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Screen Space Episode 1: Five easy things you can do to make your websites stronger

Transcript

Hello and welcome to episode one of Screen Space: Five easy things you can do to make your websites stronger. The Screen Space podcast focuses on web and other new media designs for the average person. You do not need to be an expert web designer—all you need is your own website, blog, or other new media or if you do not have these things then the desire to create them. This podcast should help you make your websites, blogs, or other new media more usable, accessible, effective, and efficient. I am Dr. Jennifer L. Bowie and not only does my own research focus on web design and user-centered design, but I also teach classes in these areas at Georgia State University. In this podcast I will provides tips and ideas on screen design—drawing on my own research and the research of others.

To start off, I present five easy things you should do to make your website stronger. Each of these suggestions is fairly easy to do and can make a big difference in the usability, accessibility, effectiveness, and efficiency of your website. I only briefly cover these five things today to keep this podcast short. If you want to know more about any one of them send me at email at jbowie@screenspace.org and I will do a future episode (or more) based on your request. So, without further ado, here are five things you should do on your website:

1) Provide in-text links: Web users, much like your average shoppers, fall into two categories: searchers and browsers. Some people may stick to mainly being searchers, or mainly being browsers, but many other people switch depending on the site, the reasons they came to the site, and various other factors (like time). This is a bit like shopping in a bookstore. Sometimes people go in and just wander around, skimming their favorite sections, but with no clear book in mind. These people are browsers. Other times people will got in and head straight for a particular book—likely walking directly to the section they know it will be in. These are searchers. On your website you will get both types of users. For your browsers you want to provide material for them to browse. Give them opportunities to look around your site—to stroll the content and wander about. One good way to do this is to provide in-text links—links within the content of your site. The navigational links do give the browsers ways to navigate the site, but the in-text links allow them to explore without the map. And many browsers seem to like this. If a browser sees something interesting they want to be able to click to find out more—the very purpose of a in-text link. So provide links to related content, not just at the bottom of the text, but throughout it. These links can be to pictures, details, media files, and more. Browsers will enjoy this and likely leave your site with a lot more knowledge about your site than the quick search would have given them. They may even come back to browse.

2) Include an effective search engine: The single best thing you can do for searchers is provide them with an effective search engine. Few searchers will stop to click on the in text links, especially before they found what they are searching for. In my own research slightly more than 50% of users consider themselves searchers and not surprisingly searchers tend to favor search engines. Many of the self-declared searchers I have studied will go directly to the site search engine first, often before even really looking around the site. If they do not find a search engine, they are often not happy. If there is a search engine, users want it to work. They want to get clear results that directly relate to what they searched for. Few users will look beyond the first few results—most will try a different search. If the next search does not work they then may begin looking deeper into the results or even try again. At this point I’ve actually seen users get mad at the site search engine. If a user gets mad during a usability test, one can only imagine what they would be saying and doing at home—probably they would have long left your site. Most searchers will only use the navigational links as a last resort, and often they will use them begrudgingly. So, I recommend putting a good search on your site and checking to make sure the search engine works correctly.

Now, not all sites need searches. Not having a search one may upset the searchers, but if you have tiny site of only 3 pages or so, a search is not needed. However, if your site is much larger do consider adding a search engine if it is not already there.

3) Provide clear navigational links: All sites should have site-wide navigational links. Often you will see these links across the top of the site or down the left or right side. These navigational links show the site structure by providing link to the major sections of the site. Make these links in your navigational menus as clear as possible. The text should be brief (often a single word or two) but still clear and descriptive. Also the text from these links should clearly relate to the page they end up on after clicking on the link. For example it your link is “about us” the link should go to an about us page. In addition, the title of the page should match the link text. Do not use a title that is similar—use the exact text of the link, otherwise your users may be confused. You can lengthen the title with a subtitle and a colon. So, “about us” could become “About Us: The history and People of Screen Space”. Do make sure your navigation links are consistent across the site. Each page should have the same major navigation menu in the same place. You may add navigational submenus on some sections, but the main navigation should remain the same.

4) Make each page of your site clear as to site and purpose: Users may arrive at your site through the homepage. Or they may arrive on some random page inside your site from a search engine or link on another site. Regardless of whether the users enter through the homepage, or “front door”, of your site, or if they enter through some random page, they must be able to tell what site they are on and what the purpose of the site is immediately. Users want to know where they are—so tell them. Use your logo and company name on each page. Provide clear links to the homepage. Don’t assume the users know information that was on your homepage or another page. Write your text and design all your content so each page can stand alone. Do, of course provide those in-text links and navigational links to other sections, but provide enough information that the user can arrive on any page and understand the basic purpose of the site and name of the site and/or company.

5) Use “alt tags” or the alt attribute: Often incorrectly called the alt tag, the Alt attribute is a small bit of identifying text that you give each image. Adding the alt attribute to images one of the easiest things you can do on your site and it will increase accessibly tenfold. In some browsers the alt attribute text will popup when you rollover the images. However, the purpose of these tags is much more meaningful. This text will also show up whenever your images do not load and will be read by screen reader software. This last reason is the main reason you want to include the tags. By including short descriptions of your images blind users will be able to hear, instead of see, your images because the screen readers will read them the image description you included in the alt attribute. The alt attribute is also helpful for people with slow connections or who have chosen to not download images, and for those accessing your page on handheld devices. In addition, this will also aid in search engine optimization. In many web design programs adding the alt attribute is easy—Dreamweaver actually asks you to add one when you insert images. If you are hand coding or your program doesn’t do this, you simply need to put the alt attribute into your image tag code. If your image was of the sun setting over mountains your image tag with the alt attribute may go something like this: <img src=”mountains.jpg” alt=”sun setting over mountains”>

. For these alt tags you want to make them brief—I recommend less than 60 characters and something closer to 30 would be better. If your image is purely decorative all you need to do is include an empty alt attribute (alt=””).

And that is the last of the five easy things to do on your website. To summarize, these five things are:

  • Provide in text links
  • Include an effective Search Engine
  • Provide Clear navigational links
  • Make each page of your site clear as to site and purpose
  • Use the alt attribute

By doing these five things, your website, blog or other new media will be more usable, accessible, effective, and efficient.

Join me next time for five things to not do on your website. If you have questions, comments, or thoughts on what you want me to cover please send me an email at jbowie@screenspace.org or check out the Screen Space blog—www.screenspacew.org. Have fun and design well!

 
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