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Teaching Users how to use a Website

What makes a website usable? Usability is about making content both accessible to all the people visiting your website as well as making it easy or intuitive to use and complete their goals. Yes, you have goals, but in order to accomplish your goals, you must also determine what your users want in order to lead them in the right direction.

First-time user visiting the website
Returning user visiting the website

The Onboarding Experience

First-time users have a handicap that returning users don’t have: they haven’t been to the website before. If you want the experience for both first-time and returning users to be positive, then your website should function in a manner that is obvious or intuitive for both groups:

  • things that make common sense (e.g. key navigational words seen on other websites, commonly used icons for certain actions)
  • consistency in layout, navigation, and behavior (e.g. same order of links, same resulting page opens for particular link text)

What should you actually cover in the onboarding experience? A truly usable website is a site that doesn't have to point out how to use it. Consider onboarding in the form of orienting new faculty and staff hires or newly enrolled students:

  • You might instruct them on the culture of Tarleton State University, but you wouldn't teach them that a door is what you open to enter one of the campus buildings.
  • You might instruct them on which parking lots they can park in and how to get their permits, but you wouldn't teach them that they need to stop at red lights before approaching the campus entrance.
  • You might instruct them on who to contact for questions, but you wouldn't teach them how to use their cell phones to make the calls.

Usability separates the operating methods from the information or actions the users need. Here are some examples of how to remove the operational methods and focus on the content your visitors wanted, or should want after you convince them it should be viewed:

Operational versus Content-driven Phrases
Bad Example (Operational) Good Example (Content-driven) Why does the "Good Example" improve usability?
Click the Easy button Select the Easy button "Clicking" is device specific (e.g. certain desktop users) and doesn't take into consideration all the ways someone may access a button or link (e.g. swipe, blow, hit, wink, touch). "Selecting" is a non-device specific term you can use.
Click here to log into the Platform Log into the Platform This is a device specific term, however, it is also indicating an operation for using the website when it should be more goal-oriented: the user wants to access the Platform.
You can learn more at the link at / cascade-tutorial Learn more at the Cascade Tutorial website. The person may already be on the website, and they are already on the internet, so provide them with a "supportive link" on the "Good Example" text that goes directly to what they need.
Click on the arrow buttons below to find out more about our professors. Learn more about our professors and their research interests to see who you might want as a mentor. The person is typically familiar with the operations of arrows to get more information. It's more about desire or need to view the content. The "Good Example" doesn't get into detail, but you want to lure them based on the merits of your information, not how to operate the content module displaying it.
You can find the Register for the Webinar Form in the right hand navigation. Register for the Webinar. In these "Good Examples", many of the solutions would require links to the text to provide the necessary support and improved usability. In this case, if you are going to talk about the event (or information) and the form (or document) it has somewhere on your website, you don't have to tease them with a hunting game they may lose at. Instead, put the link to supportive information right on the text for immediate access.

What has Web Services done?

What about the user experience with the user interface? Web Services did extensive research with our Tarleton visitors to determine the user interface that you see on the responsive template and each content module. For example,

  • we made decisions on the navigation location based on user testing that showed they were reading more of the main content on the webpage when the navigation was on the right hand side of the page, and
  • we encourage departments to add calendars to their homepages because focus groups responded positively to finding out about upcoming events.

Web Services improves the usability of the website by studying the behaviors of different audiences (e.g. personas) and doing surveys, focus groups, and user testing (e.g. heat maps, card sorting, A/B testing). That being said, there is no 100% solution that works for all people. We work with best practices on the display of content and function of the user interface.