Website Usability: Six Must-Have Improvements

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Not all usability improvements require a complete overhaul, and with the economy where it is now is a good time to consider more affordable projects. Concentrate on designs and structures that are simple and easy for the user to understand. There are a number of solutions, in house and third party hosted, that can significantly improve your website’s usability. For brevity’s sake, I’m going to list six IT/design related areas of improvement that should be considered.

1. Clear pricing/shipping costs at all times: This is simple and straightforward, yet countless websites fail to do this properly. What’s the most important feature internet users expect according to a report conducted by Oneupweb in June 2010? You guessed it, clear pricing/shipping information at a whopping 95.5% of respondents. The moment someone adds a product to their cart, pricing and shipping costs should be clearly stated in the forefront so there are no surprises, potentially leading to abandonment later.

2. Guest Checkout: This is crucial. Your website becomes much more usable when you allow guests to checkout without having to fill out unnecessary information. Sometimes people want to be able to purchase a product as a guest because they’re ready to fill out yet another form. In fact, Forrester Research conducted a shopping cart abandonment study in 2010 and found that 14% of shoppers abandoned their cart because they didn’t want to register.

3. Product Details: Customers want to not only understand and read the specifications of the product they’re considering, they want to be able to manipulate it. Wherever appropriate, allow your customers to zoom in/out and change the view of the product.

4. Search Results Page: This issue primarily facilitates allowing shoppers to meet their goals. The fewer pages required to meet one’s goals, the better. Slider bars, multiple check box comparison, and example-based navigation are but a few features that’ll improve search capabilities. Also, make sure your search box is long enough for the user to read what they’re typing.

5. Cookie/Bread Crumbs: Helping with search functionality is having clear cookie/bread crumbs so that shoppers know exactly what page/section they’re on at any time. Here’s an example: Home>Products>Cameras>Digital SLR and so on.

6. Forms: They should definitely have cookies or whatever is necessary in order to keep data intact in case the user needs to click away from the site for a minute while they’re in the middle of filling out the form.

A last tip and some final thoughts.

Customer Inquiry phone calls: These are a fantastic opportunity that every company should take advantage of. When someone calls and begins by saying something like “I’m on your website and have a question…” or “I was just on your website and was wondering…” this is a great opportunity to write down detailed information about some part of your website that a genuine user has found to be lacking. Taking this a step further, have the person taking the phone call ask a question or two about the site. Maybe having a running database of potential questions to ask would be helpful. This is like a free usability test and should never been taken lightly. This aggregated information can be used by the IT team to improve any number of aspects on the website.

My last thought is that usability guidelines are strictly that, guidelines. It’s not a rule and they’re not all necessary. Having said that, there are certain functionalities that users have come to expect and these should be adhered to. Deviating too far from what people are expecting upon arrival at your site will start off the experience on the wrong foot. However, be creative within and around the more general design layouts. As I said earlier, the name of the game is utilizing usability in order to facilitate the smoothest path from research to purchase (or whatever the primary goal of the site is). Do all of this well, and you’ve got usability in the bag! Like so many things in life though, it’s easier said than done.

Post originally published in Online Shopping Experience on 2010-08-20 18:57:16