No one wants to have to work to find the information they want from your website. With nearly one billion unique websites across the Internet, a frustrated user will simply look for what they need on some other site. You can have the best products or services imaginable, but if your customers can’t easily find what they’re looking for, or complete the tasks they came to your site to complete you’re likely losing visitors and potential customers to the competition. Ignore your small business website usability at your peril.
What is website usability?
Simply put, your website usability is how easy and intuitive it is for visitors to navigate your website and efficiently meet their goals for their visit. Usability encompasses everything from how quickly your website pages load to how effective your search function is to how quickly visitors can find the information they are looking for, to how easily and quickly a customer can make a purchase from your site.
Website usability terms you need to know:
The concept of website usability has a language all of its own. Knowing these few terms can make it easier to sift through the volumes of information on the subject.
Ease of learning.
How fast can a user learn to navigate your site and use its functions to meet their goals the first time they visit the site? Is the navigation clear and intuitive? Are the labels, terminology and functions clear and easily understood or do they have a learning curve?
How much will a past visitor remember about how to use your site the next time they visit?
Efficiency of Use:
How fast can a user accomplish a desired task once they are familiar with your website. Looked at another way, how many clicks does it take a visitor to find what they are looking for?
This includes everything from broken links to bad navigation to flash components that freeze a user’s browser. This can also include the ability for a visitor to recover from an error, either due to a website problem or due to ineffective choices or clicks by the visitor. After a problem can the user easily return to where they started?
What is the user’s perception of how easy the site is to navigate and complete the tasks they want to perform. Does the visitor leave feeling positive about their interactions with your site or do they leave unfulfilled, frustrated, or unable to complete the tasks they came for?
Why is website usability important for my small business?
A primary reason to enhance and maintain your website usability is to provide a better user experience for your visitors. The more effectively your visitors can use your site and complete their tasks, the more likely they are to engage with your website, return in the future and eventually become a customer.
Additionally, as important as higher sales are to your business, selling more product isn’t the only advantage to testing and enhancing your website usability. If your business is like most small businesses, your resources are limited. Most small business owners and managers are responsible for everything from hiring to customer service to marketing to purchasing. Other potential benefits of strong website usability providing a positive user experience include:
- Easier and Less frequent website maintenance. Since most small businesses do not have a dedicated web developer on staff the care and feeding of the website often falls to the person in the company with the most Internet savvy, whether that person is the owner or the bookkeeper. Having a more user-friendly website that performs well and delivers solid user experience means less time taken away from other business responsibilities.
- Customer Loyalty. The easier your site is to use, the more likely your customers and sale prospects are to return and to feel loyal to your company and brand. The greater the value of the content and functionality of your website the more likely visitors are to share your content and recommend your site to other people.
- Lower Costs: A well performing, highly usable website can result in lower support costs, fewer customer service questions, and potentially fewer returns if you are an Ecommerce business. When visitors easily find the information they need and complete the tasks they came for, the fewer email questions or support phone calls you will receive. And most likely, a higher sale volume.
Jakob Nielsen, of the Nielsen-Norman Group, is an expert in the field of usability. In his article “Usability 101: Introduction to Usability” he sums the importance of website usability very succinctly,
“On the Web, usability is a necessary condition for survival. If a website is difficult to use, people leave. If the homepage fails to clearly state what a company offers and what users can do on the site, people leave. If users get lost on a website, they leave. If a website’s information is hard to read or doesn’t answer users’ key questions, they leave. Note a pattern here?” More about Jakob Nielsen here.
Four things you should know to improve your small business website usability:
Now that we have provided a basic explanation of website usability and why it is important and defined some key terminology what else should you know? So, what about those four things you should know that the title mentioned?
1. Website Speed and Performance is a Very Important: Use a quality web hosting company. Test the performance of your site on both desktop and mobile platforms. If your website is frequently inaccessible or if the time it takes for your website pages to load are long or fluctuate widely visitors will have a bad user experience and leave.
The last thing you want is for your hosting company not to be able to handle the traffic generated by a new promotion or by seasonal demand. Invest in good hosting to make sure that your pages are always available when your customers want to buy, whether that’s in the middle of the night or the middle of the holiday season.
2. Aim for clarity: Industry jargon and terminology can confuse a potential customer and cause them to find another site where they can better understand how the website works or what they are buying. To avoid falling into the jargon trap, have some friends or family members from outside your industry review your text before adding it to your live website. Don’t assume that everyone is familiar with your specific industry jargon or buzzwords.
Another area for clarity is in the website navigation. Is the navigation clear and intuitive? Does your navigation structure allow visitors to find what they want in the fewest number of clicks possible or is your site more like a scavenger hunt? Are the locations of your navigational links clear and intuitive? Are the terms and labels that you use for navigation free of jargon and buzzwords so all visitors will understand them?
3. Allow for Visitor feedback: You’d be surprised at the amount of useful feedback on how to improve your site you can glean from your customers and visitors. After all, they are the ones clicking around your pages. Make it easy for users to tell you where they might be having problems with your site and what their ideas for improving your website usability.
Another type of valuable visitor feedback comes from your website metrics. Do you have a high bounce rate? Is your average visitor exploring less than 2 pages per visit? These are commonly known as “engagement metrics” as they provide an indication of how “engaged” visitors are with your website. Low levels of engagement may indicate that visitors aren’t clear about what your site does, or your website pages take too long to load (visitors leave), or visitors cannot figure out what to do next once they arrive at your site.
4. Test your Website: It’s often difficult (if not impossible) to be objective about your website design when you’re intimately familiar with it. Getting objective feedback from people who have no stake in your design or website is very valuable.
While visitor feedback is great, only a small percentage of visitors will take the time to provide feedback. If the problem is significant enough most visitors will just leave and find what they need somewhere else.
Make sure that your site will be friendly to your customers by having people from outside your design team and your company perform usability testing. Don’t just assume your website is wonderful. And definitely don’t base your usability assessment of the perception that “my site looks great.” There are a number of online testing companies for this function. You can also do testing on your own – see our post on “Small Business Website Usability Quick Win” for some ideas.
An important take away from this post is “Don’t Assume” that everything works flawlessly for your visitors. For many small businesses launching a major revision of their website ends with a sigh of relief and something along the lines of, “Glad that’s over.” If you haven’t done any real testing or gathering of usability and user experience input prior to launch, wait no longer.
Improving your website usability should be a goal for every small business. It’s one of the few ways that companies with limited resources can compete with–and even surpass–large companies in their attractiveness to customers. If you have not evaluated your website usability lately (or not at all), you should do so soon or hired a professional to do it for you. Be sure to make it a priority for your company and reap the benefits.
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