Building a user-friendly website is relatively easy as long as you always remember that the site is there for the user, not you, and consider what they want to see rather than what you want to show off.
The first part of building your site should involve planning your content. Why does your website exist, what is its purpose? What information and services will it provide? When this is clear to you, you should decide who your target audience is. Is it a site for everyone or specialists in a particular field? Is it for young or old people? Is it for people who live in one specific area? Is it for people who are computer savvy or not? All of these factors and much more will affect how you can best build your website. But remember, your target audience will not be the only people who visit your website. It must be usable by everyone else as well.
Know Your Target
You need to plan your content in a way that is suitable for both your target audience and the rest of the world. If you are presenting technical information to tech-savvy users, you will need to write technical content that probably won’t make sense to a non-tech user. To help the non-tech user, you could add explanations of the main ideas of your content as well as a glossary to help them make sense of the technical terms. If your site is for teenagers, you should present your content in a way that is familiar to them, but you could add a section to explain to parents what your site does and what you are doing to keep their children safe. If your site is only useful to people who live in a particular city, say so, so that people from other places don’t waste time there. Use your better judgment to make sure that everyone who visits your site will find it useful.
Once you have decided what content needs to be on your site, you should start to think about how it needs to be divided up, to form the structure of your site. Will there be just a few pages or a big collection? Can you split your content into logical sections? There are no rules here; you have to decide how best to display your content based on the content itself and who is going to be looking at it. Try to create a structure that will make sense to everybody if possible.
When your content is structured and divided into sensible pages or sections, the structure of your main navigation should become evident to you. You need to link to your homepage, contact page and all other significant pages or sections from every page on your website. The navigation menu must be consistent across all pages of your website. If your site content is divided into sections, each section will probably require its sub menu. Try to design your navigation so that users can get to other pages as quickly as possible without giving them too many choices in each menu. Choose your words carefully for the navigation links, make it clear to your users where each link will take them.
Your home page should clearly show the user what your site is about, how it will help them, and where they can go to find what they need. Your homepage is not a good place to explain your company policies, show off your new logo or cram as much information as possible. It should have just enough information to tell the user what’s in it for them. The same applies to the main pages of subsections of your site if you have them. Keep it simple, and show the user how to get to what they want to know about.
So far, I haven’t mentioned anything about layout, design, browsers, or coding. That is because your users (unless they are designers and coders and your site is about designing or coding) don’t think about those things at all. They only think about themselves, and what they can get out of visiting your website. The information or services you provide them are all they are interested in. When you are planning your site, this is all you need to be involved in as well.
Once you have worked out what content needs to go on what page, how the pages will link to each other, the main structure and content of your website, you can begin to think about how to lay this information out on the screen. Users want to know what the page is about, how it will benefit them, how they got there, and where they can go next. All of this information should be as close to the top of the page as possible. This will help them to decide whether to read the rest of the page or go somewhere else. They don’t want to see your logo, your motto or a picture of your cat. Of course, it is probably important to you that they see your logo and your moto. If you want to show them a picture of your cat, you might want to go back to the beginning and ask yourself why you are building a website, to begin with.
So, the top part of your page should contain your navigation, the page title, possibly a brief introduction to the content on the page. You should make sure that these are prominent and that your visitor doesn’t have to search the page to see them. You can use the remaining space to put your logo and whatever else you think should be there. Remember that some users will have small screens. Test your page in a small window and make sure that the information your visitors want is still visible without having to scroll.
Easy on the Eyes
Design the rest of your page around what is already in place. Make sure the colors you use are easy on the eye and have sufficient contrast for people with black and white monitors (yes they do still exist, and if your user has one they should still be able to use your website), colorblind users, and people with poor eyesight. Nobody wants to see lime green text on luminous orange, even if you think it looks cool. Don’t use flashing, blinking or scrolling content because this is annoying and it can make it hard to read. Stick to conventional layouts that users expect to see, don’t confuse them by trying something too different. If you have to explain how your site works then, it’s too complicated, and you need to start again.
When designing the appearance of your website, be aware that it will look different on different computers and screen sizes. Try to make something that looks good for everyone. It doesn’t have to look identical on every different computer, but it should look nice, clear and easy to use for everyone. Steer clear of large images that take a long time to load or patterns behind the text that make it hard to read. Don’t use an image if the simple text will do the job.
When you have designed your content and the look and feel of your website, you will be ready to begin writing the code. If you don’t know how to do this, it is far better to pass the project on to someone who does. There are several ways to build a website without having to write your code, but they all have limitations and can leave you with poor code which could cause problems for your users when they attempt to visit your site. If you are going to write the code yourself, there are a lot of websites out there that can help you get it right. If you’re not sure about something, look it up.
Your website code should be written well and should meet specific standards. Firstly, you should write valid markup (HTML or XHTML) to define the structure of each page. If you need to use a scripting language to generate dynamic content, you still need to make sure that the markup it outputs is correct. You should not try to use markup to control how your content looks on the page. It should merely define what parts of your content do what job within the document. Your markup should be well-formed, semantically correct and valid.
When your markup is finished, you should build a stylesheet in CSS to tell the browser how your content should be displayed to the user. This is where you begin to create the look and feel of your website. Your stylesheet should also be valid and well-formed. Again, if you don’t know what you are doing, get someone to do it for you, or get help online. Try the sites I mentioned above.
While you are writing the code for your website, you should take into account the fact that not all of your visitors will be using the same operating system and browser to access your website. You should test your website in different browsers and make sure that it displays well. You should also try it out on different screen sizes and at different screen resolutions. Bear in mind that some people who visit your site may not be using a modern browser. They could be using an old version of a browser, a text-only browser, a screen reader, a mobile device, an internet TV, and so on. There are several things that you can and should do to make your website more usable for these visitors as well as those using modern browsers.
This part of creating a user-friendly website is known as accessibility. Several rules and guidelines should be followed to make your site accessible. If you don’t know what you’re doing, get help. If you take these rules into account while you are building your website, it is easy to create an accessible, usable site. If you put together poor code and then try to fix it, it can be difficult and stressful.
Once your website is built and ready to go, don’t assume that you’ve finished. Ask your visitors how they easy they find it to use your site. If there’s something that they find confusing, change it for them. If there’s something they can’t find, move it or add more links to it. If something is missing that they expect to see, add it for them. If they have trouble with anything, your site needs to change to make it easier for them. It may not end up how you wanted it to be, but your site exists for your visitors not for you, and you always need to remember that.