Yes, I consider Help to be part of usability. Not because it is one of the core elements of usability, but because it can be a one-point stop for your users (visitors, readers) to know about your website, to know about the usability features that your website has. Lorelle’s Usability Isn’t Expensive. It’s Practical. Usability is Useful. is an excellent guide to think about your website design from a usability point of view.
In spite of this, sometimes, somethings are not very obvious, or somethings are not easily visible. There can be multiple reasons for it – technical reasons, lesser control over the theme (like in case of WordPress.com blogs today). Or sometimes one usability aspect itself can pose itself against another, forcing you to choose a balance. How do you communicate this to your user? How do you explain the theme and concept of your website?
The answer is Help! Provide help to your user. The best form is, ofcourse, online help. But sometimes you might have to provide hard copies of manuals, presentations, demonstrations or training. They are all forms of help, that makes your reader more comfortable with your site.
Help tells the user what to expect from the website, and minimizes the unknown.
As with any other new thing, a new visitor of your website might feel a little alien to it. He/She can take up some time to learn a few things, see what features are available, understand behaviour of your website. This is because he/she does not know what to expect. The learning happens through discovery or experience which can either be the hard way or time consuming. The learning becomes even more important if there is more than reading on the website – like e-commerce or interactivity.
Help is documentation done for the user (visitor, reader, administrator), from his/her perspective to enable better usage of the software.
I got feedback from some readers who asked questions which I had thought were already answered. Most common was reading posts only of their interest. Some of them were new to a blog, so they were not aware of RSS feeds or categories of posts. This is when I realised that I should provide this information explicitly on the blog itself. I have done this earlier for other projects, why not for this? And so came up the Help & Sitemap page. It is not very exhaustive, but its a start.
To highlight some of my posts, I have used the Link Categories.
- There is a category called Adhesive, which contains posts that I want to make sticky. It is not called sticky because it would then be pushed down as the link categories are displayed in alphabetical order. Adhesive makes sure it comes on top of all the links.
- The most read posts are showin in a category called Best Yet. Again, it could have been called “Popular Posts” or “Top Posts” but the alphabetical order plays its role in the display.
- I have tried to separate the full site feeds and partial feeds, so that the readers realise that both are available.
I have tried to document all this in the Help & Sitemap page. It also contains a sitemap, not truly a sitemap, but different ways of navigation, in one place.
It makes more sense if your site is on shared hosting, like WordPress.com. You don’t have control over the entire theme. The visual aspect of your website that your readers see is controlled by the theme, each having its own widgets and features. Is it not important to let your readers know about it?
This is also profitable for you as website/blog owners – more comfortable your users get, more of your website will be read.
Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda.