Jakob Nielsen has published his annual Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design for 2007. It's classic Nielsen—high on quality, low on filler. Every point in the list is a gem; addressing just one or two of these usability challenges would improve any website's conversion rate. What I also love about Nielsen is that his usability recommendations are usable. This is common sense stuff that doesn't require huge outlays of cash. Rather, as is often the case with issues of usability, the list reinforces themes of simplicity of directness.
Number 10 on the list is my favorite by far and always sparks healthy debate amongst my colleagues. (That's probably why it's my favorite.) Nielsen tells us to plainly answer your user's most burning questions. Be forthright, not mysterious. And always answer the most obvious question which is "How much does it cost?" For some reason business owners forget that closing a deal means asking for the sale. Yet, how do you ask for a sum of cash that remains undisclosed to the prospect? Even if the goal of your site is to just elicit inquiries, an absence of critical information deters impatient users with pent up desire for some simple, honest information about the product or service they are looking for.
Nielsen says that B2B sites are especially guilty of concealing anything with a dollar sign behind it. For many, money is like a four letter word, something you only discuss in dark, seedy pubs or in guilty whispers during a telephone consult.
What is worse is that business owners will rationalize their choice to not list prices until they are blue in the face, claiming they want their visitors to shop value, not price. This is apparently in hopes that the unsuspecting visitor will call them up to find out the price. It's very egocentric when you think about it. Moreover, by not listing prices, you frustrate your users and, in effect draw more attention to the "How much does it cost?" question. I doubt that is the intended effect.
The onus is on every website owner and developer to get out a black Jiffy marker and write across the top of his monitor Jakob's Law of the Web User Experience:
"Users spend most of their time on other websites."
That would include websites that state the cost of their wares in plain language for the world to see.
Don't expect people to bend to your way of thinking just because you have something they might want. Chances are, someone else is marketing the same thing but in a way that makes more sense, in a way that is quickly and easily digestible. And that's what website usability is all about.
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Karri Flatla is a business graduate of the University of Lethbridge and principal of snap! virtual associates inc., a virtual consulting firm providing business communications and Internet marketing services to the progressive entrepreneur. Karri also produces Outsmart, the email newsletter for small business with big purpose. Visit http://www.snap-va.com for more information. Click to follow Karri on Twitter.
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