An introduction to usability

Business websites have a number of goals, but more often than not you will find these two:

  1. Drive more traffic to the website
  2. Increase the number of conversions the website creates.

In other words, they want the website to work for them.

If there is one thing other than marketing that will help increase conversions, it’s usability.

Usability is all about looking at your website and figuring out how usable it is. You might ask questions like:

  • Do your visitors easily find the content they are after?
  • Do they drop off halfway through filling out a form?
  • Are the total visits to key pages very low?

It boils down to this question – Is your website easy to use?

Without a usable website, all of your marketing efforts in driving traffic will be worthless as people will get to your website, get frustrated and leave.

You might think that your website is easy to use, but you’re familiar with it. Most of your visitors are viewing your website for the first time, so they don’t know how your site works.

Your link that says ‘Employment opportunities’ might be obvious to you, but if it requires any thought, then people will get it wrong – ‘jobs’ would be a more suitable link.

Below are some basic usability principles to help give you an understanding of how usability might affect your website.

What does your website do?

This is a very important question in usability.

When looking at any page within your website, can you quickly identify what your company does?

If you can’t, then your visitors definitely won’t be able to!

If they can’t identify what you do, or what you offer, then they won’t know where to start looking on your website and are very likely to leave, so you must make it obvious who your company is, and what your company does.

This information can be portrayed through effective design, a catchy tag line and clever use of content areas on your website.

Is your website easy to navigate?

Navigation is vital on a website, and you will often find more than one way to move around between pages.

You must make sure that the titles to each section are extremely descriptive – using just one or two words if possible.

The titles must make complete sense to anyone viewing the website, so if you have a page that tells people about your company, don’t call it “find out about us”, call it “about” or “about us”.

People are familiar with these terms and will know exactly what they can expect to find within those pages.

People see your website in blocks

The average user won’t read through every piece of content on your website – they will skim it and look for keywords that match what they are looking for.

This means that related elements must be grouped together and separated from other groups, to save the user from getting completely lost.

If you look at your web page and squint your eyes, does everything look like one big block?

If so, then it’s likely that your visitors won’t find important or relevant bits of information.

Effective blocks should maintain a consistent template and contain related information. So you might have a block for recent updates, and another for popular products.

This makes it easy for your visitors to find the information that they are looking for and skim over the rest.

Everything that is clickable should look clickable

How many times have you been to a website and clicked on an image to find out it’s not actually a link? – That is an example of bad usability.

It should be immediately obvious which elements on a page can be clicked.

The easiest way to test for this is to watch someone using your website. Where do they click? Where do they point their mouse? What are they looking for on the page?

Forms should be simplified

There are typically three reasons why people stop filling in forms:

  1. The form is too long
  2. The input validation is too strict
  3. The labels don’t make sense
  4. They are requesting information the user doesn’t want to share

If your form is asking people to register, and all you really need is their username and password, then make sure you only request their username and password.

Your visitors will be put off by a registration form that is asking for their address, phone numbers, post codes, mother’s maiden name and what car they drive.

So don’t put it in.

You must take the time to consider what information you actually need when creating forms and if you need lots of extra information, then state why you are asking for it. Don’t hide that statement in your privacy policy – tell them there and then.

Summary

In summary, usability is looking at your website and identifying areas where your visitors will struggle. This could be because they can’t identify who you are and what you offer, or because a form is so long it scares them away.

By looking at the usability of your website, you will increase conversions and make your customers happier.

Good usability should be seamless and un-noticed, but bad usability will certainly be noticed and drive people away from your website.

About Alberon

We have been designing and building bespoke software solutions and websites for organisations in Oxford for over 12 years, helping them to work more effectively and realise their full potential.

Our friendly, highly experienced team of web designers and software developers are dedicated to helping our clients achieve the outcomes they want. From web design and development, to complex software solutions, we apply our creative and technical know-how to deliver the perfect solution.


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