Performing a complete website review is rarely easy. I've found that you can start a site analysis intending to spend just a few minutes looking over it only to find that it quickly spirals into a multi-hour marathon of research. Complete website reviews can be time consuming and often produce many more hours of work beyond that.
One of the problems is that people tend want to skip right to search engine optimization forgetting that users matter. Many people want to rush into the marketing without realizing that the website itself is part of the marketing process. This is a shame.
Investing in SEO and PPC marketing, without having performed a thorough analysis of your website is largely an exercise in vain (and yes, even new websites often need a usability analysis!) You don't have to have a perfectly usable site in order to rank well in search engines, but it is increasingly difficult to rank a site without a strong usability focus, unless you're in a very niche industry. And even if you do rank well, without good usability you're losing more customers than you need or want to be losing.
Where do you start in performing a usability review?
One of the hurdles many people have in performing a usability review of their own site is that they don't know where to start. Over the past several months I've written a number of posts outlining various usability and website architectural elements that should be a part of any detailed review process. But going through each of those can take many hours.
Being able to do a quick-scan through a site can be a very handy skill. It will help you uncover some glaring issues without having to invest hours upon hours of time all at once. After you have performed your quick scan and have fixed the bigger issues, you then have an opportunity to go back and perform a more thorough analysis.
Here is what you need to know in order to do a quickie usability review. I've also provided links to my previous posts that provide you with a lot more detail and will help you perform a more thorough analysis as time permits.
19 steps for a quickie usability review
Site wide navigation, including top, bottom and side navigation, should be as user-friendly as possible, ensuring that your visitors find what they expect when they click a navigation link. Check to make sure your navigation shows a logical flow of topics, subtopics and subject matter within the site and it enhances the user's ability to find key information.
The content of your website is your #1 sales tool. Content weighs heavily both in terms of how users interact with your website as well as how visitors are able to determine what you offer and what each page of your website is about. Always write for your visitors. Give them the information they need in a way that spurs them to action.
How the site is developed, along with the underlying coding structure, plays a significant role on whether your site meets the usability requirements of your audience. Check to make sure the overall design looks clean and doesn't feel cluttered. Colors and fonts should be easy on the eyes and should enhance rather than distract from the visitors experience.
Your home page is the single most crucial page of your site. It is essentially your store front. Your home page should identify your site and direct your visitors to the most important information, the information they are most likely coming to your site for. Keep it clean and focused and drive your visitors quickly to the sections that are more apt for selling.
About Us Page
Visitors that find their way to your About Us page tend to have a higher conversion rate than those that don't. This is where the visitor gets to know you and your company. Make sure the page contains information on company history, biographies of managers and your mission statement.
Contact Us Page
The Contact Us page could be considered the absolutely most important page on your site. Even if the rest of your site succeeds in the goals, if visitors fail to find the information they need to contact you then you will bring their shopping experience to a screeching halt. Always have multiple contact options and be sure web forms are working properly. Having a phone number listed is also extremely important.
Product pages maintain considerable strategic importance for ecommerce websites. Your visitors enter your product pages not only with an intention to buy something (the most desired end action) but to also learn, research and compare what you have against a competitor. Your product pages must provide enough information to help you visitors make the best decision possible. Be sure that calls to action, such as "add to cart" are readily available along with relevant pricing and shipping info.
While shopping car abandonment cannot be completely eliminated, it can be dramatically reduced. It is a failure of the shopping cart page itself that leads visitors to abandon their items which they do, in fact, wish to have. Make sure your shopping cart navigation buttons (update cart, checkout, etc.) are easily found. If you have multiple steps in the check out process, outline those steps and be sure to answer any questions regarding security and shipping.
Forms and Errors
If your web forms don't function properly or it's difficult to correct information input errors then you can lose a lot of visitors from frustration alone. Be sure to make inputting data easy by labeling fields properly, keep required information to a minimum and make sure errors are easy to understand and correct.
On -Site Search
Implementing a search function improperly is often a greater source of frustration than not having one altogether. My rule of thumb is if you can't deliver perfect results 80% of the time then you're probably better off not having an on-site search. Pay attention to the location of the search bar, place it where it is typically expected, and test, test and test some more to ensure that the results are as expected. Misspell products and search for products you know you don't carry just to make sure you can deliver relevant results for products you do carry.
Help and FAQ Pages
Building up your Help and FAQ pages can greatly enhance your visitor's experience with your website, giving them much needed information and possibly saving them a phone call. Keep these pages focused on providing information that isn't available anywhere else and make sure they are easy to find and easy to read.
Login and My Account Pages
Sites that require users to log in to access certain information and/or purchase products add an additional layer of potential complication to the usability process. Think carefully before requiring visitors to login. Do you really need that? If not, don't force it. Be sure to provide the benefits of creating an account and link to pages that outline your security assurances.
Privacy and Security Issues
Your website's privacy information and security settings can be significant hurdles when it comes to gaining trust with your visitors. Be sure you provide links to these pages where best suited and applicable. Be sure to provide as much information you can that gives assurances that their information is safe.
Site maps provide a dual purpose: They provide search engine spiders easy access to all of your site pages and they provide site visitors easy access to all of your site pages. The best advice is to make sure all your site map files stay current and are easy to find.
Customer engagement goes beyond just getting the customer's attention, you must keep their attention. This can be done by providing your visitors near immediate gratification. Your content needs to get their attention, tell them what they need to purchase and link out to other important pages that can help them make the purchase decision.
Above all things you need to make sure your website provides strong customer satisfaction. You can do this by making sure information is easy to find, eliminate broken links and keep pages and images relatively small so they don't take long to load.
Point of Purchase
Since the "purchase" is the ultimate conversion, it is imperative that you remove as many obstacles from the customer's research-to-buy cycle as possible. Make sure your products are available or otherwise noted. Adding product reviews and up-sell opportunities can lend to increased sales.
Your ability to convince your visitors that yours is a trustworthy business is one of the key components to getting visitors to convert into customers. Always providing prompt and complete responses to visitor inquiries. It's also valuable to provide multiple delivery options, discounts and allow your customers to provide feedback.
The selling process-from initial interest to the very last checkout page-must be able to grab shopper's attention and proceed to drive them through to the finalization of the sale. In other words, once you have them, you don't want to lose them. Keep your content organized and clutter-free, make sure the site looks good across the most popular browsers and make sure that you follow up after the sale.
As more and more users gain access to the web, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that your website is accessible to all, not just a few. Be sure your website is constructed in a way that it is accessible to mobile phones, text based browsers and screen readers.
The one thing to understand about usability is that nothing is set in stone. You can go point by point of any usability guide and still get it wrong. You can overcome that by testing. Whenever a change is made test the results. Make sure it has the intended effect and you get the results you want. If it doesn't help, change it back and try something else. Over time you'll incrementally improve overall site usability and find conversion rates climbing as each successful change is implemented.
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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