Digital/Online Marketing Communications Strategy

The Most Overlooked Step To Website Success

By on November 23, 2009 in web user experience with 0 Comments

Have you ever linked to a web site only to leave right away because it was cluttered and confusing?

It happens all the time. Why struggle through a disorganized mess when it’s easy to hop off and head to another destination that offers the same services?

Just like in real life, clutter on the web presents lack of focus. What’s less obvious is how a visually appealing website can suffer from the same problem.

Hidden problems with hierarchy

Visual confusion occurs when too many elements on a page carry the same weight visually. There’s no clear starting point, or hierarchy. So a visitor’s eyes dart about the page and more or less fight to figure out where to land first.

In another situation, your company name, tagline and main navigation are positioned atop your homepage; where you want users to see it right away; yet this isn’t necessarily how someone experiences the page. If, for example, your logo and main navigation are muted in design as compared to a right-hand sidebar sporting an array of eye-catching graphics, the visitor’s focus is pulled to those jazzier images. Their eyes glance over the top of the page such that it may not even register. Your main message is instantly diluted.

Good-looking design does not guarantee optimum user experience

It’s like when you go into a furniture store and see a chair that’s sharp and stylish yet is uncomfortable to sit in. You pass it up and search for something that both looks and feels right.

Your website can be much the same when form trumps function. A bugaboo here is that a nicely laid-out page does not immediately present itself as problematic — it looks fine to the naked eye.

That’s where usability testing comes in. The testing reveals hidden problems that hinder your site from working at peak level.

A costly step to overlook

It perplexes me how a business can launch a website without first seeing how the site is perceived and used by target audiences. This type of testing is an undervalued and overlooked step to website success.

Meanwhile, the same company takes pains to put a lot of effort into search engine optimization of keywords, tags and other elements of coding. So great; you figure out how to rank high in search results, only to misguide those eyeballs when they reach your lovely site.

Repeat after me: Usability testing is not a luxury

There are companies that specialize in user experience. Depending on the depth and purpose of your site you may want to fork out the dough to bring in an expert. Many web developers offer this service, too. I advise at least going the latter route. Particularly when you’ve got lots of forms an/or e-commerce going on, it can be money well spent.

If purse strings don’t allow paying for usability testing, take matters into your own hands. It need not be a costly complex process.

And to prove it, my next post will offer tips on how you can conduct usability testing for low or no cost. Stay tuned.

-Deni Kasrel

Have you, too, noticed web sites that look good but lack focus? Do you think more sites can benefit from usability testing? Comments welcome.

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About the Author

About the Author: Deni Kasrel is seasoned (slightly spicy) specialist in digital/online communications. .

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  1. LaNeshe says:

    This is a great post. Some sites, even with many pretty graphics, can be confusing. I think user testing is essential.

  2. Deni

    This is a neat post… it’s a familiar issue. Something you and I have been discussing recently. Naturally, your input for re-designing our own work has been extremely helpful.

    I find A/B testing for assessing usability issues can be a facilitator. However, it has its limitations as well because what we get is either:

    1) people giving thumbs up, or
    2) thumbs down

    But sometimes we need to know why people dislike something or what makes them prefer one webpage over another.

    Just getting 101 suggestions what should be changed does not mean you have to implement it all either, of course.

    In fact, our recent experience has confirmed that when one changes something little on a webpage design, users feel the change either:

    1) improves things, or
    2) makes it less user friendly (e.g. more confusing)

    Sometimes things get worse or better.

    USE THE 30% RULE
    I have learned over the years that one person disliking something might not be a problem.

    However, if 30% of users or test persons would like to see something changed you should probably consider the possible change seriously.

    If several people point out a feature that they would like or want to see changed, test it…

    It could be that if you change things and show it to the ‘old’ test group as well as some new subjects…. Over two thirds love it…

    But it takes time and lots of little changes to make it ultimately work for your target audience.

    Bottom line. If 30% or more of your test group would like to see something done, these suggestions are the ones you should prioritize.

    ASK FRIENDS WHO BELONG TO YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE
    A/B testing takes time. It especially does if you need an explanation.

    The best feedback we have gotten is from people who we know and trust. Their feedback in writing has been helpful by explaining why something we did implement or like backfired for users.

    A few important clients might be willing to take the time to talk to one on the phone. These conversations are very helpful because sometimes it take a bit of discussion to find out what really causes the problem.

    Anyway, the new design should be implemented any day now so we hope (another round of testing is in progress as you read this) but check it out at:

    http://ComMetrics.com/

    Regards
    Urs
    @ComMetrics

    • Deni Kasrel says:

      Urs,

      Thanks for sharing your experience with usability testing.

      Indeed, the A/B method adds complexity to the process. There is more to deal with in terms of why a user may perceive how/why something works well (or not). Also, choosing one webpage over another does not in and of itself guarantee that webpage is also fully optimal and user friendly. It just means the user liked it better than a different option.

      As for small changes making a big difference. Yes, how true. I’ll revert to yet another furniture-inspired analogy: When you set up a room in a house, you move the pieces around and sometimes one slight adjustment pulls it all together (or not). Same when you hang a bunch of things on the wall. Proximity and relationships to other items make a difference.

      Bottom line: Many parts need to align to get it just right.

      And, bravo for your taking the time to test.

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