A website that simply does not work is clearly not usable in the traditional sense. But what is it that makes a website ‘usable’? Usability is the simple idea that people come to your website for a reason, and usability is the measure by which they are able to achieve their goal–in as little time as possible. As much as we’d like others to come and spend an afternoon on our site and faithfully read all the content we worked so hard on, the fact is that people just don’t spend much time on websites. They want to get in and out as quickly as possible.
Fast Information > More Information
Data from Tony Haile at ChartBeat shows that 55% of users spend 15 seconds or less on your website. Why so little time? As people have grown more and more comfortable integrating the internet into every part of their life, they’ve become much more adept at filtering out the non-essential and zeroing in on the information they really came for.
The information they may want is an address for your business, the hours that a restaraunt is open, or a blog post on how to fix a buggy computer. So, in more than half of the cases out there, you have 15 seconds or less to give your users what they want or risk them just moving on.
Know your Audience
Before you can make a usable site tailored for your needs, you need to know your audience. What kind of business do you run? Do you have a physical store location for all your sales? Are you a consultant that thrives on private appointments? Knowing your audience is key to designing a useful site. That way you can prioritize information in a way that is accessible and efficient.
Once you know your audience, you need to clearly define your goal. Do you want more people to call you to set up an appointment? Do you want to engage your audience more across social networks? Once you set a goal for your website, you can move on to designing your site around achieving this goal.
High Design ≠ High Usability
A slick website is a great start, but the design needs to be a means to an end, not the other way around. The design needs to complement and emphasize your goals on the site, rather than getting bogged down in unnecessary flourishes and information overload. Flat, responsive design is your friend, whose wide and open spaces are a great way to frame the important bits of content and information on your site.
One of the most important elements on a usable web page is the Call To Action (CTA). CTAs are buttons that call on site visitors to take a certain action that satisfies your goals, like ‘Start Today’, or ‘Sign Up Now’. The key to a good call to action is giving your user just enough information to encourage them to take action, but not so much that they lose interest halfway through the pitch. CTAs should be featured prominently throughout your website to maximize user goal conversion.
Keep it Simple
Any website can be made usable, but every site’s usability depends on a tailored approach to your particular needs. First, you need to identify your audience and then formulate goals specific to your audience and the aims of your business. From there, you need to use a design that looks clean and professional, framing the necessary information without clutter or confusion. Employ a liberal use of Calls to Action that dovetail with your website goals, but beware of making too hard a sell. Finally, consider adding functionality that may expand your ability to meet your goals, such as an integration with your CRM or a newsletter signup.
If you’re interested in learning more about usability in web design, I’d highly recommend taking a look at Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug. You can find his blog here, and follow him at @ on Twitter.