It’s that time of year again! This is my 10th year as a judge for the Web Marketing Association. Throughout the last decade, I’ve watched the evolution of static websites to web 2.0. Regardless of era, usability has always been a primary focus when I judge sites. These are websites from major corporations, you know, the household names from around the world. So you’d think they have it all figured out, right? Wrong!

These companies used to hire my organization to fine-tune their sites. This required us to use all kinds of tools, including eye-tracking and gaze plotting! It was some pretty intense stuff.

I don’t expect such intense usability prep for single-owner blogs but I do expect some basics to be taken care of. Let’s face it, 99% of all bloggers have no design/usability training. Naturally, even without any formal training, they try to work in some design but usability typically falls to the wayside.

There are so many things to consider for usability but if I wanted to show someone a short list of low hanging fruit…

9 easy things to consider for usability

1. Keep important information “above the fold”

That means you shouldn’t make your readers scroll down to see calls to action. This includes every page of your site, not just your home page! Over 4/5 of the time spent on your pages will be spent above the fold.

2. Keep the most important information in the top half of the visible screen

Users will give the most focus between 33% and 50% of the page. So if you’re planning for a 768 height page, stick to the 250-400 vertical pixel range.

3. Avoid horizontal scrolling

There are no good reasons to have users scroll horizontally. That means if you want to be super-safe, you can design for a 1024 width, which should satisfy over 98% of the internet population.

4. Stay left

If you cut your page down the middle, the left side will garner more than double the viewing time than the right side. That means you should place the things you want your users to see on the left whenever possible.

5. Place navigation where users expect it to be

Sure, if you have a artsy site you can break away from the norm. Your audience might be willing to partake in a little exploration even. However, for everyone else, keep your main navigation at the left or the top. Ancillary nav can be at the right, bottom, or anywhere else.

6. Reading should not be taxing – part I

Contrast, people, contrast! This is not hard. Dark text on light background or light text on dark background. (Shakes head.) I’m still amazed at how many sites where I have to strain my eyes to read light grey on white. I usually give up after 2 seconds.

7. Reading should not be taxing – part II

Size matters! I don’t care how niche your site is, the font size for the main content should be a font size 10 at a minimum. And that’s only if there’s a decent amount of white space. Think about it, how many times have you been to a site where you thought the fonts were too small? I bet it’s too many to count. Now how many times did you think the fonts were too big? Unless it’s ridiculously large, no one will complain. So if you use an easy to read font, size 10-12 is usually fitting.

8. Headlines work well

I get it. You have a lot of things to showcase on your site. Welcome to the club. Since your most valuable space is limited (see points above), using headlines and snippets will help. Users are more prone to scroll down if the page is “scannable”. So if you create an environment that convinces your users that a flick of their scroll wheel could provide value, then they will.

9. Pop-ups are rarely good

Do you know anyone who likes pop-ups? I’m pretty sure we all hate them. However, we still see them all the time. This tells me you’re thinking about your needs and not the users’ needs. When I see a new window popping up (or popping under), I tend to not only close the pop-up without reading it but I usually leave the site that sent me the pop up as well. For every user willing to pause for a moment to read the pop-up, you lost 50.

One-size-fits-most usability

Remember when some products, like baseball caps for instance, were one-size-fits-all? Then one day, someone made manufacturers change the label to one-size-fits-most because there are some people with really large meatballs for heads. The same applies here.

Although there are some exceptions where some folks had unique success outside of these guidelines. As a general rule though, all bloggers can follow these simple steps to create a usable user experience. These fundamentals haven’t changed since the dawn of the internet.

There really is so much more to usability than this. I could probably write usability articles from this point forward and never be done. But since I haven’t written one in a while, I thought it might be a good idea to jump back into this very relevant topic for most bloggers.

Anyway, don’t you agree that many of these on the list are common sense? But how often have you come across sites that don’t have those basics taken care of? Do you meet these criteria?