Guest post by Andy Hayes of Travel Online Partners
If you’re not familiar with website usability, the term might make you think of scientists in white lab coats and Rubik’s Cubes.
Funny, but not quite accurate.
What Is Usability?
For those of you who don’t know me, I currently am a writer, coach and own a few online businesses. Before that, I was working in enterprise web software (really, really big websites) for an international bank. In that role, one of my primary concerns was how usable our software was to the thousands of employees that were on our system. We had spent a fortune on the software, so we wanted people actually use it.
While my websites’ users and my business goals are now very different than way back then, I continue to follow some of the principles of usability that we used, and I’m still experimenting to try to understand how they apply to my current businesses. Usability, to me, is simply:
Making it as easy as possible for folks to decide to buy from you — and closing the deal.
That’s it and nothing more. One day, you might be working on your content. Yes, that’s copywriting but that’s usability too. Tomorrow maybe it is a new color for your buy now buttons. That’s graphic design, and usability. Usability is where all of those different skills come together to do just what it says above – getting visitors to take action, start to finish.
With definitions out of the way, how can usability improve your website and help you close the deal with more customers? How can you actually make some usability tweaks to your own website? Let’s talk through some examples.
Usability is Testing – Something You Should Be Doing Anyway
A lot of usability is testing – showing your ideal readers and ideal customers pages on your website, and then asking them questions. You should already be doing this. How can you improve if you don’t know how well you’re doing?
Most website owners have Google Analytics or another website tracking package. This tells you about your traffic, of course, and it can also be used to deduce lots of other information.
The misunderstanding is that much of the information in analytics tools are symptoms of a problem, not the actual problem itself. Your bounce rate (the number of people who arrive and immediately leave) might be high, but no software can tell you if your customer is confused by your wording or if it’s actually the garish color scheme that nobody can read on their monitor.
I’ll use a personal example from my consulting website, Travel Online Partners. We offer marketing support for travel businesses. It even says that in the banner of the website, so one would assume you couldn’t be more clear, right? Wrong. After we launched, analytics told us that our search engine referrals had almost a 100% bounce rate, with many other referring sites not far behind.
Why were so many people showing up and then leaving immediately? Analytics told us the symptom, but it wasn’t until we spoke to readers that I heard the actual problem: “Oh, I didn’t see the banner. I thought you were a travel agency.” Problems like this aren’t too difficult to fix, but you need to know what’s wrong.
Homework: Even if your business is entirely online, get out and talk to some people. You’ll be surprised at what you hear. How many times have you heard “you do what? Why didn’t I know that?” or “you know what would be great? If on your website, you could….” Do you have any symptoms of potential issues lurking in your analytics stats?
In usability, details count. And by details, I really do mean details! It’s just the littlest tiny things that can make a big difference. Amazon is the king of paying attention to detail; even today, they routinely rotate out different page layouts, button colors, and other site options to test to see if they can get you to buy more. Everything spec of detail you see on Amazon is there for a reason.
I’ll use another personal example, this time about the fold. You more than likely know about above the fold / below the fold (that is, content that appears with or without scrolling). But did you know that on the fold is also important as well?
Last month, on my travel magazine we made a tiny change to our homepage. By intention, the last five articles published appear across the bottom line of the page, with part of the title scrolling off the page.
This has resulted in dropping our bounce rate by about 20%. Is it possible that other factors are contributing to that drop? Yes. I could have made this a very “official” test by implementing what’s called “A/B testing” – which requires software, such as the free Website Optimizer provided by Google, which will randomly serve the different versions of your page and then track the results.
For small businesses, I only recommend this for your bigger changes as it adds complexity and overhead, and by that I mean your time. I prefer to just go out and ask people, or try out the change and watch my stats closely.
Homework: Can you identify these tiny points in your website where tweaks can make the biggest difference? From the usability perspective, walk through the site as if you are your Ideal Reader. Every page. Start to finish. What works and what is confusing?
Getting Out of Your Own Way
Having done many website evaluations over the years, I’ve seen some websites completely off the mark, and others that are just a smidge away from the bullseye. The biggest problem I see? Websites getting in their own way. What do I mean by that?
Here are just a few of the examples of where websites get in the way of their own success. These are all problems of usability in my mind:
- Pages on a website that nobody can get to – because they aren’t linked anywhere.
- Having one of those menus where you have to have a martial arts degree to get the drop downs to appear. Or worse, a menu who keeps moving around like a chameleon.
- Sales pages and product descriptions that don’t reflect what is currently on offer. You changed direction and forgot to update the page. “Copyright 2008.” Whoops!
- Hiding away testimonials. You’ve got testimonials, right? Do you have them on (almost) every page?
- Download pages that offer you too many options – an affiliate link here, a banner ad there, oh, and way down here is your product. Too many choices and I’ll choose nothing.
- No enthusiasm. Your Ideal Customer probably doesn’t need you doing jumping jacks on video, but come on – if you aren’t excited about your offer, why should your customer be?
You might be saying to yourself – hey, I know how to do these things! That’s why I try demystify the topic of usability, because everybody understands the concept of getting your customer to go from not knowing who you are to being a happy customer ready to refer others to you. It’s pulling every skill you have together to make using your website effortless.
Homework: Do you have roadblocks in the way of letting them do exactly that? Instead of focusing on the detail, like we did before, step back and think big picture. If this was your first time on the website, what would you think?
Think Traffic. Think Conversions. Think Usability.
You’ve got great traffic because you know the secrets of Think Traffic. Corbett’s inner mojo gives you the tools and information to bring quality visitors to your website. But what are you doing with them once they get there?
That’s where website usability comes in. A website that understands usability to their advantage can outperform a similar website that doesn’t have the same tricks and tweaks.
Whatever your goal is – to make money, to educate, to inspire, to entertain – make sure you’re doing it as best you can. Usability can help. Can you honestly say with an emphatic YES that you make it as easy as possible for folks to decide to buy from you—and close the deal?
Photo by Siddy Lam