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Is your website user-friendly? If you want it to be effective and successful, you should take every precaution to make sure the answer is yes! A user-friendly website is one that is easy to locate, and use, the information it provides, that is easy to navigate, and above all else does not frustrate its users. If your website does not fulfill these criteria, its purpose and effectiveness are limited.

Making your website user-friendly is actually fairly simple if you follow certain common-sense guidelines. As your website content grows and its popularity increases, it is important to review its layouts, navigation and overall design to make sure user-friendliness is preserved. Therefore, a user-friendly website is not something you accomplish prior to the initial design and then forget about after; it is an ongoing process.

Below you will find 10 steps that will help you improve the user-friendliness of your website. This in turn will ensure your visitors find what they need on your website, stay longer and learn more about you or your company, and leave your website happy, which is positive in every sense.

1. Important information first

The first question you need to ask yourself is +what is my website about+? This will provide the template for future decisions that you need to make about the layout and design of your website. Think about why people will be coming to your website. Are they coming to learn about your company? If so, make sure information about what your company is and what it does is easy to find. If they will be coming to your site to buy products, then make sure those products are put on display. In other words, put important information first!

Internet users are impatient people, and if they cannot find what they want on your site quickly, they will leave. If you advertise your website as having IPhone protective cases for sale, and your first page is about how your website got started 12 years ago, you are not putting important information first.We are not saying that this information is not important or relevant, we are saying that you would be better served putting your IPhone cases on the home page, and +about us+ info on another page.

Always ask yourself why people are ultimately coming to your site and if you are putting your website's most important information on the first page.

2. Divide your content (Create an intuitive layout)

If you followed step one above, your most important content is on the first page of your website and is easy to find. But that does not mean that your website's information or content ends on the first page. There is surely more information you wish to provide your online viewers. The next step in creating a user-friendly layout is dividing this content to make it intuitive and easy to navigate.

A standard website content area is divided into a header, a main content area, a sidebar and footer area. The perfect layout for your website depends first on the amount of content you have on your site. Websites with a lot of content, for example a government website, tend to have many sidebars and many content divisions on their web pages.

Although the layout will vary from website to website, the key to success is always the same: make sure it is intuitive. In other words, similar information should be grouped with similar information. Important information should be placed in an area that is easy to find, such as the header or the top of the sidebar; products should be grouped together with other products and showcased in the same section of your website. The footer should serve to display links to less visited parts of your website, such as your privacy policy and your careers page, unless of course these are important pages for your website that you wish to highlight.

3. Organize your menus

Websites usually have a primary navigation menu, a secondary menu and a footer menu. Larger websites with a lot of content will have menus within their sidebars and menus within menus. The key to making your website easy to navigate is not how many menus you have; it is how you organize them and how descriptive they are.

We will take our website Nibigo as an example. Our most important links are located at the top of the sidebar and put on full display. What is most important to us is showcasing our services, and our primary menu leads visitors to the pages of our website highlighting what we offer. Our secondary menu is located above the header. These links are still important parts of our website, but they are not as frequently visited as our services page, nor would we want them to be.

The secondary menu highlights our blog, our contact information, our web design portfolio and a link to switch the website from English to French. Finally, our footer menu is really a replica of our secondary menu. On other websites, you will find items such as a privacy policy, a careers section or links to other websites belonging to same company.

So, your first step in creating your menus is figuring out which items should be grouped together in the same menu. Then, you place the menus in the appropriate areas of your website based on the relative importance of the information they contain.

4. Be clear in your terminology

This point relates to number 3 above. Once you have determined how to organize your menus, you need to make sure you give each menu item a name that clearly represents what is contained in the page. For example, we have seen websites that put +contact+ information within the +about+ section. If an online visitor is attempting to contact your company, they will be looking for the +contact us+ section and may not think to look at the +about+ page.

Also, if your website sells products, and you have many different types, consider breaking down your menu as opposed to having just one menu button called +products+. For example, a fashion website that sells shirts, pants, underwear and shoes for both men and women can probably have one menu dedicated only to their products with buttons for each item.

Again, the trick is to make sure your visitors to not have to browse too many pages to get to where they want to go on your website.

5. Make sure your contact page is well designed and easy to find

We have mentioned the +contact us+ page over and over again in this article. In reality, finding out how to contact your company is one of the main reasons why clients will visit your website. It is also likely that some visitors will have unanswered questions after navigating through your website.

The first step is to make sure your contact information is easy to find. We recommend putting links to your contact page at the end of each webpage; especially pages about products and services. Also, include a +contact+ button in either your primary or secondary menu, and in your footer.

A well-designed contact page will have the company's business address, if this is relevant for your clients, a phone number if you wish to give this information and a contact form. The contact form should not be too long and should not be a pain to fill out (see point 10). You should limit required information to your client's name and e-mail address, and provide sufficient room for them to leave a detailed message. Your goal is to get your visitor to contact your company, not find out everything you can about their entire life! Once the initial contact is made, it is up to your customer service department to get the information they need.

6. Don't go overboard on web or blog design.

There is not much to say here except to once again, use common-sense. Your website's design should not be distracting and certainly not annoying. Look at other websites of companies in your industry. Are their themes sober or more colorful?

While we are all for creating unique web and blog designs, we also feel like your website's content is what is most important and therefore the design should serve to highlight the content, not hide it. Also, I would issue a word of caution on flash websites. Not everyone surfing the internet has a flash-capable computer. Your website may appear terrible to these people. Therefore, if you must have a flash website, please make sure you have a back-up version for those that would not be able to see it.

7. Design for 1024x768 resolution maximum

Most computers currently have a 1024x768 screen resolution. If you design your website any larger than this, it will obligate viewers to scroll left to right to see your entire website. This is both frustrating and time consuming and will likely alienate your visitors.

8. Leave crumbs

Crumbs are a fairly simple to implement and make a huge difference in how user-friendly your website is. Crumbs are often located at the top of the main content area, below the header, and are really a road map of where your user has been on your website. They allow your visitor to go back directly to previous pages they have been without using the back button. These are truly appreciated on websites with a lot of content that require viewing many pages. If you are not the one creating your website, ask your designer or programmer to implement crumbs, they will know what you are talking about.

9.Avoid complicated sign-up requirements

We have all come across horrible sign-up forms that make you start your whole application over if you made one small mistake in your zip code, or websites that force you to use a minimum of 10 characters in your password with at least one number, one symbol, and one upper-case letter. I imagine you get the point. These stringent requirements are fine for banking websites, but not if you are trying to get users to sign-up to your newsletter.

The best advice I can give is to use common sense here. How private are the memberships you offer on your website? How sensitive is the information your users are submitting? Also, do not automatically require new members to confirm their e-mail address before being able to login. Instead, ask yourself if this is truly necessary. E-mail confirmations are overused requirements that move your visitor away from the site therefore increasing the likelihood of them not coming back or getting frustrated.

Our recommendation is to keep member sign-ups for newsletters or blog commenting as simple and as effortless as possible.

10. Test, test and test some more.

It is crucial to the success of any website that its layout and navigation be tested continually. Ask your employees, your friends, and your family to navigate your website and listen to their comments. Also, ask them to find a specific page and observe them while they are navigating the site. If they seem to get caught up in certain areas or have trouble finding what you asked, your website may have a problem.

Creating a user-friendly website is harder than many think; there are many factors that must be considered. Many website operators are so used to navigating their own websites that they do not see the complexity inherent in them. The steps we have highlighted above should allow you to see your website from your visitor's eyes, and improve its usability.

Have fun!

Charles E. Jolicoeur

Nibigo Web Strategy