Our blog post on May 23rd told you about three ways to audit the information architecture (IA) of your site. But just as important as IA is your site’s usability, the practice of making your website intuitive and easier to use for the end-user. Usability focuses less on the structure of information on a site, and more on the ability of the user to complete page-level, and site-level tasks. Though each discipline is a separate and distinct area of expertise, the interplay between IA, usability, and web analytics will most intelligently direct your site design. When developing a site, take into account both IA and usability. To start, consider the following three usability audits.
1. Make it easy to convert
Your users could be interested in your content or products, but if they don’t see how to convert (to purchase or accomplish a key site goal, which are probably the actions that generate revenue for you!) then chances are they wont. Don’t overwhelm your users with calls to action, but at be sure to include links to your sales funnel within page text and in many cases at both the top and bottom of the page. Usability requires that you think like the user. If a user has gotten far enough through the content of your site to make a purchase decision, then you should put a call to action right there in their workflow. Don’t make your calls to action too obnoxious or similar to advertising. Use similar formatting styles and visual treatment to that of your site so that users know that they’ll be buying your product, not someone else’s.
2. Guide users with a visual hierarchy
Hierarchy doesn’t only apply to how you categorize your site sections or pages within sections. Providing hierarchical visual cues within that content can guide your users in an unobtrusive way.
Are font sizes and types utilized consistently to help users scan content and navigate quickly through page content? Can users easily differentiate titles, subtitles, and standard text? Users generally start at the top left of the page and move diagonally down. Help them to move through and absorb page content naturally. Being smart with your font styles is an easy way to improve that process.
As a test, try opening a page on your site and closing your eyes. Now quickly reopen them and recognize where they are being drawn to on the page. There are professional services (e.g. Crazyegg, clickdensity) that can perform this test on many users in a more scientific way but you can get a good sense of how effective your page hierarchy is with this simple test.
3. Less work, more usable
Reduce the amount of work you ask of the user in order to make the on-site experience as seamless and easy as possible. Have you ever enjoyed filling out a long online form? Or wished a checkout process on an e-commerce site had been longer? In order to improve usability and lessen the load on your users, here are some things to think about. If you ask users to provide information, ask yourself what information is really vital. Ideally you should eliminate as many inputs as possible. If there is a login process for your site, what information can your site retain so that users won’t have to input the same information in the future? If you have a drop down menu with an item that most users click on, would it make sense to bring that item to the top of the list? In general, think about the amount of steps in any process. The fewer steps and actions you put between a user and their goal, the better the user experience.
A comprehensive usability audit deals with many more areas of usability, but can only get you so far. Analytics provides a wealth of unbiased data about your site, and when you view that data through the lens of IA and usability will you be able to truly set your site on the path to success and goal/conversion optimization. You can only attempt to guess on how to improve your site’s usability and IA without web analytics. When you have hard data on how users interact with your site, you’ll be able to make smarter decisions about site development.
As always, if you want more clarification on these areas of usability, or would like to know how Search Discovery can help you with an IA, usability, or web analytics audit, just give us a shout! firstname.lastname@example.org