Usability refers to the extent to which a product can be used to achieve specific goals effectively, efficiently and satisfactorily. It's a fundamental property in the success of most web applications and must therefore be considered whenever design of such applications is ongoing. Web engineering has for this reason evolved to include methods that will realize usability (Matera, Rizzo and Carughi, 2006). Usability can be determined using a process called usability testing (experiencesolutions.co.uk, n.d.). It's the process of testing for ease of use by employing real users to acknowledge and judge the usability of the application. Such tests may be comparative, explorative. A relatively new approach called usability evaluation has also been developed and can be executed pre or post application launch.
As per web usability guidelines (Card et al., 2001), Information scent has become a major and controlling factor in everyday use of the world wide web and thus web foraging behavior. It gives rise to two phenomena that include: scent following and patch scent policy. Scent following refers to the propensity of users to make link choices based on the remarks and experiences by other users on said links. Patch scent policy on the other hand can be viewed as a consequence of the first phenomena and refers to the shift to a different search engine or site when the 'scent' of the current area becomes low .i.e. less useful.
Ensuring usability integration to web development has a number of advantages some of which include: (The Benefits of Website Usability Testing | Productivedreams.com, n.d.).
Lower costs are experienced to reductions in redesign activities
Reduced shopping-cart abandonment especially in e-commerce sites that offer online shopping as a service. This may lead to increased traffic and therefore increased profits.
Improved brand image among the consumer population especially with top notch web designs.
A number of factors based on hardware, software and the client (man) have been found to determine usability. Such factors must therefore be kept in mind whenever development is ongoing if the final product is to be top notch and popular among the masses. (Lee, 1999) They include :
Tasks: This refers to the essential tasks to be supported by the system. Such tasks in the web platform may include; information searching, information comprehension, image processing, data download, etc.
System Variables: A number of variables that the developer may not completely be able to regulate or control may affect the usability of web-based applications. e.g. : bandwidth, device specs and capabilities, etc.
User Characteristics: This refers to the numerous differences among web applications' users. They include; age, culture, web experience and knowledge, disability, etc.
Anon, n.d. experiencesolutions.co.uk. Available at: <http://www.experiencesolutions.co.uk/questions/what_is_usability_testing.php>.
Anon, n.d. The Benefits of Website Usability Testing | Productivedreams.com. Available at: <http://www.productivedreams.com/the-benefits-of-website-usability-testing/> [Accessed 26 Feb. 2014].
Card, S.K., Pirolli, P., Van Der Wege, M., Morrison, J.B., Reeder, R.W., Schraedley, P.K. and Boshart, J., 2001. Information scent as a driver of Web behavior graphs: results of a protocol analysis method for Web usability. In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems. [online] ACM, pp.498'505. Available at: <http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=365331> [Accessed 26 Feb. 2014].
Lee, A.T., 1999. Web usability. ACM SIGCHI Bulletin, 31(1), pp.38'40.
Matera, M., Rizzo, F. and Carughi, G.T., 2006. Web usability: Principles and evaluation methods. In: Web engineering. [online] Springer, pp.143'180. Available at: <http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/3-540-28218-1_5> [Accessed 26 Feb. 2014].