Mesuring how intuitive your Web site should be

Filed under: Focus |

“I’m looking for usability – when it is tough, I just go the other direction. It just turns me off – because if you can’t navigate your way through, if there are too many clicks, there’s gotta be somebody else who has an easier way to do this.”

- Brad, User Testing Participant

If visitors do not understand how to use your Web site, they can’t become customers. Your Web site is a critical marketing and sales tool – how much time have you invested in understanding how your customers use the site?

Users do not want to be taught how to use a Web site, or figure out the site like they are solving a puzzle; they want the site to be intuitive. Review the following principles of Web site usability, and make sure your Web site is doing the job it should to market and sell your organization.

It’s the Experience, Stupid. What experience are your customers looking for when they visit your Web site? All too often, we design with our own experience in mind. As an author friend of mine put it, “you need to write for the reader” – if you want people to read and buy your book that is. You can always design for yourself, but don’t count on doubling your sales unless you are a composite of your target market.

You Can’t Get There From Here. Going to college in Maine, I actually heard this phrase in real life – after I recovered from the shock, I thought, “Well, now what do I do?” It is at this point that your customer starts to get frustrated. Avoid this at all costs.

One of the biggest mistakes in Web design is the lack of intuitive navigation. Can users find where they want to go? Do they know where they are? Do you even know what they are looking for? Have you provided them simple, clear directions to find, evaluate and purchase what you are selling? Review your navigation: Is it simple, logical and easy to get around your site? Integrate “breadcrumbs” to show them where they are in the site hierarchy. Make it easy for them to get where they want to go from where they are.

Make It Foolproof. According to usability author, Steve Krug, most people on the Web “don’t figure out how things work.” Take programming the VCR for instance; need I say more? While tech geeks are adding more features and functions to the remote control, most of us don’t know how to use the buttons that are currently on it.

A comment by one user testing participant, “Why are you making me think about this?” succinctly captures this principle. Your customers don’t have to “muddle through” if you’ve designed a Web site that is simple to understand and use. Simply stated, adopt simplicity.

Get Out the Red Pen. Get to the point. How much fluff is really necessary to create the picture, describe the product, generate the feeling? While content may be king for the search engines, you don’t have to trade a usable site for search engine rankings.

Keep in mind that while customers may more easily find your site with keyword-laden content, they’ll be leaving it shortly if it is not easy to read. Review your content, edit out what’s not relevant and ensure it doesn’t read like a list of keywords.

Standardize the Use of Standards. Companies often want to be creative and differentiate their Web site, but sometimes that isn’t the best choice. In grocery stores, you’ve learned the standards for item placement. On Web sites, you’ve learned the standards for navigation, search, and page names. When these standard aren’t followed, it’s just plain annoying.

When they’ve switched the mustard from aisle three to a promotional end-cap, how long do you look around before you bail? Does your Web site follow the de facto Internet standards your customers have come to expect or are you creatively sidelining your next sale?

Accuracy Counts. Jupiter Research found one in seven Web site home pages it recently tested failed a simple link integrity test with one or more errors severe enough to cause visitor defection.

Your customers do judge your company by the image it presents. Broken links, misspelled words, outdated content, interactive features that don’t work – all lead to a poor impression of your organization. When was the last time you checked your site for these common mistakes?

Provide Clear, Action-Oriented Choices. Ever wanted to buy something and couldn’t figure out how to pay? Landed on a home page and thought, “Where should I start?” In every case, clear, actionable choices are needed – help your customers take the next step and guide them; they’ll thank you for it.

Invest in Usability Analysis. Where the rubber meets the road is in actually observing a customer interact with your Web site. What expectations do users have? How do they actually use it? What steps do they take to move forward? How long does it take? And what experience are they left with? Instead of guessing, invest in usability analysis that will help you design with the user in mind.

A Web site is no longer an online brochure that is nice to have – it is a critical marketing tool that visitors often use to decide if they will become customers.

Take action now to develop a better understanding of your customers and how they use your Web site. Then, with the customer in mind, review these usability principles to create an intuitive Web site that converts visitors into customers.

Lisa Travis is co-founder Intuitive Websites, a Colorado Springs Web usability firm that focuses on improving the user experience on the Internet. She can be reached by e-mail at