Common Usability Problems

The majority of Web sites have usability problems, which can result in confusing users, and ultimately, loss of revenue.

The next few sections highlight some of the problems that users can encounter on a site with usability problems, which ultimately lead to confusion and lost revenue:

User Has Difficulty in Finding What They Are Looking For

One of biggest signs that your site has usability problems is that users struggle to find the information they're looking for.

You might find that:

  • you're not getting as many enquiries as you think you should be;
  • your recent redesign resulted in sales toppling; and
  • while visitors make plenty of searches, few follow through with the results.

These situations usually occur when users have to struggle to use your site. And sadly, this is one of the most common problems that Internet users encounter.

Logically, the larger your site, the more difficult it will be to find something within it. But more commonly, a poorly structured navigation system, poorly worded links and ineffective site search engines contribute to this common usability problem.

Make sure you provide lots of assistance and visual cues to help your users find what they are looking for.

For example:

  • Site search engine that includes a description, in addition to the page title, of each returned link;
  • An optional advanced search system;
  • Site map;
  • Alphabetical index;
  • Prominent display of popular content above-the-fold on the home page; and
  • A customized "404 - File not found" error page which helps users try to find an alternative to the page that is missing.

The Concept is Unclear

New users to your site will quickly look for visual and verbal cues to work out what your site is about. Common missing visual cues include a logo, title, brief description of the site, and the benefits of using the site.

Try to look at your home page as if you've never seen it before. Where do your eyes drift first? What are you looking for? Ask yourself if, as a new user, you would you be able to work out what the site is about.

However, don't spend too long thinking about it. Try to come up with your initial conclusions in just a few seconds, as that's as much time as you are likely to have to sell your site to your new site visitors.

You can also use your family, friends and work colleagues to help you. These are all people that you know and trust, but who will not be as familiar with your site as you. If they can't work out what your site is about, then your site is at fault, not them. Remember that!

User Misunderstands What They See

Often what designers think and what users think are quite different.

For example, one site had a link called, "Glossary" that linked to a glossary of keywords.

Few users clicked on it. Why?

Usability testing revealed why. A lot of their users weren't sure what a "glossary" was, so they were hesitant in clicking on the link. When they changed the word "Glossary" to "Dictionary", a great deal more users used the link, since nearly everyone knows what a dictionary is.

Confusion has arisen in e-commerce situations too. Several high-profile sites decided that instead of a 'shopping cart', they would have a 'basket' or a 'product trolley'. Ultimately, the conclusion was that if you stick to what users are already familiar with, even if it is wrong, you will have more success.

Page Has Too Much Noise

Some Web pages are so busy and cluttered that it can be extremely easy for users to miss the link or feature that they are looking for.

There are two overall solutions:

  • Reduce the Noise Level of the Page:
    • Remove, or tone down, background images;
    • Use fewer and dimmer colors (a common method is to stick with 2 main colors per page);
    • Trim down the content on the page;
    • Increase the 'white space' between text and images;
    • Reduce the amount of movement on the page, such as animated banners and buttons; and
    • Use only 2 or 3 main fonts on a page. One for headings, one for the main text, and another one to attract attention where necessary.
  • Increase the Prominence of the Important Items:
    • Move the item to a more visible position, such as the top of the page;
    • Add images to the item to attract the user's attention;
    • Add, or increase the font size of the, headline or title;
    • Increase the text size;
    • Change the text color;
    • Change the background color of the item;
    • Separate the item from the rest of the content. For example, surround the item with a box; and
    • Create movement in the item by using animation - but only if animation adds value to the item.