Tuesday, August 3, 2010

WotW: Usability 101 - Getting started with navigation

Welcome to the first segment of Usability Month! So, now that you know that I, Lorene, author of this here Wednesdays on the Web segment, have declared August to be Usability Month, you probably have a few questions...

Q1. Eh... What's a usability?
usability \ˌyü-zə-ˈbi-lə-tē\  noun - a measure of how easy it is to use something. Regarding your blog, like we'll be talking about here for the next month of Wednesdays, usability is about how easily your readers can access the material on your blog, find the information they're seeking, or accomplish what they set out to do (such as leave a comment or follow a tutorial).

Q2. How do I make my blog more usable? 
Keep coming back here to Housewife Eclectic every Wednesday in August! Shameless promotion aside, usability is as simple as thinking about who your readers are, what they are seeking or doing on your blog, and how you can make their goal easier to achieve. If you keep your readers and their goals (not just yours) in mind as you're organizing your blog and creating your posts, your blog will naturally be more usable.

Q3. Why should I care?
Well, if you don't want to care, I really can't make you. But taking a few minutes to think about your readers' experience on your blog definitely can't hurt you or your blog. Plain and simple, a blog that is more usable for readers is a blog that readers are more likely to come back to.

Q4. Okay, you've convinced me. Where do I start?
Usability is a VERY large subject to tackle, so we're just scratching the surface here. In the next few weeks, I'll share with you a few usability concepts that I think are most useful to the average blogger. Today we'll start with what I think is the most important: navigation. 

Your navigation is how your readers find what they're looking for on your blog: what links/buttons they click on to find information. If the only method they have of finding your previous posts is by slogging through your monthly archives... bleh.

Start thinking about this: Besides reading your latest post, what are your readers trying to find or do on your blog? Tutorials? Recipes? Linky parties? Reviews? For the main categories (no more than five) on your blog, you should probably have a specific link to those posts, using post tags/labels to make it easy. A navigation bar toward the top of your blog is the most common way of displaying those links and making them prominent and therefore more usable. HE's header is a good example, directing you quickly and easily to the pages and post groupings that Debra has chosen as the most important for HE.

Add a search box. Blogs are no exception to the search-based web world. Web users who are looking for something specific are used to finding it by searching. I have often returned to a blog looking for a specific post and been frustrated at not being able to find it through existing navigation. I've slogged through months and months of archives, searched various tags, and still been unable to find it.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has had this happen, but very few blogs have search boxes, even though it is so easy to add a search box widget to your blog. Thanks to Google and other search engines, your readers can find anything on your blog using that search box. When you add your search box, make it easy to find, not buried at the bottom of some sidebar somewhere. Your navigation should still be a major focus, though -- a search box will help readers looking for something specific but is not as helpful to readers looking to browse a certain category, like recipes or book reviews.  

Make post titles meaningful. In addition to making web searches more accurate, post titles and links that accurately describe their content help your readers as they browse your blog and read your posts. It might not seem as creative or as entertaining, but it's more functional. Nowadays, a majority of your readers are probably reading your posts through an RSS feed reader, and they may or may not want to even open a post or a link with an ambiguous title. Sure, your most loyal readers will read anything and everything you publish, regardless of title ambiguity, but think of those on-the-fence readers and pull them in.

Ready... set... usable! Remember that the main purpose of usability is to think like your readers. Next week, we'll tackle getting to know your readers better so that you can give them what they really want and need.

Questions or concerns? Leave me a comment or email me using the email listed in my profile. Want to learn more on your own? Read this article about common blog usability issues by Jakob Nielsen, a paid professional usability guru.

Until next Wednesday... Happy usability!

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about books, crafts, recipes, and whatever else comes up at just Lu.
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