Taking care of the basics is 90% of your online business success story. Start with a small, clutter free environment and work your way up. Have a clear message and know what you want people to do on your website.
Search engines can read any font size, contrast or line height you set, but people can’t. It’s fairly easy to fix these usability issues, just browse some of the leading design oriented websites (Smashing Magazine, WebdesignerDepo), see what they’re doing and you’ll get a sense of what might please your readers’ eyes. You can also find a lot of articles on the topic of usability there.
Majority of people doesn’t have time to read everything you write so proper use of spacing, headlines and lists can make it easier for them to consume your content.
Navigation is another thing to think about. Sticky headers have become extremely popular these days because they’re omnipresent. Allowing people to navigate easily means also categorizing and tagging your content properly. Listing your categories in sidebar, for example, allows visitors to get to point of interest fast.
Fault Tolerance is what your 404 pages are for. If you allow people to get back on track fast, without feeling lost, you’ll increase the time they spend on your website. You can check how we on ThematoSoup dealt with this problem by following this link.
When it comes to making your content as accessible as possible, you can’t go wrong with black text on white background. The focus is on words, plus it looks clean and minimalistic. Also, check how your website looks in different browsers and whether rich snippets are shown when your pages are shared on social networks.
Go to Google Webmaster Tools and under Search Appearance tab you’ll everything about your current website status and possible appearance improvements. You can also try browsing your website using different browsers and mobile devices (switching screen sizes) to see whether you’re getting a fairly consistent experience.
Color-blind and vision impaired people have difficulties determining links that aren’t underlined or low contrast text, so think of them, too.
You can’t get this one right yourself. You need to ask a group of people to browse your website. For example, you could give them a task (search for certain post, category or find a piece of information) and rate it based on:
How valuable they found your website to be and was it a pain for them to absorb the information you provide?
Were people satisfied with what they found or you could’ve written a longer, more comprehensive article with a clear message?
Was searching and browsing your website a fun experience or was it boring?
Again, you’re better off with a website that’s unobtrusive, doesn’t poke users’ eyes with flashing images, has clear call to actions, doesn’t use cheap tricks to get readers attention and conveys a clear message. Your content should do all that, not your website.
You can hire an expert to assess and optimize your theme or you can use common sense, start small with a website coded with best practices in mind and focus on what really matters to your visitors – your content (service, product).
Tweaking your website and expanding its functionality may and should come later, once you really feel the need for it. It’s much harder to optimize a site loaded with unnecessary features that are in the way of the clear message you want to convey.
Search engines will stand just about anything; people won’t.