Think of it (as in the preceding Tip) as a rule of thumb. Heuristics provides a working guideline
by which a search term is ranked. However, it’s important to remember that rankings are achieved
through a complex combination of factors, not all of which are completely predictable. So, these
guidelines are just that — but they help you set a standard for how you plan to use keywords.
Heuristics for web-site usability were first established by Jacob Nielsen in 1990. At the time, he devel-
oped a list of ten items that when included in web-site design would make the site more usable for
individuals. In 1994, Nielsen updated that list of heuristics so that it now includes the following items:
Visibility of system status:
This principle says that the user should always know what’s
going on through feedback from the system that’s provided in a timely manner.
Match between the system and the real world:
According to this, the system should
speak the user’s language. This means that keywords, phrases, and concepts should be
used in a way that is familiar to the user and not be just technical or marketing buzzwords.
User control and freedom:
This principle says that users often mistakenly make choices
they don’t really want. For that reason, it’s essential to have the ability to undo or redo an
action. A good example of this is having back and forward buttons in a web browser.
Consistency and standards:
Each time users click a button or see a word, they should
not have to wonder what that action or word means. Consistency and standards apply to
both languages and actions, and should be predictable across the Internet.
Users are frustrated by errors. Therefore, you should design your
site with the prevention of errors in mind. However, if there is a place where users might
encounter an error, using a confirmation system is recommended.
Recognition rather than recall:
Don’t make users remember things from one screen or
dialog to another. Instead, create your pages with clearly visible instructions, actions, and
objects. If you must create an element that requires additional instructions, make those
instructions easy to access and clearly mark them as instructions.
Flexibility and efficiency of use:
This principle applies to both novice users and experi-
enced users of your site. According to this rule, your site should apply to both groups of
users by providing customizable actions.
Aesthetic and minimalist design:
Remember the adage KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)?
Well, your users may not be stupid, but they still want you to keep your site as simple as
possible. If your products, services, or information are complicated to locate, you’ll lose
site visitors very quickly. They’ll go to a site where it’s easy to find what they’re looking for.
Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors:
Users want error messages
that help them navigate through and correct the error as quickly as possible. Make sure that
error messages aren’t cryptic, and provide clear, easy-to-follow instructions.
Help and documentation:
It’s always best not to have to refer users to help and documen-
tation files. But there are some instances when you must. If that’s the case for your site, be
sure your help and documentation files are easy to navigate and written in a clear, under-
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