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Website Usability Best Practices: Consistency

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Website Usability Best Practices: Consistency

In our best practices usability guideline series, this topic has come up before which emphasizes the importance of the guideline we are addressing today – consistency. While it is a standalone guideline, it is the key to making the other guidelines work as well – to provide the best possible user experience all of the usability best practices you put in place must be done consistently across the site. Consistency allows a casual user to learn your site more quickly and a frequent user to move effortlessly to the content or task of interest. While it is often the first guideline we look at when evaluating the site, it is the last guideline I’m looking at here because it impacts each of the other areas we have looked at in detail already. To understand how, let’s take a look at the elements of this guideline in detail:



1. Clear indication of the home page

  • This applies in two situations – first, if a user reaches your home page, they should know it
    • When seeing the home page, users should never have to question where they are in the site, yet, too often in testing, we see users hit the “Home” link while on the home page to double check. This should never be necessary.
    • The home page should be clear, offer a value proposition and highlight the main navigation to allow users to move to content of interest quickly and easily
  • Secondly, there should be consistent access to the home page throughout the site. Conventional ways of doing this include making the logo in the upper left link to the home page or providing a “Home” link in the main navigation, bread crumbing and, possibly, at the bottom of the page as well
    • The key here is to be consistent in the presentation of the link. If the logo in the left is clickable, every page should have a logo in the same place, linking to the home page.


2. Possesses consistency with terminology, design, colors, etc. and – if offline entity exists – maintains consistency of brand /messaging / image

  • These two guidelines go hand-in-hand to ensure you are providing a single brand look and feel to your customer, so we’ll tackle them together.
    • The key here is presenting a recognizable image to a user not only across all of your touch points, but within the touch points as well. So many sites today encompass different product lines, different customer targets and vast quantities of content. These are often produced by groups within an organization that do not work together. None of this matters to a customer, so it is important to view your site through their eyes.
    • A customer should be able to recognize the site as yours no matter where they are in the site by the design of the page. Logos, colors and imagery should be in harmony with the brand and the same throughout the site.
    • Also vital is the language used, not just in using the same terminology throughout the site (including spelling of terms, use of acronyms and capitalization), but also in the tone and level of the communication.
    • All of these elements will come together to create an overall experience of your brand with your customer, and, if implemented well and consistently, can reinforce your brand image with the consumer.

3. Page layout / organization is consistent at similar levels of hierarchy

    This goes back to the concept of teaching users how your site works and facilitating easy navigation. Users should immediately be able to recognize a main navigation landing page, a category page or a product page and know how the page will work and where to find the information of interest on the page once they have seen one example of it on your site.



4. Navigation and information architecture is scalable for new content

  • Web content is rarely static. Once your template is created, you will need to add new content to the site, making room in your design for this new content. In order to do this seamlessly and with a minimum of disruption to the user experience, your initial design of the navigational structure of the site as well as the information architecture you have put in place must be scalable and have room for new content to easily be slotted in.
    • While you want to try to think of all of the possible content you will want to include on your site during the design process, it is impossible to think of all of the eventualities that might cause the need for your site to contain and direct users to new information.
    • If there is no room for expansion of the subcategories / submenus of your navigation and no space in the hierarchy and design of the information on your site for additions, even of another layer of content, you will be stuck creating an inconsistent experience in order to add the necessary information or be looking at a large scale design project every time new content is available for the site. Thinking about consistency before this becomes an issue will force you to create a design that can handle not only projected additions, but any of the unexpected necessities that come with doing business in a digital age.blog_consistency_jcp