Usability is most often defined as the quality of the user’s interaction with a system or product. In the context of this article, we will be dealing specifically with website usability.
Whether a website’s primary purpose is to get the user to perform a desired function (conversion) or simply to impart information, the first step is to get them there, and the second is to keep them there. To that end, there are a number of aspects that must be addressed.
The purpose of the site must be crystal clear, whether offering information, services or products. If the user isn’t immediately certain that they’ve found what they’re looking for, they’ll go elsewhere, quickly.
If the specific topic they seek is difficult to locate, or if navigation to that topic is uncertain, they’ll give up very quickly, and try another site. If the content is verbose and unclear, they’ll likely look elsewhere, as well.
Basic Characteristics of Usability
Obviously, after going to all the effort of making your website easy to find, it would be foolish and counterproductive to put less effort into making it easy to use. Here are some basic characteristics of usability that all websites should strive to satisfy:
- Clear and easy to use – Both navigation and content should be easily understood and easily applied.
- Efficient – Navigation, captions and content flow should be intuitive. Don’t make your users guess.
- Recoverable – If a user errs in navigation, it should be easy to back up a step or two, and make a different choice. Breadcrumbs are often very helpful in this regard.
- Memorable – The easier you make it for the user to find what they’re looking for, the more pleasant their experience will be, and the easier they will find the next service or product on your site.
- Intuitive navigation, with logical categorization, will be easily remembered, and will lead to more conversions.
The Benefits of Usability
The benefits enjoyed by your users are various, and will translate into better ROI (return on investment) for you. They will quickly and easily find what they’re looking for, and will have a more enjoyable experience in doing so. As a result, the next time they have a need, they’ll remember your site as one they can trust.
John S. Rhodes, the prominent usability expert and the developer of PRS (Practical Review System), says:
“Data indicates that usability offers a better return on investment than almost any other business action. When times get rough, usability shines. The benefits are huge. Usability is a weapon that can save you money, improve your competitive position, and improve customer loyalty. Now is the time to invest in the research.”
Simply stated, a failure to address appropriate usability standards is tantamount to referring potential clients to your competitors. There’s not much return on investment in that!