Archive for Usability

Usability in a Website Context

Posted on 13 March 2012 by John Britsios

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!


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Why Usability An Important Part Of SEO

Posted on 20 October 2009 by John Britsios

Search engines work by determining the relevance of the sites which are in their indices to the search query being made by users. In order to get a site moving up through the results, a plan to not only have the content of the site relevant to what are determined to be the most important search terms, but also to make the site as usable as possible.

There are a number of factors which search engines use to determine the relevance and the importance of sites. One of these is whether a website has been bookmarked with social bookmarking services like Stumble Upon, Digg and Del.icio.us and others.

The search engines see sites as having more importance if users have thought them useful enough to bookmark and rank them accordingly.

Bounce rate is another factor which search engines use to determine page ranking. This refers to when a visitor leaves (or “bounces”) after only looking at one page or only stays a very short time.

The usability of your site is something that will help your site to gain more inbound links which originate from popular websites; the kind of links which are of higher value. If your site is easy to navigate, you’ll find that a lot more websites are willing to link to you.

There are some basic web design best practices which are beneficial from the standpoint of SEO as well as usability. Building your website with a clean, attractive design and putting your pages together with a logical hierarchy which is easy to navigate and is intuitive, given the content contained on your site. Every site needs a user-friendly navigation bar which appears on each and every page.

When you know your target market (which you should), you’ll be able to develop a design, architecture and navigation bar which will appeal to this group. Your site has to be not just user friendly, but friendly to your users in particular.

As you build your site, usability and SEO are equal concerns; there are some things you can do to take care of both at the same time, such as making the titles of each page (and where possible, even the URL) reflect the theme and content of each page.

As you design a new website, the factors of SEO and usability should be part of the design from the ground up. Before the first line of code is written, you should know the answers to the following questions:

What is your site for- and how will you know if it’s working?

There is more than one right answer here. Your site may be for directly selling a product or service, to appeal to prospective customers, a sort of interactive advertisement for your business, a resource for customers to reduce the workload on your customer support department or any combination of the above and other purposes. Whatever your site is for, you need to determine metrics to measure its success.

Who is your audience and what do they want?

This is an elementary question; if you’re not sure who your audience or target market is, you’ll need to take a step back and figure this out before you proceed. If you are trying to reach new demographics, you have to decide exactly who you are trying to get your message across to and tailor it to appeal to their interests.

Can your visitors find what they came to your site for?

Essentially, what you’re asking yourself here is whether your site is something that your audience will want to use. You may have already added the sort of content that these people are looking for – but you need to ask yourself if you’ve made it easy for them to find it on your site.

There is a usability test here often referred to as the “man from Mars” test. Take a look at your site and ask yourself this: if you were an alien who came across your site knowing nothing about you or your business, would you be able to quickly figure out what your site is about? Would you be able to navigate the site quickly to find specific information?

What you’re trying to establish here is whether your site is designed with a logical hierarchy which makes navigation intuitive. If your hypothetical alien couldn’t find what they were looking for in short order, the chances are that your customers won’t be able to either.

Making your online presence work

There is more to making your online presence work for you than search engine optimization alone; usability is just as important as SEO. Generally speaking, these two factors are complementary to each other.

A site which is built in accordance with web design best practices takes both if these into account to create an end product which fosters improved visitor interaction, a lower bounce rate, a better chance of getting high value inbound links and of course, a higher ranking in search results – a combination which equals higher sales, more visitors or any other goal you have set for your website.


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