The Lost Art of Website Usability

You’ve optimized the hell out of your site and now you’ve got visitors flocking to your pages in droves. The problem is that your site is about as user friendly as a bear trap. And chances are the poor usability of your website, like the bear trap, is going to cause you to lose a valuable customer.

Web Analytics to the rescue! …sort of.

Search engine marketers and online businesses alike love their web analytics tools. Unique visitors, top referring URLs and most popular pages have become some of the line items for measuring a website’s success. I mean, who wouldn’t love the ability to track every little move your visitors make, converting each click into a dollar amount?

And these days it’s fairly easy to track just about everything:

  • Did the visitor view more than 3 pages?
  • Did he come from Google?
  • What keywords did he type to get there?
  • Was he frustrated by the confusing navigation?

Ah, the Achilles Heel of web reports–the dreaded “user experience” factor! Was the user frustrated? Maybe, but our analytics tools can’t tell us that. These tools can only give us the end result of the user’s experience but can’t quite tell us what drove the user to act a certain way. One of the main reasons why website usability is often the last thing considered in marketing a site is simply because it’s almost impossible to track and very difficult to assess.

When you optimize your website for the search engines you’re really only halfway there.

Site owners need to consider the other half of the optimization process: optimizing for website usability. Specifically, what is the user going to encounter once they get to the site, and how easy have you made it for them to find what they’re looking for? Your efforts at naturally optimizing your site have paid off and driven significant traffic to your site. Now you need to convert those leads! For an ecommerce site this may mean getting a new visitor to purchase your product or service. For bloggers this may mean convincing the new visitor to become a regular subscriber. Whatever the goal of the site, it is important to have a website that is intuitive and as easy to navigate as possible. Frustrated users will look elsewhere for their answers, no matter how well-optimized your site is.

Here are just a few of the usability pitfalls encountered on many sites today:

  • Confusing navigation system
  • Company logos that aren’t linked back to the home page
  • Unconventional navigational elements (ie, “Problems” instead of “FAQs” or “Company Info” instead of “About Us”
  • Links that open new browser windows unexpectedly
  • Unnecessary instructions (ie, a full paragraph of instructions on how to use the “Contact Us” page form)
  • Faux links (ie, images that say “Email us today” but don’t open an email when clicked)
  • Duplicate main and sub-navigational elements
  • No way to contact site owner

In an upcoming post I will outline some of these major usability pitfalls and reasons why they may be creating a negative user experience on your site. In the meantime, optimize your website for both the search engines AND the people who will use it. And always remember that it’s great to have new visitors, but it’s even better to create a solid relationship with those visitors once they’re on your site.

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