browsers.

It is said that Sans serif fonts should be used for standard and top-of-the-line web site designs, specifically the Arial and the Verdana. It is recommended to use the same font throughout a page, but headline sizes can be added and the subheadings can be written in bold form to prevent monotony. Again, it is preferable to give users the ability to control the size of the texts, since some of the users can be visually-challenged.

Some studies show that fonts that are tinier than 10-point gets slower reaction from users. It is advisable to use fonts that are at least 12 or 14-point in size when it comes to people over the age of 65.

The quality of a well-designed web site is that it can be accessed and used by people from all walks of life. Web sites should be designed to suit everyone who will be able to visit them.

Written by Olegs Marhelis · Filed Under Website Usability 

Achieving Website Usability Through the Use of Frames

August 22, 2008

The issue of website usability has garnered much attention today. In fact, there have been laws and legal moves against website developers who wouldn’t take into consideration the wide range of people who will be viewing their websites.

The issue of usability has been founded on the context that there are a lot of people who are disabled or impaired in some way. In America alone, there are 1 out of 5 people who are disabled in one way or another.

The Internet has provided us with ways to communicate, interact, exchange information and do business. It is a pertinent tool in providing much needed avenues for accessing these things especially for people who are disabled. This is why usability has been a pressing issue in terms of website development.

Frames and website usability

One of the ways which can increase the usability of a website is the proper use of frames. Frames basically segment the browser into different portion and each portion is independent from the others. There are two major schools of thought when it comes to the use of frames: one that says frames should not be used and one that says that there are advantages to using frames in website development.

This article tries to give guidance on the use of frames in website development. The ultimate aim of website development is to make it easier for more people to use the website, whether with the use of frames or without them.

Why not use frames?

There are a lot of negative thoughts when it comes to the use of frames in websites. Here are some of them:

Printing

There have been much complaints about printing web pages that are framed. Internet browsers seem to select the frame to be sent to the printer randomly. The user cannot usually print the frame that he wants because the computer selects the frame which is the focal point of the webpage.

Downloading

Many newbies in the field of website development employs frames to be able to cut the downloading time of their websites. This can only be achieved if the right ways of presenting the content are achieved. Other contents such as style sheets, images and scripts are recommended to be cached.
Linking

Using frames which contains third-party information can raise issues of infringement of copyrights and trademarks.

Bookmarks

Visitors usually cannot mark the particular frame that he wants when using framed websites. The basic structure of frames deviates from the normal structure of unification of the “website.” This can cause problems in bookmarking.

Search engines

Search engines encounter problems when indexing framed sites. This is a result of the frames paradox. The “spiders” of the search engines are drawn to what developers refer to as black hole pages.

Over-all usability

Surfers may become confused with the structuring of a website which uses frames. The provision of multiple scrollbars will definitely add to the problem. If a designer hides the scrollbars, the contents of the website may become inaccessible.

Advantages in Using Frames

There are also some key advantages in using frames. Many people are still lured to use frames in their websites and listed below are some of the explanations why they are inclined to do so:

Ease in designing

One of the key features of the usage of frames in websites is that it makes the job easier for the developer. When a developer employs frames, he is relieved of the task of putting the logos and navigation menu on every single page that he will develop. Frames can contain these information and need not to be copied every time a user clicks another page of the site.

Flexibility

Frames provide a surfer several mini-browsers which he can view all at the same time. This allows for more flexibility in terms of getting more work done or getting more information for a single viewing of the webpage.

Quicker downloads

With the use of frames, different site contents need not be downloaded every time a click is made. This makes downloading much easier because contents that should be re-downloaded need not be downloaded because they are contained in a different frame.

These are just some of the features and perceived disadvantages of the use of frames. They can be used as long as the developer knows how to fully maximize the potential of frames without making them a problem for the surfers.

Written by Olegs Marhelis · Filed Under Website Usability 

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