The Web is the most democratic and competitive publishing environment in the history of humankind.
From a visitor's perspective, only sites which genuinely offer something of value are "worth a look" -- or a return visit.
Goal this half-hour: Advise you how make your site more appealing to visitors by improving its usability.


Goal is plain English presentation. But the Web is introducing new words/concepts. If there is a term you haven't heard, please ask for clarification.
URL = unique web address of a page, i.e., http://www.priweb.com/mnlawfirms.htm.

But First, an Instant Poll

How long have you been using the Web?
Do you work for an organization that publishes a web site?
If not, does your organization plan to publish a web site within six months?
Do you have the opportunity to make decisions/recommendations about your web site?
Have you ever personally created a web page?

About Pritchard Law Webs

Law-centered, integrated Web Era consulting, construction, and publishing organization.
We combine outside counsel, inside counsel, and management perspectives with technology.
We believe effective knowledge management and the ability to rapidly take advantage of the Web and web technologies is one of the key defining challenges for organizations today.

Some Capabilities / Areas of Focus

  • Dynamic database-driven web sites.
  • Static sites "extruded" from databases.
  • Strategic web technology planning.
  • Web site architecture.
  • Intranets/Expert Support Systems.
  • Knowledge management.

Tech Note

Running Version 2.0 of PLW/WebSlides
Under the hood: Personal Web Server, ColdFusion Server, Microsoft Access, ColdFusion Application Pages and Custom Tag, Dynamic HTML, and Cascading Style Sheet.

Usability: What Is It?

Usability is about meeting your visitors' expectations for your site. It's about them, not you.
Can visitors do what they want, when they want, how they want?
It is about being easy to use, well organized, and functional.
Glitz without function doesn't do much.

Why Focus on Usability of Your Public Web Site?

Visitors can choose from millions of web sites.
Increase their satisfaction level while at your site.
Visitors may reasonably project their impression of your web site to your firm.

Former Sun Microsystems Usability "Guru" Jakob Nielsen Says:

"It is amazing how many companies will waste a million dollars on their Web site without taking a thousand dollars to test whether it works."
"If we are to be honest with ourselves, it is painful to be on the Web. It takes forever to download. It is almost impossible to find anything....Why do users pursue it anyway? ... Because there is something they really want to know."

In the Old Days Before the Web ...

In 1989, I tested my first litigation hypertext system on people who'd never seen it by telling people to find the answer to a specific question in less than a minute.
It worked every time.
That's still a good test.

The Goal: Intuitive Environments

Simplicity is powerful.
Reduce unnecessary choices and clutter.
How to do that?
An elusive goal because what's intuitive to one user may not be to another.

Structure Your Site Around Your Visitors' Needs

Most visitors don't care about your internal organization.
Your organization chart wasn't designed as a web site organizing principle.

Use a Domain Name Visitors Remember

Use a Good Web Hosting Company

Criteria: fast, redundant Internet connections, reliability, supports features you want, good customer support.
Free web space is often not worth the price you pay for it.
Your ISP is not always your best web host.

What's the Point of Your Site?

Answer these Qs in 5 seconds: What do you publish that visitors will find valuable? Why would they come back?
People don't voluntarily spend much time reading pure ads but do seek information.
Tip: They are not looking for entertainment on lawyer sites. (You don't need animated graphics.)

Who is Your Audience?

Otherwise, assume a general audience.
If you only want a niche, make it clear who you are targeting immediately. "This is a site for ...."

Visitors to Sites: Speed it Up!

Yahoo! is the gold standard.

Think About Who a High Tech Design Is Leaving Behind

Try it on a 14.4 modem in 640 x 480 screen size.

Don't Make Your Visitors Use Plug Ins

Most people are not going to bother with installing a plug in just to see your pages.
Interest in adding every last plug in is declining.
Example: As of June 1999, only 31% of browsers had Adobe Acrobat.

Consider What's Left of Your Site if You Turn Off Graphics

The Most Important Real Estate on Your Site

The first screen of your home page.

Use Your Logo Consistently to Identify Your Site

Web site usability research shows your logo beats:
  • background color
  • font style
  • title
  • page organization
as the primary way visitors keep track of whose site they are on.

Avoid Backgrounds that Interfere with Readibility and Printing

Icons vs. Text Labels

Text labels should be 1-2 words that logically predict what will happen or what your visitor will find.
Only a few icons are intuitive or popular enough to acquire common meaning.
We're getting "overiconized."

Give Up Your Need to Absolutely Control Page Layout

Improve Your Search Function

Many visitors do not know how to search effectively.
Show them the word or phrase so they can correct it.
Explain how to do searches -- not too broad, not too narrow.

Make Every Action Choice You Offer Meaningful

Avoid navigation menus with links that take you to the page you are on.
Unfortunately, you don't find that out until it's too late.

Do You Really Need Cookies?

Every visitor whose browser rejects or warns of cookies experiences frustration if your site uses them.

Best Web Architectures Separate Content from Appearance

How to do this?
Cascading Style Sheets - but not all browsers support them or support them in the same way.
Keep content in database and programming scripts instead of static web pages.

Design for Short Attention Spans

Recent usability newsletter advises: "Many people find it difficult to remember details of the page they were looking at just a few seconds ago."

Write Like a Journalist, Not a Lawyer

Legal terms and "legal style" are a usability barrier for laypeople.
Leave white space. Use bulleted lists. Use color (Color costs no more on the Web.).

Add Cross-Reference Links

"Bookmark" links can offer a quick way to put some life into long text pages.
Linking to each heading creates a convenient table of contents at the top of the page.
Link all numbers to corresponding footnotes.
Link top of page to bottom and bottom to top.
Link to logically related pages.

Less Is More

Nielsen's research: Cutting word count by 50% compared to print increases usability by 58%.

Who? What? Where? When? Why?

Include contact information on every page of your site.

Date Your Content; Supplement Your Pages

Unless you impose a time reference on your content, it's always "now" on the Web.
Delete out of date references. Supplement with new developments and links.

Get Your Librarian Involved in Your Web Site

Test for Code Errors

Check Your Links Regularly

Reasons for broken links:
  • Incorrect/incomplete when added
  • Accidentally changed during page edit
  • Other site changed URL
  • Other site removes content entirely.

Don't Break Other Sites' Links to Your Pages

Keep your page names and URLs stable.
If you have to change a URL, keep a redirect page at the original location to automatically forward visitors to the new page location, or request sites linking to your old URLs to update their links.

Don't Break Every Rule To Be "Original"

Recognize and take advantage of common ways sites work. It makes it easier on your visitors.
Be original where it counts - content, not on navigation and usability.

Test on Real People - Like Your Parents and Partners

Learn from Your Site

Use it yourself regularly.
Study your site logs.
Study who links to your site and why.

Ask Your Visitors for Suggestions & Help

Visitors know what they want and what they don't want. Ask courteously and some will tell you.
Write tactful error messages that are meaningful to non-technical visitors.
"We're sorry. Something unexpected happened. Please let us know so we can fix this problem."

Is Your Site Easy to Update and Expand?

Your site's architecture should allow for easy updating and constant expansion.
Stale sites raise red flags.

Nobody's Perfect!

Every site has errors and outdated pages.
Better sites are better at preventing them, finding them, and fixing them.

In Summary: Make Your Site Quick, Accurate, Clean, Visitor-Focused

For Further Reference

Handout: Selected Web Site Usability Resources
Also has "executive summary" of PLW capabilities.