Website Usability and Website Success
Website usability is key to the success of a website – how easy it is to use. Can visitors find what they are looking for?
Are the categories easy to figure out – do they come from the point of view of your site visitor or are they driven by the site owner’s ego?
An example – being the beginning of the TV rating season I wanted to look up when one of my favourite tv series is returning. I know season 2 aired in the UK 8 months ago and I know season 1 made money for the station. So even though they haven’t promoted it yet I thought I could go to their website and find out when it is scheduled for – this season or mid-year season (should I have a friend buy season 2 dvd for me overseas or should I wait patiently – something I’m not good at).
To my frustration the tv station’s website only had info about a few (maybe 6) of their programs, not their full stable of tv series. I bounced around their site getting more and more frustrated with all the marketing for things not part of a tv station programming. Now this is a station who has come out saying they are serious about wanting more market share and they are spending big on sport, news and tv series to capture the audience share.
So as a customer who has fallen for one of their new tv series I found the usability of their website frustrating and the experience ended up confirming my old ideas of the business – that its not very good.
All because I had a negative experience of their website and found it difficult to use.
Yes, I could phone up and ask but to me now, that is another effort on my part when their website should have solved it already for me.
So the usability – how easy it is to use a website – is crucial for the success of the site.
Many graphic designer website creators think it is how funky and fancy the website is that matters but if visitors have to download technology to use the site there is a really big chance that they’ll go away and not come back. Where are the sales in that for you?
If the site takes a long time to download people will give it 5 – 10 seconds and then go away.
If the page background has a patterned wall paper or a dark colour it makes it really difficult to read the text because the eye has to work harder.
Now if your focus is on communicating a message to visitors – to customers – then you want a white background and black text with blue text for links.
When people are navigating around a site they tend to expect that the logo in the top left corner is linked to the home page – this also saves you from having a home page button which takes up valuable screen space.
Alternative text for images (pictures) is very valuable. Alternative text is the text that is displayed when the mouse is over an image.
Alternative text is used to communicate with your visitors about the image and if it is linked, but it is also read by search directories and is a valuable feature for your site.
What makes a site easy to use is simply a series of little things:
* keep the look and feel of the page clean and clear
* use a white background and avoid black and wallpapered backgrounds
* use sans-serif text like Arial (I know serif text like Times New Roman has better comprehension rates in print but for screen reading a sans-serif is best because of the continual minute movement of the screen)
* don’t have sounds attached to your website – people tend to kill noises on their computer and that often means they close offending websites. I’m yet to find good quality music that enhances my life attached to a website.
* make navigation easy with accessible buttons or linked text
* use readable fonts – don’t make them so small that visitors with good eyesight hunt around for glasses or a magnifying glass to read what you have to say. Size 2 is usually fine.
* be aware that fancy flash tools that require visitors to download technology to access your site will cost you visitors and therefore business. You can have a very good looking site with high usability without loosing visitors. If your designer says you can’t go somewhere else – it is just them that can’t deliver.
* alternative text for all images – buttons, pictures, logos – is valuable for visitors and search engines and are easy to have.
* the logo in the top left corner should be linked to the home page.
* make sure your contact details are easily accessible. To minimise spam don’t link email addresses as web crawlers go looking for the html code mailto: that’s required for linked email addresses. Either have the addresses unlinked and/or use forms.
* Use language that your visitors will easily understand – you want to communicate effectively with visitors so help them understand you. Glossaries are very useful tools.
Making your website easy to use will make you money.
If the site isn’t designed with visitors in mind along with your key business purposes then it will fail – it will be a costly exercise at 24/7 marketing.
When you get it right the website will be an excellent 24/7 marketing tool for you.
Jacob Nielsen is an expert on website usability and his website is www.useit.com – so go visit and explore.
It is your choice whether your website is easy to use or not. A website doesn’t have to be the fanciest creation in all the world – it does need to deliver on your business requirements and be a good return on your investment money you put into it.