July 17, 2009,
Website usability is not just about making sure everything on the site works. It's about creating an experience that makes it easy for users to find information and conduct business with you. There are a number of factors that influence usability including:
• How easy is it for a first-time visitor to navigate and complete a basic task?
• How quickly or efficiently can a visitor complete a task?
• Is it easy for visitors to remember how your site works when they return?
• More subjectively, does the user like visiting and using your site?
There are four key areas on which to focus when analyzing the usability of your website:
1) Navigation - Make your site is easy to understand and use with clear and consistent design on every page. Remember people search for items in different ways. Use your horizontal and vertical navigation to accommodate these differences. For example, the horizontal navigation on your site might sort by product type (mirrors, lamps, accent tables, etc.), but the vertical navigation might sort by style (contemporary, traditional, country, etc.). The fewer clicks the user must take to find the information she wants, the better. A good navigation should tell the user where she is, where she has been and where she can go at every point.
2) Content - Your content should be relevant to your target audience, up-to-date, error-free, credible, timely and include calls to actions. Keep text short and to-the-point. Online readers typically scan copy. In fact, users on average only read the first 20% of a page's content. Visuals are a great way to cut a long story short.
4) Search - Include this function on every page; keep it in the same place, and in contrast to surroundings. Check to be sure it returns relevant results. Be sure to accommodate for misspelled words. If a search gets "0 results", expand the query and just say what you did to get the results. Also be sure to include a site map which serves not only as a quick table of contents for the pages of your site, but also helps improve search engine optimization!
Another important area of your site to carefully review for usability is the shopping cart process. Shop.org has just released "The State of Retailing Online 2009: Merchandising Report" conducted by Forrester Research, Inc. The report reveals that eight out of ten retailers (79%) put enhancing their checkout process at the top of their to-do list for the remainder of this year. Specifically, they are making it easier for customers to understand shipping charges, track when packages leave the warehouse and delivery times.
"Retailers realize that, particularly during an economic downturn, shoppers who understand shipping charges at the beginning of the checkout process are less likely to abandon their purchases," says Sucharita Mulpuru, Forrester Research Vice President, Principal Analyst and lead author of the report.
In addition to providing availability and shipping information early in the process, consider these best practices to minimize shopping cart abandonment:
• Include a save order button so customers that leave the site can come back to complete the order without re-entering information.
• Allow the customer to revise the quantity, color or any other product options directly within the cart.
• Also include a link back from the shopping cart to each appropriate product detail page.
• Highlight tools to help the customer complete the order including online chat with a sales representative or a toll-free number to call for assistance.
• Include clear instructions for correcting any errors if the customer has filled out any forms incorrectly or information is missing.
• Consider a progress indicator on each page of the checkout process.
• Show product pictures in the shopping cart.
• Include your company's telephone and mailing address on the page so customers know you are a real business.
For more information on website usability check out these great resources:
www.useit.com: This is the website of Jakob Nielsen, long known as the guru of website usability. Nielsen has made a science out of web design. Published since 1995, Nielsen's Alertbox column gets more than 11 million page views each year.
www.Usability.gov: The government offers a comprehensive, step-by-step guide for developing usable and useful web sites. Information covers how to plan, analyze, design, test and refine your website including templates and examples.
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