HIRING

Usability Testing Made Easy

Here's how to make sure your site meets users' needs.
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When Todd Wyles took over last year as director of sales and marketing at Profit Recovery Partners LLC, an Irvine, Calif. consulting firm, he was floored to discover one company veteran who had long outstayed his welcome. The perpetrator? A website that hadn’t been updated since 1996. Meeting users’ needs wasn’t exactly its priority.

Indeed, the site served little function besides being an online brochure at best and at worst a way to turn off users. For instance, all the options were listed on the left side, instead of up top as is customary today. And, when customers clicked on an option there wasn’t much more information.  The website wasn’t exactly driving business.

Here’s what Wyles did in his quest for greater usability.

  • Get into focus

Invite some of your better customers to give you feedback on what works and what doesn’t. “This is much better than guessing and correcting,” says Andrea Peiro, founder and CEO of the Small Business Technology Institute, a non-profit organization that encourages small businesses to adopt new technologies. Go through what you expect the users to do and try to make doing that as easy as possible. While you’re at it, note what they actually end up doing, i.e. find out what they’re most interested in and make it easy to do. Making the site friendly to both what you want the user to do and what the user wants to do should be achievable if you prioritize..

  • Know your audience

“Target the site to the people using it. For example, if you’re targeting older users,” says Andrew McLendon, chief creative officer of web design firm Web Advanced, of Irvine, Calif. “Make fonts and text bigger.”

  • Basic instinct

This may seem obvious, but here’s something that should be at the top of your checklist:  Make sure that your site is compatible across different types of browsers. If they can’t see what’s on your site, they sure aren’t going to be using the site to buy your product. Certain technologies, such as AJAX, which makes website pages load faster after a consumer request is changed, can’t be accessed with a few niche browsers or the vision-impaired who use screen readers.

  • Click control

Make sure that the site has clear navigation. Users want to get right to the point, yet a lot of customers have a fairly diverse homepage, experts say. “People don’t want to spend time looking for things. They want to find things. The rule of thumb is: three clicks or less to navigate from anywhere within your site,” says Peiro. Adds Gary Chen, the small and medium business strategies analyst at the Yankee Group, “You’ll know if your site isn’t usable because people will spend two seconds on it and then leave.”

There are companies who do studies about how users are navigating your site but if you can’t afford those, the rules above should get you on your way to having your website work for your business.

What of Todd Wyles’ site? Today that static has been replaced by robust content such as case studies and an interactive map showing where clients are.  “Now, I feel comfortable recommending a look at the website to people in the early stages of a sales cycle. I would have never done that before,” Wyles says. Maybe that’s because users can actually, well, use the site.

Last updated: Oct 1, 2006




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