Over the last two posts I discussed the importance of expert information in building a Destination Website. I also outlined seven different types of expert information that can be used in providing quality information to your audience. Building a Destination Website is all about serving your audience. It's about finding what they are looking for in a website and providing it in excellence.
I've written quite extensively about website usability in the past so I won't re-iterate everything I've said again, but usability is one of the key aspects in building a Destination Website.
Running SEO campaigns that don't address usability concerns is like running radio and TV promos to drive people to a store that is unfinished. The traffic being driven may not be a total loss, but you certainly aren't getting the full value out of each customer. Many won't find what they are looking for, others will be frustrated trying to check out, and some may turn around the moment they walk in the door. Usability addresses those issues to ensure each customer has a good experience on your website.
When you don't consider usability as an important part of your website's marketing effort then you are doing little more than relying on your own personal preferences to get the job done. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) not everybody prefers the same things as you. Have you ever seen a movie that you totally hated but was wildly popular? One comes to mind for me, but I dare not say for fear of being tarred and feathered! (coughshrekcough) That's personal preferences issues at work.
Most websites are built almost entirely on personal preference. Sometimes it's the site owner's, sometimes the web developer's, and sometimes it's the best regurgitation of comprises by the many heads involved. That's not to say that personal preferences don't have merit, but there are many aspects of usability that must be carefully weighed, tested and measured before, during and after implementation.
I've already noted over a hundred of them in the article linked above, but let me hit just some broad strokes. These are things that can cause poor user experience once someone lands on your site:
Navigation is one of those crucial things that you really do have to get right. In fact, when it comes to usability, almost everything revolves around navigation. Getting the visitor from Point A to the conversion is the ultimate goal of any website. Navigation, of course, consists not only of the top, left, right, and footer navigation areas, but also the links in the body of the text as well. But for now let's consider only a site's primary navigation. How easy is the navigation to follow on your site?
Recently I've seen a few sites that have their navigation links alphabetized. The "Home" link would fall in the "H" Section and the "Contact Us" link fell between "Books" and "Digital Downloads." There is nothing wrong with an alphabetical navigation for some items or categories, but not for everything. This is a clear example of navigation gone wrong. The Home link should be one of the first navigational items, as should the Contact Us link. These navigation links shouldn't be mixed with the rest of the product links.
I won't go into how to build a user-friendly navigation, but let's just say that if you don't consider how your customers might find stuff then you may not be giving them the best navigation options possible.
Confusing site layout
If you're dealing with a large website it's important to make sure the visitor has a sense of where they are at any time. When you go to the mall, at each entrance they place a map of the mall with a big "you are here" label. This allows you to find your way to any store you want based on your current location.
Now imagine if you found one of those mall maps with all the stores nicely laid out but there was no icon telling you where you are at the moment. You'd feel quite lost (at least I would... I haven't been to a mall in years!) In addition to the actual site layout, you simply need to make sure you make the shopping process clear and easy to follow. When it comes to things like your shopping cart check out process, there is very little room for error before you start losing customers.
Lost calls to action
One of the most important things you can do on a website is to tell your visitor what you want them to do. Do you want them to call now? Add to cart? Sign up? Order now? These are all important calls to action. For some reason we often think that people will figure it out on their own. Some will, but most, without that call to tell them what you want them to do, simply won't move forward in the process. You'd be amazed at how adding a simple text or image link that says "click here to..." can make a huge difference in your conversion rates.
There are two kinds of call to action you can use: visual and textual. Both are important. We often see the visual calls to action in the navigation. These are the "contact us" or "order now". These calls are necessary so as to provide a single, permanent, easy to find location for your visitors. But what often gets missed are the visual calls to action in the body content. These can be created by adding a button image of some kind within the body content area. Not only do these help break up the text, but they also grab the attention of the reader when they are scanning.
Textual calls to action are just as important as the visual calls. Instead of always using a graphical image to convey the call, you also need to have calls to action linked in your body copy. Some visitors get image blindness and start skimming or reading the content. These hyperlinked calls to action jump out and helps propel your visitors forward.
Little internal linking
That last point brings us to one more usability issue that affects the user's experience. That is using your text to link to other areas of the website. All too often we try to let the main navigation do the job of getting the visitor from one page to the next. This is very short sighted.
Just like textual calls to action are important, so are textual links to other relevant portions of your site. If your content references something else that you do or provide, why not add a link to that something else right there? If you look at sites like wikipedia.org, you'll see they are powered by links. You can get stuck on that site for hours as you keep clicking links that interest you. Your website doesn't have to be all that different, though the ultimate goal is the conversion, not just information.
You want to provide a clear path to the "goal," but you also want to be sure that the user can easily get to any bit of information they need that will help them make that conversion decision. Don't rely on them to know what they need and then hunt through the navigation to see if you meet it. Link to it in your body copy and let them navigate through the site as needed.
The main thing you need to understand about not meeting the usability needs of your visitors is that for every usability issue that remains on your site, that's another chunk of visitors you'll lose. Your website isn't a movie where people will stay until the end regardless of how bad it might be. You're not going to convince them that it's "going to get good."
On a website when a visitor has a bad experience, they leave. When they can't find what they want, they leave. When they get confused or frustrated, they leave. Your job is to create a path of least resistance. To build a site that essentially greases their wheels, allowing them to flow through it with little or no friction or thought. You want them to glide effortlessly from page to page on to the conversion goal.
When your site is a hassle it becomes annoying. That's when you start losing real customers. Many people will go through great expense to go out of their way avoiding things they don't like. A website is no different. If you leave a bad taste in their mouth, you've lost that visitor forever. You'll rarely get a second chance to prove your value.
Poor usability experiences are just as often sub-conscious as conscious. Sometimes visitors don't know why, or perhaps don't even know at all, that they had a bad experience. They just know they were not able to find something that they thought they should have.
Your goals, in building a more usable website, are to find areas where visitors are not finding what they need, or are abandoning your site, understand why and then to correct the problem. In order to become a Destination Website, you have to have a site that users enjoy returning to time and time again.
Read more about Destination Search Engine Marketing:
Seven Building Blocks of a Destination Website
#1: Expert Information
#1b: Seven Types of Expert Information
#3: Website Design
#4: Unique Value Proposition
#5: Time and Presence
#7: Trust and Credibility
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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