How Usable Is Your Website?

web-website-laptop-surfing-blog-blogging
The most common user action on a Web site is to flee.”

–Edward Tufte

Every day there are hundreds of businesses that are either building their first website or completely re-doing their existing one. Unfortunately, many don’t consider the usability of their site during the design process. If you consider your website to be important, then the usability of that website to your customers should be important as well. What good is your website if it’s not intuitive, useful, credible, and valuable to your users? Additionally, what good is it if users can’t find what they are looking for quickly and efficiently?

Most business owners have no idea of the quality of their users’ experiences when they visit their websites. Many will never even know that prospective customers left their site after only a brief look at the first page.

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The bottom line is this, why would you spend the money to build a website, then take the chance that the majority of people you are trying to attract will not be able to utilize it. If people are not able to find what they are looking for or it is so difficult to navigate that they become frustrated, they will just leave the site. With a little extra effort, you can ensure that your website not only looks good, but is also usable and thus valuable and ultimately memorable.

It is important to separate the “usability” aspects from the “design” aspects of the website development. One could argue that the design affects the usability, which is true, but there are a number of areas centered on design that you won’t have to worry about. They will be addressed by the website development company — things like font style and text sizes used throughout the site will be taken care of by the use of best practices based on their experience and industry standards. Additional areas that the development company will address include site load time, text and background contrast, color scheme, use of images, critical content above the fold, styles, etc. All of these determine the initial look and feel of the website, but during this design phase, the actual accessibility and usefulness of the information also needs to be discussed along with the intuitiveness and efficiency of the site.

The look can be somewhat subjective, the usability is not. You can either find what you’re looking for easily, or you can’t. Testing should be performed with actual users, not company personnel. There are a number of ways these usability tests can be performed and there are a myriad of tools available to assist with and document the usability testing.

So what are we looking for when we perform usability testing? Basically, we want to identify what users need when visiting your site. What do they value about the site? What do they dislike? What are their abilities? What are the site’s limitations? In a nutshell, when looking at the site:

  • Does the content of the site fulfill a need? (Is it useful?)
  • Is information users are looking for easy to find? (Is it findable?)
  • Does the site evoke an emotion? (Image, logo, branding, design, etc.)
  • How quickly can visitors find what they are looking for? (Is it easy to navigate?)

Those are the basics. Additional areas would include:

  • What can I learn from the home page in 40 seconds?
  • Is the main navigation easy to find?
  • Are the labels clear and concise?
  • Are there a reasonable number of navigation labels?
  • Are the links consistent and easily identifiable?
  • Is the site search easy to find?
  • Are major headings clear and descriptive?

These are some initial questions to ask yourself as well as prospective users. In order to gain greater insight, testing should include:

  • General first look questions pertaining to the site (e.g., What was the first thing you noticed on the home page? What were your initial thoughts of the website? What would you change?)
  • First click testing — Participants are given specific tasks to perform and then their mouse clicks are observed, documented, and evaluated.
  • Efficiency — How fast can participants complete a given task? (e.g., How fast can they find and then purchase an item?)
  • Memorability — Upon leaving the site and returning, how much do they remember about accomplishing specific tasks? Can they repeat them?
  • Error Testing — How often did a participant make an error when attempting to accomplish a task? Did it frustrate them enough to stop trying?
  • Subjective satisfaction — More in-depth questions regarding their experience with the site. (e.g., Was the navigation intuitive? How would you improve it? Is there additional information that would have helped you accomplish the task?)

As stated earlier, there are many tools to help you accomplish the initial usability testing and to help with ongoing testing once the website is released. Some of the more notable tools are:

  • Heatmaps — Tracking software that shows you where users actually click on your site. You can see the hot and cold signatures of where the clicks resonate on each page.
  • Mouse tracking — Records mouse movement and clicking throughout your website.
  • Click map recorders — Tracks keystrokes, mouse clicks, and movement around the website.

In summary, usability will make or break your site. Customers are more demanding than they have ever been and if they don’t get instant gratification, they will move on. It’s not a question of whether you should be testing the usability of your site, it’s a question of how you are going to do it. If you don’t have the expertise, see if the website development company does. If they don’t, then go find someone who does.

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