Usability Optimization is fundamental to providing a good user experience on your Web site. It is a key factor in conversion optimization as well. Why is it then that many Web site owners don’t seem to have a clue about it? Let’s begin at the very beginning...
This post is an overview of why usability is so important to a successful Web site. In future posts, I will discuss usability best practices, processes and tools you can employ to make your Web site's user experience aligned with the needs of the people most likely to become your customers.
Usability is applying “common sense” practices in Web site development. What do I mean by that? Let’s take an extreme example - if I were developing a Web site for English speaking sailors, I wouldn’t design the site in Chinese with lots of photos of caves and provide information on work trucks.
Sound far fetched? It’s a lot more than that of course. But you can see equivalent sites on the Web. Instead of Chinese, they may use industry jargon that is foreign to their audience. Instead of cave photos, they garnish their sites with graphics that have no relevance aside from just being attractive. Instead of providing information on work trucks, they provide specifications and content that is completely irrelevant to the purchasing decisions of those visiting the site.
Common sense tells us to give the visitor what they are looking for in a way they can understand it. We should only use Web site elements that contribute to getting them to look further and take action without confusing them in the process. Usability knowledge also tells us that if we make it hard on them, they will click their mouse and away they go from your site.
In other posts, I have spoken about how important it is to design your Web site for the people who will be coming to it. These are customer profiles. In the Web world we call these Web site visitor “personas.” The more specific the information you have about visiting personas, the easier it is to align your site design and content to their needs. Persona profiles should include both demographic and psychographic information. Some organizations reach the point of creating a fictional person who represents what they know about their visitor. They create the design and write the content specifically for that individual or individuals who represent the personas of their desired visitors. This effort to personalize each persona makes it easier to develop content.
In designing your Web site, you should start with market research. Please tell me you do this! The research identifies your primary customer visitor profile(s). Let’s say it is a blue collar male worker who likes to fish. Let’s call him John. John is between 35 and 50 years of age with a fifth grade reading level. He is married with teenage children. He is visiting your Web site looking for fishing and boating products for his 15 ft. fishing boat.
Usability is common sense. If you were going to make it easy for John to use your site, find what he is looking for and make it easy for him to purchase it. Ask yourself, what you need to do to the site to help John? What other things in way of design and content could you do to develop him as a loyal and repeat customer?
- First of all you would want to make your Web site easy for him to use. How easy is it for John to accomplish basic tasks the first time he encounters your site? What about future visits? Can he re-establish his proficiency in using the site quickly? Remember the more intuitive your user interface, the better it is to use.
- Does the site provide what the user needs? It doesn’t matter if the site is easy to use, if it’s not what the visitor wants. If the entry or "landing" page fails to clearly state what John is looking for, he will leave the site. If the information is hard for John to read or doesn’t answer his questions, he will look elsewhere. If he visits your site and the first thing he sees is information on celestial navigation, yacht accessories, sailing races, etc., he will click away from the site. If he cannot easily find what he is looking for, he certainly cannot buy it.
So if you didn’t employ usability guidelines in your Web site's design, and if you didn’t test your site’s usability with members of your visitor profile or persona, you probably have usability issues with it.
In a future post, I will discuss more aspects of usability practices and how you can better assure your Web site's design is working for your intended visitor. In the meantime, you might want to look at the U.S. government’s report on this issue: Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines