Customizable Websites – The Definitive Guide

Several popular websites have let their homepages be customised by users. New web technologies have made it possible to add slicker customisation interfaces so more sites are allowing users to customise their pages. But, should you do the same? Will it make your website better for users or will it make it unnecessarily complicated? Will users even want this feature on your site?

Types of customisation

Currently websites offer a variety of customisation methods, allowing users to:

Online videos: Engaging your users

Online video is big business nowadays. Websites dedicated to video like Youtube, BBC iPlayer and 4oD have taken off in a big way, and an increasing number of websites are introducing video content to keep users engaged. This spread of online videos is in no small part due to the ever improving connection speeds – 90% of internet connections in the UK are through broadband (source: UK Statistics Authority). However, if you’re considering introducing video content to your site or looking to make the best of your existing video content, you must put the user experience at the forefront of your proposition. Here are some guidelines to enhance the usability of online video:

It’s a video…

The first step to getting your users to play the video is letting them know that it is in fact a video and not an image or text. Obvious as this may seem, it’s particularly important on websites where users aren’t expecting to see video content. When using a still as a thumbnail, provide a big, clear play button in the middle of it to show that it’s a video. If it’s a link, you can still use a play button in line with the link text to differentiate it from a regular link.

The MSN video site has an unmissable play button in the middle of the still.

The BBC effectively indicates links that lead to videos or audio files.

Descriptive title & summary

Set users’ expectations as to what’s in the video, what its purpose is and why they should spend their time watching it. Convey the essence by providing videos with descriptive titles that contain keywords. You must use relevant keywords which are good for search engine optimisation (SEO) as well as usability, as these are likely to be the terms people are typing in searches. Offer a summary of selling points to persuade users to watch it. This summary should be no more than a couple of lines or bullet points so it’s quick and easy for the eye to scan.

The Importance of Good Grammar

Recently, I have found myself more and more frustrated and dumbfounded by the sheer lack of attention people seem to pay to their own writing. There are certainly circumstances under which I can understand using poor grammar.

However, over the last few months, I have encountered poor grammar in almost all situations from almost all types of people. I have seen sloppy, unedited writing in commercial marketing. I have seen and heard poor spelling and speech in professional situations and official communiques from various white-collar managers.

Notifying Google of a Major Site Overhaul

In a few weeks, my organization will be removing our old Web site from our Web server and replacing it with a completely new site. The new site includes completely new content and a radically different structure.

We will be using a Google Custom Search Engine as our internal search engine on the Web site.

I am curious if anybody has any advice on how we should handle this situation.

An Interesting Tidbit About W3C’s Validators

I found out something interesting about the W3C validator services yesterday while working on some code. I wanted to find a way to dynamically validate my pages, so that I didn’t put a validity notice on the page if it wasn’t valid.

While validating one of my pages, I decided to check the response headers returned by the W3C validator engine, just on a whim, to see if there was anything in there that might tell me whether or not my page was valid.

What do you know? Not only is it spelled out in very plain English, the header also tells you how many errors and warnings were returned by the engine if the page wasn’t valid.

Is Your Site User Friendly?

Molly at DemoGirl has created a video that takes a look at several sites and their usability. On her Twitter piece, I could add a million items but one I would absolutely add is a way to do a multiple delete on the direct messages. Deleting one at a time is time consuming and my bet is that by adding a mass/select delete option, they could reduce by millions of messages.

Check out our 30+ usability tutorials.

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