Part III: Elements of Great Website Design

Ensuring Your Site is "User" Friendly - Avoiding User Problems & Defining User Characteristics

by Pauline Sugarman

This article reviews the fundamentals of usability testing and how to make your site is 'user friendly' for optimum customer fulfillment.

It is a an exciting moment when you do a search for your website in Google and find that you are one of the the top search results that come back. After all, if your website is found in the top results for your chosen search terms, you are almost assured heavy traffic.

But being found easily doesn't necessarily spell success. You may receive a lot of visits, but how successful is your web site in turning those visits into customers? Yes, we want to be found, but more important to be being found by masses of people is being found by the right people and turning those people into loyal customers. This is referred to as the 'Conversion Rate'. 

One of the great ways to ensure customer retention is to make our site is as "usable" for our customers as possible. After all, a successful website is one where the visitors' needs are being met.  This is referred to, in the web designing world, as 'Usability'.

In this article we will discuss how to avoid usability problems & define user characteristics to help us understand our customers and fulfill their web site experience needs.

Planning Your Site for your Customers' Satisfaction

There are three main phases in creating a website when the user's feedback is essential:

Initial Design Phase

As you are planning the layout of your site, consider the groups of people that will be using it and what will make them feel the most comfortable on you site. The easier it is for visitors to form a mental model of your site, the more likely the site will have good sales conversions and link popularity. Ask yourself the following questions:

Place yourself in your visitor’s shoes and imagine navigating through your site. Are there any moments when you would feel lost, or frustrated? If customers feel lost or frustrated, they may abandon their visit (and go somewhere else).

Working Draft of the Site

No matter how well you may have designed a web site, there is no way to know exactly how your customers will react to it until you have them sit down and use it.  They may come up with all sorts of questions that you may not have thought of. A sign of a good website developer is that they will perform usability research on the site during it's development and not wait until it is completed and uploaded before finding out how usable it is. Instead, they will create a rough draft of the site and then do some testing.  This is referred to as beta testing the site. Based on the results, they may very well modify some or all of the site's layout and functions.

For the usability test try to find an objective 'sample' audience comprised of 5-6 sample test users, preferably customers or persons from your targeted users groups. If you can't , then ask your employees who haven't worked on the site to visit it, friends, or anyone who will take the time to explore the site. Give them a set of tasks to complete and watch carefully their ability to complete these tasks. Watch where they are looking for items on a web page. Ask them to talk out loud as they perform their tasks. Do not answer their questions or try to help them complete the tasks. Are there any stumbling blocks?  Stop them occasionally and ask them:

Once they have completed the tasks, ask them questions about their experience. Sample questions might include:

Use this feedback to refine the site until it is a usable as possible before publishing it (uploading to the web).

Completed Site - Measuring Success After the Launch

After the site has been launched and has started to be found in the search engines, it is a good time to explore your website's logs and stats to track the actual use of the website.  For instance, you may find that people are coming to your website but instead of completing a task (such as buying an item) they are leaving at a particular page.

Next we will look at the kep elements of Search Engine Optimization....

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