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How to Test and Improve Your Website’s Usability

Website Design and UsabilityMany small business owners have assumptions about website usability that may not match the actual behavior of their online customers. Anyone who designs a website needs to understand that visitors have a set of conscious and unconscious expectations that are based on their prior experience with other Internet destinations.

Whether they know it or not, your website visitors have been “trained” to find information on certain parts of a website, and their behavior is influenced by the positive and negative experiences they’ve had visiting a variety of sites. Therefore, the first step you should take is to build a small business website based on the best practices for website design. For instance, since visitors can land on any page of your website—whether they come from a search engine or a random link—all of your site pages should be user friendly. You should have prominent phone numbers and site navigation cues that make it easy for people to move to the next step of the purchasing process.

Testing Common Website Tasks

Once you have the framework of your website in place, you should begin the testing process. Although it may sound counterintuitive, the site designer should not necessarily be a part of that process. If you can find a friend, relative, or other interested party who has no knowledge of your site design, ask him or her to carry out a task on the site . . . and then watch that person interact with the site.

For example, you might instruct the user to fill out a contact form or find a certain product and place it in the shopping cart—and it’s important that you watch the user without giving away any tips. In a real-time online shopping environment, your user will likely be alone in front of a computer and will need to “figure out” how to navigate your site. Once you watch a few people use your site, you should be able to address the most basic usability issues.

Analyzing How Site Users Behave

Once your site is up and running, there are a few simple ways to analyze and improve the experience of your users. If you have an analytics program (such as Google™ Analytics, which is a free tool) installed, you can follow the actual behavior of your users, see how long they stay on pages, and determine if they are abandoning any part of the shopping process. By checking your “bounce rate,” which is the ratio of people who leave after landing on only one page, you can address specific pages and test various solutions. You can even annotate Google Analytics based on certain dates so that you can track the results of your changes.

Another important consideration is the “exit rate” on a page, which is especially important in online shopping carts, because it shows the ratio of people who left your site after visiting two or more pages. If your shopping cart exit rate is high, you can usually make changes to specific pages to increase your online sales.

Tracking Phone Calls, Emails, and Site Searches

Tracking the questions posed by users via phone calls and emails is another helpful way to learn what you need to modify on your website. Obviously, it’s important to list your phone number and email address on every page so that people have a mechanism for asking questions. And by keeping a log of the questions asked, you’ll know whether you need to add more information to critical pages or change page elements that may be confusing or unintentionally misleading. Once you make any modifications, your tracking process can help you determine whether the impact has been positive or negative. After a while, you’ll most likely find that you receive fewer questions via phone or email because people are finding the information they’re looking for on your website.

One advantage of being a Web.com eWorks! XL® website customer is having a built-in Internet scorecard and call-tracking software that allow you to monitor the results of your website activity, including the number of phone calls made via your website and the content submitted via email messages to your inbox. No amount of testing can substitute for the “live” questions and comments that users share when they’re navigating your website.

Using an on-site search feature is also an effective method for assessing the usability of your website, because people will often type in a search phrase when they get “stuck” during the shopping process. Tracking those search items can also help you determine whether users are looking for a product or service that you might consider adding to your business offering.

Testing and Improving on an Ongoing Basis

Website usability testing should be an integral part of any company’s “continuous improvement process.” Because Internet users have become more savvy during the past few years, visual cues for site navigation that may have been acceptable five years ago may not be applicable today. People are also being influenced by usability techniques employed by social media outlets like Facebook or search engines like Bing™. As a result, individuals who use your site may expect quick answers or information delivered in a format that you may not be expecting.

Periodically, you may want to solicit an unbiased opinion of your website to see if there is any way you can deliver the right amount of information necessary to make a sales conversion. Even though there is no such thing as the “perfect” website design for usability, an improved conversion rate and enhanced customer life cycle can definitely justify the time taken to make your site more user friendly.


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    1. Thank you! So simple! . . . ask a friend to do some tasks on your website. I had designed our website following how I look at a website, but not everyone does it my way. Thanks again!

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    2. Tony,

      Thanks for the comment. The other great thing about having friends look at your website is that they can sometimes make suggestions for features or products that meet a need you hadn’t considered.

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