In my previous article I provided a 24-point SEO checklist to improve your website’s accessibility. Today, I’ll be looking at website usability. I want to help you create the best possible experience for your visitors (as well as improve your search rankings).
Why is usability important?
For your potential customer
Your website tells a story. It represents everything you want to communicate to your customer. Usability is important because it helps visitors do what you want them to do i.e. buy your products/services, pick up the phone and call you, read one of your articles, or sign-up to your newsletter.
For improved rankings in the SERPs
Search engines are constantly trying to improve their search results by making sure they provide the best possible results for users: one of the factors that search engines consider is usability. Making sure a visitor stays on your site, visits more pages and enjoys interacting with your site are all positive signals that are likely to improve your search rankings.
So without wasting any time, let’s jump straight in.
1. What is the objective?
OK, first things first. Think about what the objective of your website is. What it is you are trying to communicate to your audience? When the intent of the site is clear, it makes it easier to produce content for your visitors.
Every page of your website should be created with care, but pay particular attention to the home page. For most websites the home page acts as a doorway for a large proportion of the site’s entire traffic – it is important to ensure that the home page clearly communicates the site’s purpose, and includes clear navigation.
One of the best examples of a clear homepage is salesforce.com. Within few seconds of arriving at the homepage it’s clear what services the business provides.
Top tip: Make sure your site communicates a clear message. Test this by asking someone who’s never seen your site before to look at your home page. After five seconds ask what their impressions are.
2: Clear call to action
Tell your visitors what to do next when they arrive on your site. It should be clear what you want them to do.
Whether it’s signing up to your newsletter, subscribing to your special offers, filling in your contact form, or picking up the phone, always tell them what they should be doing next. Have a clear call to action visible on the site.
The Sales Force home page banner has clearly defined calls to action.
3: Answer any uncertainty
Put yourself in your potential customer’s shoes. Browse your site and analyse; is it easy for them to read and understand your message? Is it compelling enough to push them through to conversion? Your job is to answer any questions or uncertainty. What might visitors be thinking when they come to visit your site? Try to reduce the risk for the visitor, for example:
- Is this site reliable?
- Will it solve my problem?
- What will happen if I am not satisfied with the product/service?
- Who used their services in the past, are they happy?
Clearly, you know your services/products well, but your website visitors are unlikely to have your knowledge. Is your message clear enough?
Top tip: Make sure you avoid using technical jargon and or phrases that may be ambiguous or have a double meaning. Keep your message simple and clear.
4: Website navigation
Navigation is fundamental to website usability. Regardless of what kind of website you have, it is imperative that users are able to find information easily, otherwise your visitors will quickly go elsewhere.
We often find ourselves on a web page without knowing what to do next. The navigation is so well hidden or disguised that a proportion of visitors either won’t find it or know how to use it. Navigation is the single most important element in creating accessible and usable web sites.
Top tips: website navigation must be well constructed, easy to use and intuitive. Your site logo should appear on every page of the site and link to the home page. Always have About Us, and Contact Us links that are easy to find.
5: Avoid long paragraphs
If you have big chunks of text on your website, it will be easy for visitors to get lost in the words. It is a good idea to break up test into short paragraphs like this one.
Where possible, use sub headings. If your visitors are like me (a skimmer) then they can just read the sub heading and still grasp the message.
Top tip: Break up paragraphs into bulleted lists. Highlight important information in bold and italics.
Here’s an example. Kenburn Waste Management have a lot to talk about on their home page. The use of headings and bullets makes it easy for the visitor to read and understand the message quickly.
6. Use images
Photos, charts and graphs can make a huge difference to the user experience. For e-commerce websites, product images are one of the most important aspects of your design. While most products can look great in a photo, it is important that your images match your website’s overall look and feel and your company’s image (as in the example below):
Top tip: There is an informative article on How Images Can Boost Your Conversion Rate from Peep Laja that is worth a read.
7: Meaningful, friendly URLs
Meaningful, friendly URLs not only play an important role for higher search engine rankings, but also help your visitors to determine what the page is about.
The URL below from Feather Skin is a brilliant example of a meaningful URL. By looking at the URL, a user would be able to tell that the page they are visiting is about mens leather biker jackets.
Top tip: Keep the length of the URL as short as possible. We recommend a maximum length of 95 characters. Try to include keywords in the URL, as they provide a positive signal to search engines.
8. Site search
The site search option allows website visitors to search for information on your site. Often this is the information they hoped to find when they arrived. Visitors are getting into the habit of using site search as a quick option to find their desired information when they visit any website.
You can use Google Analytics to discover what visitors are searching for. So, if you spot questions that you’re not answering in your content, you may want to add them to your frequently asked questions (FAQ) page.
Top tip: You can use site search in Google Analytics to determine gaps in your content.
9. Testimonials and reviews
When building a business one of the biggest challenges you’ll face is to get people to believe in you and have confidence in what you sell. Once your site’s visitors know like and trust you, they are likely to buy from you.
One of the easiest ways to gain trust is to include testimonials and reviews on your site. Let your clients say how great you are and talk about the benefits of the product they have purchased – and you’re sure to see an increase in sales.
Top tips Make it easy for your visitors to write atestimonial or leave reviews about your services. Here’s an example: WatchCo.com are using a Facebook Plugin to allow users to leave a comment.
10: Simple signup and contact forms
Most sites have a contact form, it’s often the main way in which visitors will get in touch. You’ll get more enquiries if your contact form is easy to complete.
The more personal information you ask for from your visitors, the more off-putting it is for them to fill out, only ask for essential information. Here’s a simple form:
And here’s a registration form that contains lots of unnecessary boxes. It’s from the University of Westminster Business School short courses site. On its first page, the site’s sign-up form includes questions about dietary requirements, gender, and current and previous employment. While that information is important it could easily be collected AFTER the user has signed up for a course.
The first page of the form is much longer than shown, but you get the idea: it’s way too long!
11. Mobile site
Mobile is transforming our lives in almost every way by connecting our physical and digital world; likewise the number of people around the world using a mobile device to browse the internet is growing rapidly. On average around 25% of total website traffic comes from a mobile device. Nowadays, providing an optimised mobile site is essential.
There are various options available to consider when designing a website for mobile, here are the most popular ones.
- A mobile application (app) – creating a mobile app for iPhone, Android and other smart phones.
- A mobile website – developing a dedicated website for mobile devices, which has a different URL to the desktop site.
- Responsive design – developing flexible layouts that adapt to the screen that the website is being displayed on.
Google’s recommendation is to create a responsive design, and in most cases that’s the option we recommend to our clients.
The example below from the ‘Presents for Men’ gift site shows three different versions of the site when browsed by an Apple desktop computer iPhone, an iPad and an iPhone:
Your website is your best salesperson
Treat your website like your company’s digital sales person: it can generate leads and sell your products.
If your (human) sales person couldn’t answer potential clients’ key questions, or if he fails to state clearly what your company offers, you’d probably say they were failing, wouldn’t you? Similarly, if a web site is difficult to use, it’s failing. You would want to think about getting professional help to improve its performance.
Getting visitors onto your site is an important challenge. Yet, engaging with your site’s visitors and converting them into customers is just as important. Your website’s usability should be at the forefront of your digital marketing strategy.
If your website is suffering from poor engagement and low conversion rates, simply fill out the contact form below: