Eight web usability killers

Your website seems great to you. You're proud of the fact that you're online and getting hits. But are your site users happy with your site? Are they successful at obtaining the information, completing the tasks, or finding and purchasing the products they need?

Many web sites considered robust and healthy by their owners may be suffering from life-threatening diseases.

1. "Our website has everything we want our customers and suppliers to know"

Providing all the necessary information is not the same as presenting and organizing this information effectively.

Content may be hard to navigate and text may be written in organisation terminology rather than typical user language. There may be too much information on each page for users to manage and assimilate. You may have arranged the information in a way that makes sense to you, but not to your users. Perhaps it could be broken up into easier to handle, and clearly distinguished, categories and sub-categories. Bold text heads and sub-heads can help guide users through the data.

Links may be labeled in a manner that users do not readily understand. Are you presenting the information your users really need and seek? Are you absolutely sure of their specific requirements and interests? What market research backs up your answers? What do your referrer logs tell you about where users are coming from?

2. "I don't see any faults in our website"

You're not a typical web site visitor. You may have better web navigation and computing skills. You definitely have greater knowledge of your organisation and its products.

The only way to know for certain that users are satisfied and successful in using your web site is to conduct live usability testing.

3. "Our website looks great and has lots of nice graphics"

While visual appearance is certainly vital for credibility, large graphic files can cause usability problems by increasing download time, to the point that users may leave your site before a page even downloads. Improperly used, images can be distracting, irrelevant and a waste of online real estate.

Pictures of customers using product to solve real problems, with ‘before and after’ shots, are more effective than showing vaguely happy people standing around, or products just sitting there. Photos of staff with biographies, and even actual office buildings, can enhance the credibility of your organisation.

4. "Our website gets lots of hits and wins awards"

Quantity of hits means very little. What matters is keeping users in your site beyond a few cursory page views, and the conversion of website visitors to customers, donors, investors, volunteers, or qualified job applicants. What are your conversion rates? Conversion is often an incremental process and could include:

  • Downloading an article
  • Viewing your about us, services;, or client list pages
  • Using your contact us form
  • Purchasing a product

Awards are nice, but they don't translate into bottom line profits. Generally, they're based on visual design, functionality, innovation, and organisation-oriented problem solving, which are important issues in their own right. So definitely show, and explain, your awards in the site to enhance prestige, but don't judge website effectiveness or user satisfaction by these industry accolades.

5. "Our organisation, and therefore our website, is trustworthy"

Don't assume users will trust you just because your organisation is well known. For example, if your website looks amateurish, or is perceived to be hyping products too hard, users probably won't trust it, no matter how ethical your organisation is or how much quality your products possess.

When a website lacks credibility, usability issues become irrelevant. Why? Because users quickly depart from websites they feel uncomfortable about or don't trust. Please read Web credibility: The basics for more on this.

6. "Our website meets our organisation's goals"

Most users are probably not interested in your corporate goals, mission statements, or marketing strategies. Users generally care about solving their own problems. They have needs to satisfy, news to acquire, tasks to complete, information to find. Have you defined these issues? Are you sure your website addresses these concerns?

Usability must be seen as dual in nature: fulfilling both organisational goals and user needs. User needs always come first. Give users priority and they'll reward you with loyalty - and increased sales, donation, or volunteer activity.

7. "Our website provides us with an online presence - that's all we need "

Your website is your global shop front, your universal display of who you are, not just a location in cyberspace to which you can refer clients.

More people will see your website than will ever see your corporate headquarters. An unprofessional, self-centered website broadcasts loudly and clearly to the entire world: "We either don't know much, or don't care much, about online marketing."

8. "Our website is just as good as our competitors"

Comparing your site with your competitors' is a risky venture. They may be doing a less than exemplary job of satisfying the needs of site visitors and converting them to customers, contributors, volunteers, investors, or employees.

Monitor competitors, but be wary of assuming their online marketing is successful or worthy of imitation. By recognizing and complying with usability guidelines, your site can be vastly better than theirs in efficiency, credibility, profitability, and user satisfaction.

Conclusion

Compliance with these recommendations will enable your website to develop an immunity to some of the most devastating illnesses known to afflict even the most well-intentioned web sites. Here's to the good health of yours!

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