Why Usability is Key to Success Online
On the Internet it's survival of the easiest. Now more than ever, a web site's success is dependent upon how usable it is. The main reason why usability is vital online is because usability has a direct impact on the potential revenue your web site can produce. For example, if a user goes to a web site to buy a book, but they can't figure out how to use the shopping cart, they won't be able complete the purchase online. If a user can't use your site they will leave it (most likely to go to a competitor) and never become online customers. A web site has to make it as easy as possible for a user to complete a desired task.
Most people have the misconception that the success of a web site is in how many unique visitors their web site receives. This is completely untrue. It doesn't matter how many people visit a site; what matters is what they do. A true measure of online success reflects the achievement of the desired goals of the web site. Your site's conversion rates (percentage of visitors who take a desired action) are the real proof that your web site is achieving its goals. For example, if the goal of a web site is to sell shoes and it receives 2,000 unique visitors, but only sells 1 pair (a 0.050% conversion rate), you can't honestly say that the web site is a success. Making even the smallest usability enhancements (rewording vague labels, making things easy to find, getting the pages to load fast, adding security and privacy statements, etc.) will have a positive impact on your conversion rates.
Another misconception I've come across quite often is… "We don't have an e-commerce site so usability is not a main concern of ours". I can see how this may seem true since the ROI is not measured in dollars and cents, but you have to look at it from a different angle. Every web site has a purpose. There is always a call to action that you want the user to be able to make after or during their visit to your site. That action is your return; it may not always be revenue. For example, if you have an information site (brochure-ware), your call to action may be in product inquires and/or generation of leads. If the user is frustrated or annoyed by your web site then they may never make the call to inquire about the product. Usability is all about making the goals of your site easily achievable. After all, there's no point in having a web site if people can't use it affectively.
Unlike the offline world, a user will experience the usability of a site before they commit to purchasing from it. This can be a big issue if you have an e-commerce site that contains: broken links, unwarranted pop-ups, misleading labels, confusing navigation, scripting errors, broken images or anything of the like. It's important to keep in mind that with every UNSUCCESSFUL iteration that a user experiences while traversing your site, no matter how small it may seem, their trust in your site depreciates.
The lists below depict some of the most common usability issues that every web site should avoid:
|Lack of Objective
The Good News...
With usability, implementing the smallest changes can have a huge impact on how successful your web site is. Adding usability enhancements to an existing site doesn't have to be an arduous or expensive process. For instance, a mantra I have always stuck to, which is also one of the cheapest usability methods anyone can employ, is "question everything". Always ask yourself why you are putting something on your site. Is it just because you saw it on someone else's site? Or, my personal favorite… is it because that's just what you've always done on your web site? Continually ask yourself: "what value will this add to my site". I understand that sometimes this can be hard to do. A lot of us are too close to the projects we work on to look at them objectively. Keeping the naïve user perspective isn't always easy, but it's the cornerstone of practicing good usability and achieving success online.