Website usability is the key to a healthy, productive website and happy customers. Because a site that lacks focus, uniformity and usability can undermine the main goal of your website, it’s important to take a step back every now and again and ask yourself whether or not your website is truly working.
To do this, you’ll have to step into your users’ shoes.
This can be extremely useful, and may help you find answers to questions that frequently plague webmasters and business owners, such as:
Why do so many purchases get abandoned in the shopping cart?
Why is one page/product so much more popular than another?
Why is my bounce rate so high?
Ready to look at your website with fresh eyes?
If you’re ready to take a critical look at your website, take a step back and pretend you don’t know anything about your business. Maybe you have a question related to a certain product or service; or maybe you, like your users, have come to a particular page after performing a search for a keyword.
Whatever the case, it’s important to look at your site from a few perspectives. Take a look, for example, at the homepage, an interior page, the contact page, and the shopping cart.
From the homepage ask:
From an interior page, ask yourself these questions:
From the contact page, ask yourself:
From the shopping cart, ask yourself:
By looking at these aspects with fresh eyes, and an open mind, you will be able to see whether or not your website’s tools, content, and organization, is truly doing what you need it to do: engage your customers with useful content while moving them seamlessly from introduction to conversion.
If it’s not, it may be time to take a step back and begin to think about how you can reorganize your website and retarget your content to make the most out of every pair of eyes that finds your site.
Have you ever considered optimizing the usability of your site-search? If so, first consider why visitors would use the search box on your site. I can see two general reasons why they would use it:
There are three types of visitors when it comes to site search: search-dominant, browse-dominate and a blend of the two. Search-dominant users think they can get better results faster from searching the site. The fact that visitors have less time to look through all the potential websites to which Google points them and the ever-increasing amount of content in them supports why this type of visitor is becoming more prevalent all the time. The second visitor type is probably motivated to click and read though a site more than searching because they know where to find the content and think they can do so fast enough for their needs. Maybe they value the experience of exploring or perhaps they’re just ‘Feeling Lucky.’ The third type probably thinks they can find some content faster using a site-search and other content faster by browsing.
Sometimes, when new users come to your site, they’ll use the search feature, and in becoming familiar with the navigation on the pages to which your site-search directs them, they will become better at knowing where to find content on your site in the future. Therefore, returning users may use the site’s search feature less than new users. This probably means that your site’s overall usability and information architecture is effective.
My colleague, Joe, blogged about an increasing phenomenon in which users who have arrived on your site from search engines will then use your site’s search box, but will often search for terms so broad, it defies your understanding. He said that users may be using more precise (‘long-tail’) searches on Google to find your site and using broad search terms once on your site because they expect that it’s Google that needs the more precise search term. This makes sense because Google has billions of pages in its index and your site may only have 50 total pages.
In order to optimize the usability of your site-search, you have to get in the visitors’ heads. Sometime this is extremely difficult. This difficulty can be overcome, however, by reading usability reports and any psychological reports remotely related to this subject.
So, when you consider site-search optimization, realize that search engine traffic to your site (SEO), your own site-search and your site’s navigation are all inter-related. When you adjust one of these items, another one may be have to be adjusted in order to give your site the best usability possible.
Consider these suggestions:
I would like to share a few usability resources I have found that can quickly get you on your way to understanding your visitors and employing Best Practices for usability design.
Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D., is a patent holder and renowned usability guru. You can find invaluable reports as well as all the content from his free AlertBox newsletter.
Don’t Make Me Think (Book)
This book provides an easy to follow, non-technical, yet revealing perspective into what goes on in visitors’ minds when they see your site, from the first impressionable seconds to the interaction with navigation elements minutes later. It details many case studies and guides you with Best Practices for designing for visitors so that you won’t have to teach them to use your site–they’ll know instinctively and will not have to think. It’s a short, but thought-provoking read with suggestions that you will soon want to implement.
This organization produces an e-zine about usability and design issues. Some of the content is a theoretical, but you can take something away from every article. This site contains a glossary of usability-related terms and abbreviations, conference reviews and access to archived articles. Though they have been around for just two years, there is a lot of useful content.
See your tax dollars at work. Uncle Sam has compiled research and guidelines for developing usable web sites. They include topics on everything from planning to designing to testing and refining your website. You can also find newsletters, articles and events related to site usability. They also sell their Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines book, which includes contributions from ‘experts from across government, industry, and academia.’
A blogger with a large archive talks about ‘the user experience, design and strategy’ while applying news of current events in a broad range of topics from art to nanotechnology to Word of Mouth Marketing. In addition to the informative and interesting blog posts, lists of organizations, other blog sites, books and resources can also be found.
Poynter Institute runs tests on visitors’ eye movement behavior while reading multimedia and news-related websites. This site, as well as http://eyetrack.poynter.org/, gathers the findings and helps you understand what design decisions can help your site visitors look, and then hopefully click, where you want them to. Though this information is specifically pertaining to news websites, you should be able to apply the findings about images, font size and information recall to your design.
Originally published by Yale University, Webstyleguide.com presents a logical, prioritized approach to Best Practices in web design with an emphasis on user-centered design. The guidelines start with a discussion on the design process and design goals, and continue with interface, site and page design, and then delves into visual elements and editorial style.
This resource’s goal is to assist you in designing a website for user, and does so by combining and presenting knowledge gained from many researchers on human interaction with interfaces. The Software Usability Research Laboratory, the laboratory responsible for this site’s content, includes research from the previously mentioned Poynter University and Neilson. In this resource, along with its sister site, surl.org, much of the text is supported by parenthetical notations so you can find the original publication of a researcher’s findings. Though this site was last updated in March 2003, and some of the suggestions are no longer in use, surl.org’s newsletter is current as of July 2007.