Why website usability matters


Date: 15 March 2011

In the world of web design, usability and user centred design are buzz phrases of the moment. But what do they really mean for your business? And don't you have to have a big web design budget to worry about stuff like that?

What is usability?

Usability on the web is about ensuring everything on your website is as easy to use, read and find as possible.

At the most basic level, that means putting proper calls to action (things you want people to do) on your website, highlighting key areas and making sure everything works properly.

On a more advanced level, usability is achieved by structuring and building your website according to the needs of its users and the behaviours they display during testing and research.

British Heart Foundation navigation

The British Heart Foundation's website structure is based on the feedback of focus groups and research through user testing. (The BHF is a client of Zabisco.)

Why does usability matter?

In today's fast-paced world, your users have less time than ever to spend on your website. Why would anyone wait ten seconds for it to load when thousands of alternatives are a click away? Why would they spend time digging for information when other sites make it easier to find?

Users have a low tolerance of poor usability. And why shouldn't they? It's annoying when things are hard to use, and websites are no exception.

It's vital your website works properly and loads quickly. Your web developers should be able to advise you on the best ways to achieve what you want from your website. Your choice of web hosting service can affect the load speed too.

But it's not just about load speeds and functionality. Your website's content and layout are also key elements of the user experience. By understanding the needs and motivations of people who visit your site, you can tailor your content to fit them.

Make your website more usable

At Zabisco, we create top class user experiences. We use customer research, information architecture, user centred design and content and web development to meet the needs of your end user.

But if you don't have the budget to invest in user experience services from an agency, here's how to improve your own website - quickly, easily and cheaply:

  1. Understand your end user. Your end users / customers / clients (or whatever you call them) are the most important people for your business. Understanding them is the first step to improved usability. It can be as simple as asking them. Pick up the phone – or even better, meet them in person.
  2. Simplify your navigation. Your navigation should direct users to the areas of your site they will find valuable, in ways they can understand. Simplify your labelling and ensure it uses language your end users are familiar with.
  3. Provide clear calls to action. A call to action is any button or hyperlink that asks your user to do something. Create calls to action which tell your users what you want them to do and help them achieve their goals on your site.
  4. Think about your layout. Show your users what they need to see – it's as simple as that! A clear layout helps people navigate your site. It can also reflect your business branding and structure in a really positive way.
  5. Build your website properly. A top class website build will mean everything on your site works efficiently and intuitively. Think about search engine optimisation when building your website too, to help search engines recognise the purpose of your site and send you traffic that will benefit from your services and content.

Usability is more than a buzz word. Done properly, it will provide real benefit to your users and your business.

Laura Hampton works for Zabisco. Read the Zabisco blog.

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