Usability is the best investment most organizations will never make

A price tag well into five figures is no longer uncommon for a small business trying to build a website. Many medium sized businesses tag another zero on the end of their bills – yet even larger companies with even bigger budgets are often reluctant to spend a small fraction of that to ensure that their sites actually work.

A small but growing industry has been screaming for attention, but is still not getting the respect they deserve. Usability experts have spent years studying how people use the Internet to determine what works and what doesn’t, and even though their invaluable insights are available for a fraction of what it costs to create a site, the vast majority of comapnies never bring one in.

What is truly amazing is how much is spent on websites that look pretty and have fantastic information, but simply don’t work.

Sites like Jakob Nielson’s useit.com provide a staggeringly long list of mistakes that can cripple the usability of a site and make it impossibly difficult for visitors to use.

We’ve all seen these basic mistakes hundreds of times:

  1. Inconsistent menu options on different website pages
  2. Search results that don’t indicate where on the site the results are found.
  3. Navigation elements too close to advertising (and are therfore not noticed by visitors)
  4. Too many navigation options that make site navigation very confusing
  5. Text links that don’t change colour when they have been visited

The list goes on and on, but the point should be obvious by now – there are a lot of ways to screw up the structure of a website if you don’t know what you’re doing.

So the next time your organization is creating or revamping their website, be sure that the company you hire has a usability expert on staff, or bring in your own.

Head First WordPress (Jeff Siarto) – A great fit for a specific audience

Summary: Very practical, in-depth guide to setting up, customizing and using WordPress blogs but does require a fair bit of background knowledge.

Head First WordPress Book ReviewHead First WordPress” by Jeff Siarto does a great job providing helpful and often very in-depth information about how to use the WordPress blogging software. To really get the most out of the book, though, you do need a fair bit of prior knowledge to go with it.

The book is presented in the light-hearted style consistent to the “Head First” series, and I’ve always enjoyed that style, especially for quite technical – and often quite boring – information. It starts by outlining the steps required to set up a blog, then gives detailed customization information and concludes with some creative suggestions on how to use your new site.

I would strongly recommend the book to anyone thinking of using a WordPress blog, or considering new uses for existing blogs, but with one caveat. There are a few spots in the book where a fair bit of technical knowledge is assumed in areas like HTML/CSS coding, web server setup and so on. If you’re willing to fill in the blanks in any areas where you might be missing some background knowledge, then this is definitely one of the best WordPress guides you’ll find.

Originally submitted at O’Reilly

Good, bad and ugly photo use on web pages.