Improving Your Site's Usability | Web Design | Education Marketing Tips
Higher Education Marketing

Improving Your Site’s Usability

Date posted: January 18, 2012

Everyone wants a flashy, visually stimulating website. But the truth is, the success of your school site and program pages will most likely be determined by one thing: usability. If a visitor does not know how to use a feature on your site, what’s the point of having it? User-centric design, therefore, has become the most important approach in the development of websites.

Before we get into some Web design basics, you should know a few general things about Internet users.

Website visitors:

  • Appreciate quality
    Quality content helps create credibility and trust, and can sometimes even overcome clumsy design. Focus on creating quality content. Remember “Content is King”.
  • Scan pages
    Most users only scan the page, searching for fixed points or anchors that can guide them through the site. There is an element of instant gratification here, and if your site doesn’t meet user expectations, they will leave and look elsewhere.
  • Want control
    Probably more than anything, users want to control their browser. Don’t bombard them with pop-ups and obstacles.

With these in mind, here are some tips to improving usability in your web design:

Keep it simple
This should be the guiding principle of your site design. Remember that users, who only scan pages, are looking for quality content. Don’t bury it in unnecessarily complex design. Keep things simple.

Every page, in other words, should be self-explanatory. The goal should be for clear navigation and site architecture that provides visual clues and easily understandable links. Don’t confuse your users.

Make it obstacle-free
The patience of your visitors is a finite thing, and you don’t want to squander that. The less action required from users to experience your content, the more likely they will. Let users explore your site without forcing them to create accounts, register or download PDF files.

Use visuals
Some aspects of your user interface attract more attention than others. Try, where possible, to break up text with images, videos and paragraph breaks. Aside from making it easier to read, this will also help attract the eye.

Focus on effective Web writing
When populating your site, try to use:

  • Short paragraphs
  • Concise phrases
  • Categories and headers
  • Bullet lists
  • Highlighted keywords
  • Simple language

It’s also a good idea to use a fixed font size throughout the site and to change the color of visited links. These may seem like small things, but they all add up and improve the overall experience on your site.

Use calls-to-action
No matter what the goal (signing up to newsletter or driving people to social media/blog), calls-to-action can get people’s attention. Make visual cues to these actionable buttons or forms to get the most conversion / lead generation.

Be consistent
Don’t make every program page a new learning experience for your visitors. A lack of consistency throughout your school site will only frustrate users. Be consistent and users will quickly understand what to expect from your site’s navigation, structure, text and search features, among other areas.

Test everything!
Let’s put this simply: if you want a great website, you have to test its usability on a regular basis. Test, fix and text again. This process has to be repeated on a continuous basis. Usability testing provides insights into issues that may not have been noticeable in the design and development stage.

What other tactics has your school done to improve the usability of its website?