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Website Usability

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Is There Such a Thing as Optimal Web Design?

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.

Achieving Better Website Usability

Websites are intended to be seen and use by Internet surfers. Not many people
realize the wideness of the range of the users of the Internet.

A website's usability is one of the key determinants of its success in
fulfilling its main goal, whether it is made for information dissemination,
business or communication. Usability is all about the relationship between a
website and its users. Websites should be seen as tools which will allow its
users to do their tasks and help them achieve results.

The issue of usability is very pertinent and is treated with much attention
today. There have been moves (including legal ones) that aim to push web
development towards usability. There are many people who are affected with some
kind of disability or impairment which hinders them from fully enjoying the
different aspects of life including the use of the Internet. The Internet, with
it's continuous development towards the better, has been a great instrument in
providing people, especially those with impairments to be able to have avenues
for accessing information, communicating and transacting. This is why the issue
of website usability is a much talked about issue.

Usability is important because it can be the difference between accurately
performing a task or not, between enjoying the whole process or being very
frustrated. Usability is also important for the developers since it can be one
of the key factors in determining the success of a system. It is also important
for businesses which thrive in the Internet because a low level of usability
will definitely drive the customers away. Most importantly, it is important for
people who have impairments because they are the most vulnerable group in terms
of accessing the different avenues that the Internet provide.

Components of Usability

A website's usability is one of the key determinants of a website's popularity.
A recent survey revealed that the "ease of use" with regards to websites makes
74% of website visitors want to come back.

There are different components of usability. These are:

- Efficiency

This refers to how easily the users can perform their tasks after they have had
a general feeling for the website.

- Learning curve

Can the structure of the website easily be learned by the users?

- Over-all perception

Is the website pleasant to the eyes and can easily be accessed by people
viewing it?

A website that is usable will be able to deliver a lot of benefits not only to
the viewers but also to the developers. Here are some of the most important
benefits that can be achieved by improving the usability of a website.

- user satisfaction

- productivity and success

- avoidance of long-term costs of development

- improved competitiveness of the website

Now, we go to the ways on how to the basic concepts that should be kept in mind
in developing websites to achieve usability.

1) Give information about the website

Many website developers forget the importance of putting some information about
the website because they assume that people will be able to figure that
themselves. Many people will be giving negative feedback if they don't get what
they want (or what they think they want) from the website. A portion of the
homepage can be used to relay this information or a separate section "about the
site" can be added.

2) Provision of a sitemap

Many people are not very familiar on navigating through the different layers of
a website and therefore they result to the sitemap to
be able to find what they are looking for. Sitemaps provide a skeleton image of
the whole site and cramp the pertinent sections into one single page.

3) Loading time

If people are to be asked to choose between a good-looking site which takes too
much time to load and a basic site which loads quickly, most of the time, the
second one will win. The use of large flash programs, graphics and the
inappropriate placing of too much information should be avoided to improve the
usability of a website.

4) Quality content and readability

People visit website to be able to gather information and they will leave
immediately if the content are either: of poor quality or has poor readability.
Make sure that the contents are written well and are structured to be easily
read.

These are just some of the ways on how a developer can improve the usability of
his website. The development of websites is pushing forward to usability and
every single website should take this in mind.

Website Interface And Usability

Usability study normally precedes the interface and technical design of the
website construction process, which involves establishment of complete user
profiles, creation of the interface model or sample and extensive user testing.

The ideal web interface design demands for organized approach in the designing
process. However, to guarantee optimal performance, web usability testing is
needed. This domain testing allows inexperienced users to supply data regarding
what really is working, as have been expected and then what is not working. Only
as soon as the subsequent repairs are constructed and done can a website be
considered to achieve optimized user interface.

This procedure, though in several cases takes a few repetitions, provide the
necessary and important information and evidence for the finished web interface
functionality and design, resulting in a website interface that conveys clear
messages to visitors, regarding where they actually are, easily predict what is
about to happen as well as where buttons will take them and what they need to do
to accomplish their goals. The ease and simplicity of all these activity is what
defines a usable website.

The experience of the user is the main factor to acceptance; this is where
interface design comes in the designing process. Whereas product engineers give
emphasis on technology, specialists in website usability concentrate on user
interface.

The significance of a great interface user design is the driving force of a
product's acceptance or rejection.

If visitors have hard time learning and using, a complicated website, even an
excellent product can fail. Interface design must make your product simple to
use and understand, so that it results to user acceptance.

Here are guidelines for creating website usability:

* System status. Your system must always update users regarding what is
happening, through correct feedback within a reasonable time.

* Simple words. Make sure that your website speaks the language of your
visitors, having phrases or words familiar to them. Construct information that
appears in a most natural tone and in consistent order.

* User freedom and control. Note that internet users at times encounter
mistakes in system functions and need an "emergency exit" in order to easily
leave that undesirable situation. Support in your system "undo and redo".

* Consistency. Visitors must not need to question whether different
situations, words or actions represent the similar things. Follow platform
principles or guidelines.

* Retrievable instructions. Making actions, options and objects visible and
easily retrievable. Your visitors do not need to remember certain information
from a particular part of a dialogue "to another".

* Efficiency and flexibility of use. Use accelerators to speed up interaction
between experts and the system. Construct it in such manner you're your system
is able to cater both the experienced and inexperienced users. Permit users to
customize frequent actions.

* Users help. Display error messages in plain and simple language that
accurately indicate what the problem is and then propose a solution.

User interface and design principles:

1. Structure. Your web design must establish user interface persistently, in
useful and meaningful ways that are based on consistent and clear models easily
recognizable; put all related and similar things together.

2. Simplicity. Design your website simply, making common tasks easy to do,
clearly communicating in the language of the user, and providing shortcuts that
meaningfully are related to those longer procedures.

3. Visibility. Design your website that it keeps all materials and options
visible without disrupting your visitors with redundant or extraneous
information. Never overwhelm your visitors with too much alternatives.

4. Feedback. Your design must keep your visitors well informed of certain
actions, changes of condition, errors or certain exceptions which are of
interest and relevant to them through concise and clear language.

5. Tolerance. Your design must be tolerant at the same time flexible, reducing
misuse and mistakes by permitting "undo and redo". Likewise prevent errors from
occurring by accepting different sequences and inputs by translating all logical
actions.

How your website interface is designed either makes or breaks your business.
Although website functionality is a significant factor, the manner by which it
imparts that functionality or user performance is likewise as important. A
website that is hard to manage will not be used at all. Period.

Website Usability Tips

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.

When Web Design Gets Annoying!

The Internet is home to various artists, web artists, and designers both
professional and amateur. It can afford to provide individuals with
opportunities to freely explore their artistic capabilities and publish content
to a borderless audience.

However, unluckily, alongside this freedom of expression afforded to everyone
is the capacity to offend sensibilities. Some website provide great utility and
aesthetic pleasure -- others are bound to get annoying.

There are ways and means in order to avoid getting annoying, and its best to
start by knowing when web design of a website does get annoying.

Using colors that just do not work

Colors in good and sensible does are a good means in order to attract attention
and communicate ideas and emotions to an audience. They can help add interest to
a dull site full of text, and even introduce and maintain a certain mood (as in
scary websites using black as a background).

However, there is a fine line between too much and just about right. What gets
annoying when it comes to colors is when readability is compromised, and
combinations are too loud for comfort. When readability is compromised, it can
pose great discomfort to the site's visitors when they try to decipher the text
that they want to have access to. Using too many colors and colors that do not
complement each other tend to make the website look goofy and awkward, and can
make the website lose whatever credibility it can possibly gain.

Too many clicks to get to the end of the road

At the end of the day, people who visit websites do so in order to access
information and content in a website. Some websites tend to re-route visitors
through too many clicks before they get to the content they want to get to
assuming that the content is indeed somewhere in the multiple pages they are
made to access. Obviously, that gets annoying. Rule of thumb says that a
maximum of three clicks (but preferably less) should be enough in order for
someone surfing a site to get to the information they want to get to.

Excessive graphics that take too long to load

Graphics and pictures, when relevant and are the primary content meant for the
website, are a welcome part of a website. However, when they just serve the
purpose of aesthetic enhancement, graphics and pictures that take too long to
load -- and inevitably, slow the process of accessing primary content -- become
a major reason for discontent and displeasure among visitors.

It is also helpful to note that not all visitors of the website are equipped
with optimal download or Internet surfing speeds; excessive graphics that are
too large and thus, take too long to load are not only unwelcome but also a
great inconvenience to a great number of people. Navigation that's over-the-top
and difficult to follow

Overcomplicating the navigation of the website can greatly hamper the efficacy
of the website to communicate its content, and can hurt the accessibility of
many pages to its visitors. At any point during their visit to a site, it is
important to assure that the visitors have some way in order to trace back
their steps and return to content they previously accessed, as well as carry on
with accessing other content.

For simplicity's sake, many websites solve this problem by having a constant
button present on all pages for visitors to return to their main menu page, or
their cover page.

Fonts that simply do not work

Depending on the browser and fonts installed by the users on their computers,
extremely decorative and highly uncommon fonts may not be displayed the way the
web designer intended them to appear -- and may oftentimes even compromise the
readability of the text per se.

In order to avoid this from happening, many web designers opt to stay within
the bounds of major font families (Helvetica, verdana, and the like). That way,
they are assured that most (if not all) of their visitors will be viewing the
site as designed, and thus have greater control of the way the page will be
displayed in the end.

There is never a 'perfect' template for design as it is open to the
subjectivity and artistic limitations of designers. However, understanding the
behavior of site visitors can only help make shape design innovation and
utility move towards greater heights.

Website Design That Can Improve Its Usability

Internet users encounter a website's usability before they even have decided to
use it and more so before they make up their minds on probable purchases. A fact
is, the World Wide Web is the supreme setting for empowerment, where the one who
is clicking the mouse controls everything.

Search engine marketing is important as generally visitors utilize search
engines in order to discover your website. However once they reach your site,
they should be able to use your site with ease and understand its content.
Research shows that of 43 million internet websites, only 42 percent are found
to be usable.

Evidently, a major measure of website success is its effectiveness in
converting leads into buyers. However, recent studies show that 50 percent of
website sales are wasted due to the fact that visitors can not locate the
content that they need; this leads to reduced web productivity, increased
visitor frustration, wasted visitor time as well as loss of visitor's repeat
visits then loss of website money.

Studies done by usability experts estimates that by improving your visitors'
web encounter, it increases your buyers by about 40 percent and also increases
overall amount of orders by 10 percent.

A fact is, internet users do not like to wait, more so learning how to go about
using a hard to navigate home page. Individuals need to easily understand how a
certain website functions immediately after they have scanned the page.

Here are guidelines to improve your website's usability:

Simple and clear web navigation design

* It must be situated in the exact same location on each page and in exact
  same format, so that your visitors will not get frustrated and confused if
  links disappear and appear unpredictably.

* Use suitable text in your links. Your visitors must know where links will
  take them, through reading the text provided in your link.

* Employ the use of CSS to give emphasis on text links.

* Include always text links. Keep in mind that each page must have "text
  links" which links to all important parts of the website.

* Include a "site logo" linking to your home page. Generally site logos are
  located at the topmost "left-hand" corner of the page, where most visitors 
  have the tendency to go even before searching for the homepage link which 
  usually is located in your navigation system.

* Place a website search box to help your visitors locate quickly the
  information that they need.

Have a simple, authentic and clear content.

An attractive web design no doubt attracts visitors yet good content is what
keeps your visitors on your site and inspires them to visit again.

* When you write your content, while it is important to think of search
  engines and keywords, also think of your visitors and present the content in 
  a manner that is easily understandable and to solve their problems.

* Create an attractive heading and each paragraph should offer appealing
  statements all the time.

* Create a page content that is easy to scan and emphasize your most important
  points with colors, bold letters or header tags.

Support your brand

A great brand strengthens your visitors' impression or idea of your website. A
site that is branded strongly imprints in your visitors mind your products each
time they go "shopping".

* Keep typefaces and colors consistent. Pick fonts and colors carefully and
  consistently use them throughout the website.

* Keep your page layout constant. Employ the use of a "website template" in
  order to carry out a consistent page structure.

* Make a helpful custom page error that can help visitors should they click on
  "a broken link" or enter an incorrect URL.

Provide visitor feedback

Forms are essential to your ecommerce site's success, as without it, you can
not have your shopping cart. And any site generally needs a form for visitor
feedback.

* Keep them short and easily accessible, clearly noting what is required in
  order to submit it successfully.

* Supply your complete contact details including your fax number, business
  telephone number, postal address and your email address.

Test your website prior to launching

* Test to determine if your website loads successfully in all "browsers".

* Test all your links and be sure that they are working properly.

* Look for and be sure that your website is free from errors.

* Search for grammatical errors and misspelled words and correct them if any.

* Test your website load times.

Web usability puts designing and planning primarily for your website visitors
your top priority. Website that measure up to the expectations of its visitors
will have comfortable visitors that will visit your site again and again and
recommend it to friends.

Achieving Website Usability Through the Use of Frames

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.

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

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.

Build Customer Relationships When Building Your Website

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 ith 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.




Well-designed Headings to Improve Usability of Website

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.

The Role of Page Length in Website Usability

The Internet has provided us with new ways of doing things such as
communicating, gathering information and making business transactions. Websites
form the backbone of the Internet. They are primarily created to be able to
serve as a tool for people to live their lives in this modern world.

The use of Internet application is very important especially to the people who
have impairments. 20% of the American population is affected by some kind of
disability. The Internet has been able to give the disabled avenues through
which they can perform functions that they have not been able to do before.

Usability

The usability of websites is one of the pressing concerns of web developers
today. Usability refers to the easiness of navigation and overall access of
information through a website. Websites are now being developed to be able to
provide maximum usability to the widest range of surfers. A website's features
must be able to assist the surfers rather than be hindrances.

There are many perceived benefits from improving the usability of a website.
Not only will the surfers, particularly those who have some kind of impairment
but also the web developers, the businessmen and the whole Internet community
as well. Improved website usability will result in end-user satisfaction. A
survey which involved people who were trying to avail certain services and
products from the Internet revealed that 39% of all availing attempts are
spoiled because the buyers are discouraged by the poor usability of the
website. Improving the website will definitely end in user satisfaction.

Usability will also result in the competitiveness of the website. There are
millions of websites that are out there today, and the number is growing faster
than ever before. What separates the popular ones from the not-so-popular ones
is website usability. People want to access information through websites and
they are particularly looking for two basic features: quality of content and
access. There's no sense in designing a website with poor information. Poor
access tools will also make a website not likable even though it contains well
written contents.

Page Length

There are many factors in determining the usability of a website. A website
with good usability will have quality contents, good accessibility, navigation
and readability. The length of the pages might seem like an impertinent thing
when it comes to usability, but it is actually a factor to consider in website
development.

The Internet browser is like a portal which takes people to wherever they may
want to go in the virtual world of the Internet. This is why the length of the
web page is important. The pages must be designed in a way that they
accommodate and present the information to the visitors in a comprehensive way
which is easy on the eyes.

Short versus Long

When it comes to determining the length of the page, it all boils down to a
simple yet important decision -- whether to use short or long pages. In
determining this, one should always remember that the length of the web pages
may not be uniform. The length of each page must correspond to its contents and
its purpose.

In determining the length of the page, one must consider the following:

1) Contents

Again, the length of the page is dependent on its contents. The homepage which
contains the overview of the webpage utilize short pages most of the time.
Pages which contain information which can be easily be browsed should also
utilize short pages. Pages containing long graphics should be put in short
pages as well.

If the page contains information that need to match the size of its paper
counterparts, the said web page must be long enough to do so. Sitemaps and
other such pages must be long enough to accommodate all the information needed.

2) Go back to the goals

The overall determination of the length of the web pages must be structured
within the whole planning process for the development of the website.

3) Scrolling

A developer can choose between providing a scroll bar or a page link in
developing pages which contain reading materials. If speed is deemed as a key
factor in the reading process, the developer might want to use a link instead
of a scroll bar.

These are just some basic ways on how to improve a website's usability with the
proper determination of the web pages. These should be integrated with the other
ways of improving website usability.

Website Usability through Navigation Design

Navigating through a website should be simple and efficient. Navigation is one
of the key determinants of a website's usability.

Usability refers to the ease of use and learning with regards to websites. It
can refer to the effectiveness and quickness of the navigation structure of the
website to be able to present pertinent information to the surfers.

The Issue of Usability

Usability is deemed to be very important in terms of web development today.
Websites are made with the intention of making them tools for people in doing
their daily tasks. Developing complex websites which don't assist people in
effectively doing their tasks would make little sense.

People with disabilities are continuing to grow in number. In the United States
alone, one-fifth of the population is pestered by some kind of disability. This
is the main reason why many people are gearing towards making websites more
usable. The Internet has become a main instrument for these people to be able
to live their lives.

Navigation

The usability of a website is dependent on several different factors such as
accessibility, content quality and readability and over-all presentation,
however, many web developers would say that the usability of a website is all
about navigation.

This article tries to lay down some basic tips which should guide a developer
on how to make a website more usable through the improvement of its
navigational structure.

Here are some tips on how to make a website's navigation more user-friendly:

- Avoidance of irrelevant links

One of the main mistakes of web developers in building websites is that they
add more confusion to the visitor rather than eliminate it. This is the result
of putting too much links that are not really needed by the visitors.

Having too many links to the other parts of the website is clearly an
indication that the navigational structure of the website is not at its best.
Let's examine a hypothetical website so as to give us a way to discuss the
different things to avoid and do in designing a website's navigation structure.
Let's say that we are building a public auction site (one similar to E-bay).

If a surfer would want to buy computer accessories, the website should not
contain irrelevant links to other parts of the website such as putting a direct
link towards the section on buying clothes. If the said person is interested in
buying clothes after he has shopped for the computer accessories that he needs,
he will definitely find his way to the clothes section. Putting these kinds of
links will irritate more people than satisfy more people. It's like putting a
section of computer accessories and a section of clothing right beside each
other in a department store-it makes no sense.

- Standardize icons

A study has revealed that 39% of shoppers didn't pursue in buying certain items
from the Internet because they found the sites to be too hard to navigate. This
meant a lot of loss for the businesses, but this can be avoided.

One of the ways to improve navigation is to use standardized icons for linking
pages. Icons were made to be able to represent something that is related to it.
The use of random icons will definitely add up to the confusion regarding
navigation. Also, developers shouldn't over-explain the icon because icons are
there to be able to provide non-text information about the link. A brief
explanation should be provided, but it should be kept brief and concise.

- Sitemap

The provision of a sitemap will definitely help people to effectively navigate
through the website. A sitemap provides a skeleton structure of the website in
a single page. All the links and contents are indicated in a sitemap therefore
making navigation a much easier process.

- Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumb links provide linkage to the major pages of a website. These are
particularly useful for people because they give easy access to the major pages.

- Avoid burying information

Navigating through a website need not be a journey through an ocean. A simple
rule of thumb is that all the web pages in the website should be accessible
from each other not more than 3 clicks away.

These are just some of the ways on how to improve the usability of a website
through the improvement of navigation. These steps should be done hand-in-hand
with the other ways of improving a website's usability.

Use Graphics Wisely to Improve Website Usability

There can be no argument about the importance of design in attracting Internet
users to a particular web site. No one would bother to explore the contents of
a site if it does not contain eye-catching graphics that can please the visual
sense of the users. With so many kinds of web sites existing online, it is
extremely challenging to attract users and keep them interested in the site.

But a web site developer does not simply apply graphics freely on a site.
Graphics should be used in the correct manner, or else, users might get turned
off because the graphics featured just overwhelmed or confused them.

While it is true that attractive design is important for reasons that need not
be explained, the choice of design must be carefully considered against the
fulfilling the needs of users. When done successfully, it could be safely said
that the web site has achieved its goals.

Graphics used in the Internet is inextricably linked to multimedia. Multimedia
is a combination of graphics, text, sound, and animation to express a message
to users. The multimedia features that will be incorporated to a web site
should be dependent on the content. In general, multimedia and graphics should
serve as supports to content, and should have precise, instructional purpose.

According to research, animated images can facilitate the transfer of learning
in a positive way if it is utilized to show a vital part of the concept that is
being illustrated. On the other hand, animation can serve as a barrier to user
recall and performance.

Here are the guidelines in incorporating graphics to web sites:

1. Justify the usage of the graphics

The most obvious problem that can be seen on web pages is the over-usage of
graphics. The main downside of this is that complicated, unnecessary graphics
can take a long time to download, and this, of course, will not sit well with
users. The graphics to be applied should support the transfer of data and
should also be in relation to the accompanying text.

2. The difference between graphics with text-redundant data and those
containing information that is non-redundant is that the former facilitates and
ushers in the learning process, while the latter does not either help or slow
down learning.

3. Consistency should be a priority in graphic design

4. Web pages should be marked up so that text will be downloaded before the
graphics. In this way, the users will know immediately if the page has the
information that they are looking for, and if not, they will be able to save
precious waiting time knowing that they do not need that certain page.

5. The loading of graphics should be controlled as such that loading will
commence from top to bottom, and the users scrolling down the page will
encounter said graphics.

6. The downloading of pages should be fast in order to save users waiting time,
and in order to reduce the chances that they will get frustrated that they will
abandon plans to download. Here are several ways to achieve fast download
periods:

- Keep the physical size of the graphics to a minimum

- Images should be combined in order to minimize the number of server
  connections. Remember, the more connections that exists, the slower the
  download time will be

- Decrease image resolution

- Limit the colors that will be used for the images

- Limit the use of animation

Animation is very much a part of web graphic design. The primary difference
between web text and graphics and contents that are print-based is the
dynamics. Moving displays attract the attention of users as long as the
frequency of the display is regulated. Too much animation display can irritate
and distract users. An animation that is perpetually moving can destroy the
readable quality of the web page.

The usage of blinking texts should be avoided. It has long been regarded as an
overused feature and the latest browsers no longer support it.

In designing a web site, there always exists a conflict between the desire to
have total control over the appearance of a page and the need to permit users
to establish their own preferences. The general appearance of the page should
be made by the designer, but there are certain elements that users should have
control over, such as color and text background, and the option whether to
display graphics or not.

It takes a considerable amount of effort to establish and maintain the
attractiveness and efficiency of a web site. If the guidelines above will be
followed, all the efforts of web designers will bear desirable results. They
only have to remember that the benefit of the users will always be the basis
for everything.

A Fitness Plan for a Lean & Mean Website

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.

Making Useful Websites: Getting First-time Visitors to Come Back

Whether it is to shop online, to book a plane ticket, to check movie schedules,
or to pinpoint your current location via GPS, the Internet has become a one-stop
shop for almost all the needs for daily activities -- and then some.

And yet, despite all functionality many websites offer, there are still a huge
number of websites that simply do nothing but take up space, particularly on a
SERP or search engine results page. What happens is that even with the most
stringent of filters employed by powerful search engines, Internet users still
need to wade through websites that are practically dead -- dead because they
offer no real information and are therefore useless.

But should it necessarily be that way? Do functional and effective websites
come into being by simply throwing money at it? Does it mean that small
companies cannot produce useful and practical websites? The answer to all three
questions is a resounding NO.

With just a little bit more effort, small websites can offer just as much
information, if not more, than the high profile websites maintained by media
giants and conglomerates. And it doesn't necessarily entail needing to break
the bank.

There is a fundamental rule in designing websites and that is Content is the
number 1 consideration.

You could spend a fortune on producing glitzy and flashy animation and special
effects, but if your target user is not getting anything useful from the site,
then all the bells and whistle will be for nothing. Remember that the Internet
paved the way for the Information Highway and as such, content -- useful
content -- is the heart of this medium.

Just what constitutes useful content?

When you first set out to create your website, you had to think about your
target user. These vary with the kind of audience you wish to reach. Some
target young people, others go for the yuppies, still there are others who wish
to cater to household moms and dads. There is practically a market for
everything. It's simply a matter of identifying what to present to whom.

Focus on Your Target Audience

And this is where you need to do your homework: You need to focus on your
target audience and determine what kind of information and content material
will capture and sustain their interest.

For example, if your target audience is women in their early retirement years,
then you should probably be creating and posting content that has to do with
hobbies taken up by your target market, which could be garden, golf, or maybe
even both. The same applies to young teenagers if that is your target. You will
most likely need to gather content about teenaged stars, fashion tips, sports
news and / or the like.

Identify Your Website's Goals

What should your target audience get out of visiting your website? This is the
core question you need to ask to determine a website's usability. Will it be
able to answer or given solutions to problems commonly faced by your audience?
The answer you should strive for that question is a big YES.

Sourcing Your Materials

Now that you have an idea what you want to give your website's target audience,
you need to find legitimate and reliable sources of the content you wish to
present.

Of course nothing beats writing and producing the material yourself, or hiring
someone to do it, because you can claim the material is uniquely yours and you
do not need to worry about copyright issues. However, should you be unable to
spare the resources of producing your own website content, there are still
solutions around that.

The Internet is full of articles written by people of varied expertise, which
very likely include your website's line of interest. And the best part of it is
that, very often, these articles can be published on other websites (including
yours!) for free. The small trade-off is simply including the writer's name and
credentials before or after the article.

Nifty Knick-knacks

In addition to informative (and free) articles, there are all sorts of
mini-programs (usually Java-based) that come in the form of games, quotation
estimators, body fat counters, weather report update, etc.

The idea is to give your target user more tools to use that will help them with
what they need to accomplish on and with your website. Once again, you have the
option of programming these yourself and making it available on your website,
or you can copy a code from a third-party programmer and integrate it with your
own website's code. Very often the only trade off again is reference to the
creator -- which is only just right. Other more interactive elements such as
surveys, quizzes and the like may be enjoyed and appreciated by your audience
(especially if prizes are available afterwards).

In providing useful content for your website's target audience, you may not
have to look very far or to pay prohibitive professional fees. All it takes is
an attentive mind to what your audience wants and needs and the patience and
resourcefulness of looking around and assessing what options are out there.
Once you've got those down pat, it simply a matter of time when visitors will
come by regularly and repeatedly because your site offers current and useful
information.

Locating Links: Enhancing Website Usability

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.

How to Make a Website More Appealing to International Users

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.

Arranging a Website Menu for Better Usability

The issue of website usability is one of the main topics today in web
development. There are many moves regarding the push of web development to
accommodate a wider range of visitors.

Different sectors of society have taken their initiative in terms of improving
their websites to be able to make them more user-friendly. The government has
taken legal steps to be able to realize laws which intend to make websites more
usable. The different institutions which are involved in education, information
awareness and public services are also moving towards usability. The business
sector is also moving towards the same goal because they rely on generating and
maintaining traffic. Studies have found out that usability is directly
correlated with the desire of people to come back to a certain website. 74% of
people consider usability as one of their main considerations for coming back
to a website. Making a business website more usable will also give a company a
good image.

Context

The main reason why there are moves towards improving the usability of websites
is that a big chunk of Internet users are impaired with some kind of disability.
In fact, around 20% of the whole American population has some kind of
disability. With this situation in mind, the Internet is deemed as an important
tool in providing services and opportunities to these people. The Internet has
become an avenue for communication, information dissemination and gathering for
these people.

Usability Factors

There are a lot of factors to consider when developing a user-centered website.
These factors can be grouped in different ways and can be tested by different
means. Listed below are some of these factors:

1) Accessibility

The usability of a website is dependent and intertwined with its accessibility.
Accessibility refers to the quickness and easiness of gathering information from
the website.

2) Download time

Nobody likes a website which takes too long to load. Many people would actually
prefer a basic-looking website which loads quickly than a beautiful website
which takes minutes to load.

3) Feedback Mechanisms

Websites should be able to provide avenues which can be used by its users to
give feedback. Feedback gathering is very important in assessing and improving
a website.

4) Navigation

Navigational links should be provided and placed properly all through out the
website to guide the users on how to effectively gather the information that
they need from the website.

There are other details that need attention when it comes to optimizing the
usability of a website. This article tries to tackle one of them which is menu
arrangement. The menu is a basic tool which surfers use to be able to get from
one web page to another and to track their navigation.

Here are some useful tips in arranging the menu of a website.

1) Go back to the goals

One should ask what the main goals of the website are to be able to determine
the right links to put in the menu bar. The menu's basic function should be
connected with the main goal of the website. A website which is offering an
array of products might want to put the different categories of the products in
the menu bar.

2) Important pages

The menu bar should highlight all the pages which contain pertinent information
regarding the purpose of the website. The contents of the menu bar should be
carefully chosen so as to maximize its limited space.

3) Cohesion

Items should be placed in the menu in a cohesive manner. It's basically a
choice which involves the right placement of items so as to give proper
guidance to the users.

4) Fonts

The users should be able to customize the size of the fonts of the entire
website. The fonts that are places in the menu should not be too small or too
big. Using a different font for the menu can be done under the premise that
they do not deviate too much from the other fonts.

Menu arrangement is just a speck in the whole idea of website usability. The
tips above are just basic ways of modifying the menu so as to provide maximum
guidance to the users and must be seen in the context of the whole picture. The
other aspects of usability should be given attention to be able to develop a
user-centered website.

Use Familiar and Readable Fonts to Improve Website Usability

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.

Website Accessibility and Usability

Usability is one of the most pressing issues in the field of website
development nowadays. The usability of a website is tested against its
simplicity which makes it easy for people to navigate the site as fast as
possible, therefore making access to information easier.

Accessibility is a concept that is intertwined with the concept of usability.
It refers to creating the website content available to all people.

Context

The issue has caught the attention of different sectors of society. Why?
Because 1 out of 5 people in America possess some kind of disability and this
figure translates to around 30 million Americans. The figure is still
increasing, with the coming of age of senior citizens. During the past decade
alone, a dramatic increase of 25% was seen.

Why the Internet?

One might ask, "Why is the Internet a central focus in this issue of
usability?" The Internet has transformed the lives of people during the past
decade. People have been able to do things that they were not able to do
before, this includes the people with disabilities. People who are impaired
don't have as much opportunities compared to people who are well and able. The
Internet has provided them avenues for communication, information gathering,
social interaction, engaging in cultural activities and it provides them with
employment opportunities. However, statistics have shown that the potential of
the Internet to provide these certain opportunities is still not maximized
because the people with disabilities are hindered by usability issues from
using it to the fullest.

Stakeholders

The issue of usability is not only watched by institutions which are related to
giving support to people with disabilities, most of the sectors of society are
closely watching its progress. Institutions which are involved in governance,
education, media, public services and even the business sectors are observers
in the game.

Benefits

The benefits of improving accessibility of websites will not only benefit the
people who have impairments but will affect the whole web community.
Businesses, services, information campaigners, everyone will benefit.

Many people are calling for developing websites using a universal design
approach. This is a way of developing web content which would accommodate the
widest range of users. Some features of this said scheme are: provision of
inter-operability of applications; access for the disabled; localization and
customization.

Recommendations for Improving Accessibility

Listed below are some of the key recommendations from the Web Content
Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 which was developed by the Web Accessibility
Initiative of W3C on how to improve the accessibility of the contents of a
website.

1. Provide alternatives to audio-visual content

Not all people will be able to use different kinds of content. These people may
be disabled or may have a lower version of Internet browsers. Movies, sound
clips, animations and other contents should be translated into text
alternatives so as to provide information to the broadest range of viewers.

2. Developers shouldn't rely on color alone

Many people are impaired in color differentiation. Developers shouldn't rely
too much on the use of colors to relay information in the websites. Charts that
are color-coded should be modified and the background and foreground colors of
the websites should have enough contrast to enable people with color
differentiation impairment to easily navigate the site.

3. Clarification of the use of natural language

Content developers usually mark up the changes in natural language in their
websites. They should be able to identify the dominant language that is used in
the site so as to avoid confusion.

4. Control of content changes that are time-sensitive

This issue particularly involves people who have visual or cognitive
impairments and those who are not able to read texts that are moving quickly.
Movement is seen as an over-all enhancer to the look of the site, but it may
pose some problems to people with cognitive impairments.

5. Accessibility of user interfaces that are embedded

Objects that posses their own interfaces should be made accessible, and
alternative solutions must be provided if this is not possible.

6. Provision of orientation and context information

The provision of information on how the objects are organized is important to
provide people with guidance on how to access information.

There are other ways of improving a website's over-all accessibility to make it
more usable. Developers should take into consideration the different people who
are going to view their websites and make them focal points in the designing
process.





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