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Website Usability: How To Make Your Website More Readable

Last Updated on Oct 31, 2010 by Jeff Lew

Ask yourself this simple question: ” Is my website readable to most everyone who would try to visit it? ”  While you think you may know the answer, chances are you don’t.  For instance, did you know that most visitors to your site will have some type of disability or disadvantage?  It will keep them from seeing all your site has to offer.  Consider all these possibilities:

  • Physical disability
  • Visual disability
  • Hearing disability
  • Technological disability

Whether it is their limbs, eyes, ears, computer, or browser that puts them at a disadvantage, you must take it all into account.  Learning how to make your website more readable is fundamental in drawing, and continuing to service,  your customers.

The Basics

These are the first things you have to make sure you are doing to assure readability.  They may seem elementary, but a quick visit to a few websites will show you that they sometimes get lost in the shuffle.

Column width – Keep it short.  Think like a newspaper and use narrow columns to convey the text on your website. Wider paragraphs are more difficult to read.

Text – A few things about this.  Keep it brief, use simple words, and pay attention to the use of color.  Don’t forget some people have older computers and lower resolution.  Size does matter so nothing smaller than 12 on the text size.

Grammar and Spelling – USE A SPELLCHECKER!  I don’t care if you have a doctorate in grammar, use it anyway.  Nothing will hurt your professional image like having spelling mistakes on your site.  You must also proofread it and then ask a friend to do the same.  Spellchecker doesn’t catch improper usage.

Advanced Techniques

These may not seem all that advanced, but the basics should be tackled first.

  • Use alt attributes for every single image on your page.  This will allow users who can’t or don’t want to load the images a chance to see what the image was about in the first place.
  • Make sure that your link titles are descriptive of the place they are headed to.  Avoid using “click here” or “follow this link” and instead provide a short, relevant description of where you want to send them.
  • Write your content as though it is being read by a typical senior in high school.  That will keep you from using large words that no one understands, but also help you avoid sounding childish.
  • Include a text version for all of your audio and video files.  For audio, make sure to put a transcript for the audio portion and make it available on the same page.  Videos should be captioned to allow the hearing impaired to enjoy them as well.

For The Elite

So, maybe you have already done everything described above.  Here are a few more things for you to think about:

  1. Use a site map and search box.  Anything that helps the user quickly find exactly what they need is a great thing.
  2. Versatility is a must. You have to ensure that your page can be read by all of the different browsers with equal ease.  Making sure it is readable on mobile devices is a great idea as well.  Your images must be equally clear no matter the size or quality.
  3. Keep it simple. Flashing images, pop-ups, animations, etc. should be used sparingly as these easily distract the user from the task he/she has at hand and cause frustration.  Instead, simply show the viewer what you want them to see by using different text color, or font (i.e. links, headings, etc). You could also use the old standbys of bold (i.e. emphasis), italics (i.e. keywords), and underline (i.e. links).  But be consistent as you do not want to turn your website into a circus of colors and fonts.
  4. Give the user some control. Make sure they can cancel, back-up, change, or confirm any important action they are taking.  Avoid frustrating them by creating descriptive error messages where necessary rather than sending them back to the homepage without them knowing why they are being sent there.

So it doesn’t matter if you are just starting out, or have most of these techniques down cold.  You must constantly be looking for ways to make your site more easily readable.  Do this, and your customers will thank you.

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