The basics of web usability

by Martin Reed on 4 July 2007 in Snippets

For your website to be successful, it is important that is stays true to the principles of web usability. These principles include:

  • Simple navigation
  • Optimised graphics
  • Non-linear presentation
  • Ease of use

Simple navigation
Site navigation must be simpleSimple navigation is important as it allows the visitor to successfully identify their way around your website. Simple, easily recognisable navigation that follows current conventions and standards will enable a user to understand their way around even if they have not visited your website before.

Optimised graphics

Optimising graphics for your websiteOptimised graphics and appealing visuals ensure that load times are kept to a minimum, and make your content attractive and encouraging to read. By ensuring a visitor has easy access to the content of your site, they are more likely to read it and navigate deeper.

Non-linear presentation

Non-linear presentation is important as people read differently from a screen than they do from print. It is harder to read text from a screen, and many users will tend to scan text rather than read it comprehensively as they are more likely to do with print.

By using non-linear presentation, your content is divided up and broken down into manageable chunks of content which is far easier for the user to read and understand. Similarly, by ensuring pages are not overly long you can make the content far more visually appealing, consequently making it far more likely to be read.

Ease of use

Ease of use allows visitors to reach their goalsUser oriented characteristics for web usability include ease of learning – it must be obvious to the visitor what the site is about, and how to use it. Users should be able to quickly understand how to perform the task required for their desired outcome.

It is important that there is a low user error rate – this refers to any problems a user has in finding the information they are looking for, or have problems performing certain tasks. This information can be obtained by examining your site’s traffic log files.

Users should be satisfied with your website – this will consequently result in user retention over time.


Web usability can be characterised by a website’s effectiveness at achieving its set goals, the efficiency in which it achieves these goals, and the satisfaction with which users can achieve their goals.

Does your website adhere to the principles of web usability?

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Smiley July 4, 2007 at 7:17 pm

I reckon so, I try my best. It’s fast loading, it’s simple, I always break my text up anyway.

I have the main navigation menu at the left hand side of the site, and I always add an extra navigation menu along the footer of the site.

I’ve even added a third navigation menu on the right hand side of the chat software. I reserved that menu for “help/support”, “new user advice”, “safety advice” & “discussion forums”

So if a user requires help or advice, hopefully that will allow them to get it easily.

I hate sites that have bad navigation, I’m as guilty of being lazy as the next web user, if I have to spend much more than a few seconds looking for a certain link, I will usually give up, press back, and choose a different site on the list of search engine results.

I don’t bother much with websites that use too much flash, or sounds/videos that play automatically, either. I press back straight away, very off-putting!

OUCH July 5, 2007 at 10:55 am

That all good & nice, but how can you get people to click on ads?

Smiley July 5, 2007 at 12:50 pm

That shouldn’t be your main priority, OUCH, surely? But, Martin has written an article on ad optimization. Check the ‘website finances’ category.

Chicago 2016 July 5, 2007 at 1:39 pm

Love the redesign, Martin!

OUCH – Just offer free site reviews for anyone who clicks on your ads. That should do it. (Ha!)

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 5, 2007 at 4:29 pm

Smiley – It’s great to see you placing a high level of importance on navigation; it really is a hugely important aspect of usability.

Ouch – I agree with Smiley; your main priority should be attracting and retaining visitors – not getting people to click ads (although the revenue may be nice). Remember that when a visitor clicks an ad, they leave your site – hardly the best way to go about developing an online community!

Daniel – I’m glad you like the redesign. I was hoping to make the blog more professional and easier to read. Everyone loves free site reviews – not sure how the advertisers would feel about you basically incentivising clicks though.

wkhaiaun December 3, 2007 at 9:29 am

I like the info presented here. It’s very informative and I’ll definitely use the tips given to improve some of my current websites. Hope to see some results soon. Thanks.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 6, 2007 at 2:32 am

wkhaiaun – Thanks for your comment, I am glad you enjoyed the article. Let me know how you get on!

Sock Yee December 7, 2007 at 12:43 pm

Sometimes it’s really so hard to make everything work especially on the navigation and design. I’ve been searching around for good tips so that I can improve on my blog. Reading your article above sure helps a lot. Hope to apply it as soon as possible. Cheers

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 10, 2007 at 5:54 pm

Sock Yee – Thanks for your comment; I am glad you found the article useful!

Motivator February 18, 2008 at 12:17 pm

I agree to what you’ve said. Most of the time, I’ve always come across websites whereby navigation proves to be difficult and the load time is really far stretching. I always design my sites according to these criteria and it works for me until today.

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 20, 2008 at 2:17 pm

Motivator – Ugh, bad navigation completely ruins a site and is perhaps the single biggest reason why a visitor will leave and never, ever return. It is a hugely important factor that needs to be considered when designing any website.

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