Usability is an aspect of web design that has always been underappreciated, has often been dismissed or forgotten about by designers (some of them good and who have been taught its importance) and yet something that should always be kept front of mind. When you look around the World Wide Web in late 2010 and early 2011, you see usability issues with extremely popular sites like Facebook and Twitter as well as with aging but still very relevant sites such as Salon and the recently redesigned Metacritic.com. Digg.com made headlines in 2011 for its horrible treatment of users, many of them power users. Search engine optimized sites like About.com and eHow remain eyesores, much maligned for their alleged user unfriendliness. In late 2010, when Wikipedia made its annual appeal for donations, a usability analysis found seven key areas where the appeal could have been improved. Although the campaign was reasonably successful and the team did listen to the criticism, would not it have been better to work all along to capture that proverbial 20% increase in successful donations?
Websites change all the time and almost all changes are focused on increasing traffic and revenue. Usability is considered tertiary to these issues yet usability consultants argument – quite rightly – that usability is important to both increasing traffic and conversions. That remains as important in 2011 as it has ever been.
How is usability important to increasing traffic?
Google is – and will remain so for the foreseeable future – the largest driver of traffic on the World Wide Web. Facebook may have taken over the number one position in visits but people go to Facebook to stay on Facebook. People search on Google to find the best result from billions of other websites the search engine has indexed. One of the most important factors in Google's determination of the Quality of a site is the site's Bounce Rate as well as Time on Site (or even time on page). If a user comes to a site and leaves in under 30 seconds this is considered a Bounce; a high rate of these indications to Google that searchers do not like the site and its rankings will go down. It may be typical to have a Bounce Rate of 40% for any web publication while a 60% Bounce Rate or higher is considered poor. A Bounce Rate of 70% or higher is very bad. However, what if you could bring your Bounce Rate down below 30%? This would indicate to the search engine that you have an excellent site that capture's users attention and meets their requirements in giving them the information they are looking for (as long as it is relevant to their search, of course).
Improving your website's design usability is one very obvious way to decrease your Bounce Rate and improve Time on Site. Improve the usability enough and you will begin to capture more search engine traffic, to help top up any other search engine optimization efforts you might be making.
Website usability and sales or conversions
It goes without saying that website Conversations hinge on the usability of the site. Big, clear buttons and useful instructions, feedback and confirmations are all key elements of the sale process. If you make buying from your site or making an inquiry as pleasant and as useful as possible, you will increase sales. Yet so many website owners go with what they know, stuck in their comfort zone, content to watch sites grow only slowly or stay steady. Why not think bigger?
Mobile claims increase
In addition, the move to mobile continues. Companies with foresight – and there are many examples – are applying tried and true user experience design practices, including usability testing and focus groups. Whether this applies to testing of website designs for mobile or completely independent mobile applications ready for the iPad, iPhone, tablets and other devices.
Website usability in 2011 is as critical as it has ever been. If you're one of the site owners who "splurges" on testing to increase conversions and traffic you may find that you are much further ahead of your competition, by increasing traffic and conversions.