Usability can be defined as the overall user-friendliness and ease of use of your website or product. Having a usable blog means less frustration for your readers, which in turn improves their overall experience, user retention and conversions. Just a few small changes to your blog can have a meaningful impact on usability.
In order to better understand these suggestions, you should try to see your blog from the perspective of a completely average visitor. Try to imagine what your readers see and answer these basic questions:
- Why do your visitors go to your blog in the first place?
- Can you view the actual content of your blog without feeling distracted?
- Take a step back from your screen. Does your blog look/feel overwhelming in terms of information being presented?
- Is reading a post on your blog an enjoyable experience that you'd be willing to repeat?
The great thing about usability is that often times, simple changes can have a relatively big impact on user experience. The following ideas are what drove the current redesign of DevGrow.com, one that has helped improved reader engagement and participation.
1. If it's not critical, get rid of it
We live in a world of information and sensory overload. Everywhere you go you are being fed tons of data, some of it important to the task/topic at hand and a lot of it fairly extraneous. Websites are no exception - many feature a wealth of information that can often overwhelm readers, which can increase bounce rates and reduce conversions.
Because we are used to seeing so much information on most websites, it can be pretty difficult to remove things from your own blog. Remember to think of it in terms of your reader - what do they want to see? Take a look at the following screenshot, which shows the DevGrow header before and after the current redesign:
If the image is hard to follow, currently the discussion forums part of the site is still using the old header - compare that to the header on this post to get an idea of what has changed.
The old design had navigational links in the header, footer and sometimes even in the sidebar - this was overkill for the majority of readers. It also had links to sign up or login, which most users typically don't have to do unless they're in the forum. They were just adding to the clutter and causing unnecessary distraction away from the content which, for most blogs, is really the only part of the site readers really care about. This is not to say that you should remove all navigation elements or other portions of your site, rather take a look at objects that are repeated throughout your design and reevaluate their necessity.
2. Focus on typography
Blogs are all about the content, so it only makes sense to make sure your typography is reader-friendly. You don't have to necessarily use a larger font size or particular font family to improve typography, instead focus on making sure your content is clear and legible to the majority of your users. Content is key but also worthless if your visitors have a difficult time reading it.
The following are a list of resources that discuss typography and it's usage on the web:
- A List Apart: Articles on Web Typography
- An Introduction to Web Typography
- Web Typography Guide
- Web Typography Tutorial – Lesson 1
- Google Font Previewer and Google Font Directory
3. Utilize white space
Effective use of white space can also help improve usability, as it can increase focus to your content type. There are several things you can do to better utilize white space on your blog, including:
- Increase the content margins/paddings to give your post a greater degree of separation from your sidebar and/or navigation
- Increase your paragraph line-height property, which both increases legibility and gives the feeling of added white space
- Increase the spacings between your posts, comments, lists and other elements
Obviously, all adjustments to your margins and padding should be done with moderation and careful consideration. Keep in mind that while your goal is to improve the overall experience and readability of your blog, you do not want to hinder other sections and important bits of your site either (like navigation).
The following sites make great use of white space in their designs that forces the reader to focus in on content:
In all honesty, the above is really a minimalistic approach to improving usability. I've found these methods to be the simplest and quickest to apply to an existing website, since it basically involves reducing and refining existing elements. If you have suggestions for improving your blog's usability and overall user experience, let me know in the comments!