Keeping your users happy

By Bryan Formidoni, Unix Insider |  Software

People won't use your Website if they can't easily find what they're looking for. In fact, they should be able to tell what a company does by merely viewing its homepage. If you want users to learn about your company and what it does, return to your site, buy products or services, and register, you must satisfy them. Web surfers have grown to expect instant information gratification, so you have to grab them fast and treat them right, or they'll leave and maybe not return.

There are many facets to Web usability, and this article will skim the points we've found to be the most overlooked and most valuable.

Why visitors leave

Luckily, using a Website isn't brain surgery. You're a Web user, too, so think about what frustrates you about other sites. You've probably left sites for some of the following reasons:

  • The page takes forever to download
  • You're asked to register the first time you visit
  • The homepage is so busy that you have a hard time deciding what to click on
  • The navigation is confusing and has ambiguous naming conventions
  • The links and graphics aren't obviously clickable
  • The graphics or text links are broken
  • There's too much text

What you can do

First, realize that your visitor's modem speed is out of your control. What you can control is your end of the connection. Get the fastest available server and ask a performance expert to review your system architecture to optimize the response times. Here are some pointers that can help your site's download speed.

Images. Are they optimized efficiently? As a rule, you should size an image as small as possible without hurting the quality, and specify the width and height in pixels in your HTML. We try to not let the total image size exceed 80 KB per page.

Tables. If you have an intricate table structure such as a table nested within another table nested within yet another table, you're requiring longer downloads. A good rule of thumb is to separate as many tables as possible and to specify the width and height attributes for the table columns.

Stylesheets. Font-specific HTML isn't necessary on every page (unless you want to overwrite the stylesheet for a specific purpose).

Flash and audio files. If they don't add much to your site, leave them out.

Speedy URLs. Include the final slash when linking to a directory.

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