Usability isn’t the most sexy subject. When pondering Web sites, people often get hung up on the look, bells and whistles, other shiny objects. But creating a good-looking Web site that doesn’t work for your users is like buying a beautiful sports car that doesn’t run.
On the Web, content itself is king. With that in mind, and working with our users, I’ve developed the following 5 Ws of content usability while reviewing existing pages:
Who? If you have contacts on your pages, are they accurate and updated? I found that an email address on one of our primary pages did not work because the department discontinued it without telling anyone. This also applies to the important consideration: Who is your audience? Are you writing for that audience, or for yourself?
What? Or Wha? Or Huh? As in: Does this make sense? Just because a page sort of made sense when you wrote it (especially in a hurry) doesn’t mean it will when viewed from a distance. Or perhaps what you wrote last year no longer applies. Which leads into …
When? Pet peeve: Web sites that talk about fall 2009 events in the future tense. This is sloppy, and makes you look lazy. Or clueless. If you’re doing something event-based as a major part of your site, note on whatever calendar you use (iCal, Google, Franklin Planner, crayon) to update that information after the specific event or semester.
Where? Where do your links go? Are those pages still valid? Or, even worse, are any links broken? How long does it take to check a link? A few seconds. How long will a user be ticked off if they click a broken link? Much much longer. And in terms of navigation, are you taking your audience where they want or need to go?
Why? At the risk of sounding philosophical, what’s the reason for this page’s existence? Is it for something that is no longer applicable? Does it duplicate another page? Does it merit its own page, or can it be succinctly spelled out on a higher-level page? Since we’re looking at migrating pages to a new content management system, this part is the equivalent of throwing away unused or unnecessary items in your attic before loading the moving van.
Admittedly, we’re all busy, so checking back on pages isn’t always the highest priority. But think of the cost of frustrating, outdated or hard-to-navigate pages — the prospective students, customers or potential clients who give up because you don’t have your act together — and you’ll find reviewing your pages and using the 5 Ws of Web content usability well worth it.