An Introduction to Web Site Usability
Web Usability is the science of designing your web site to ensure that people are able to navigate through it easily and confidentally.
Web Usability has an important impact on your conversion rate - i.e. the ratio between the number of visitors and the number of orders. This is particularly important where you are using various paid-for advertising to drive traffic to your site, such as Sponsored Keyword Advertising. If each visitor is costing you a click-through charge then if you can double the conversion rate by applying Web Usability principles then you halve the cost of achieving the sale.
How can Usability affect Conversion Rate?
Remember that a visitor is only ever two clicks from visiting one of your competitor's web sites. Anything on your site that confuses people, worries them or simply leaves them unsure how to proceed will send them straight to one of the other sites.
So what is Web Usability?
Web Usability essentially covers two areas - firstly, the actual design of the pages themselves need to follow conventions that are familiar to the visitor and, secondly, the construction of the data behind the site needs to be such that they can easily find the products they are looking for.
Extensive research has been done into the ways in which people's eyes track around a web page and this has led a number of the leading eCommerce web sites being designed with that in mind. As a result, there are a number of unwritten conventions appearing for the layout of an eCommerce web site - for example, the logo in the top left, phone number, help and login options in the top right, product division navigation on the left hand side, shopping basket and checkout on the right, etc.
Fortunately, this means you do not need to carry out this research yourself - by ensuring that your site follows these simple guidelines, you can make sure that your site is familiar to anyone that is used to shopping online. The basic rule here is that a first time visitor should not have to learn how to use your site to be able to buy from you.
There are also a number of visual "keys" that confirm to the visitor that this is an online shop, and they can buy products online. One is the Shopping Basket and another is the familiar string of Credit Card symbols (Visa, Mastercard, etc.). If someone has happened across your site, this will immediately confirm to them that this is somewhere they can buy the products they are looking for - but only if those visual keys are where they expect to see then.
You should make sure that your home page, and any other "landing pages", i.e. those linked to from Sponsored Keyword Adverts, should make it very clear what you do, what you sell and who you are. Make sure that the important information appears "above the fold" - in other words, when the page is viewed on a typical screen (research shows that over 90% of visitors to a site will be running a screen with a resolution of 1024x768) they should not have to scroll down to see important information.
Furthermore, you should ensure that the site guides them through the shopping procedure from start to finish, so they are never left wondering "so what do I do now?". This is especially important at the checkout stage - a large number of visitors will "bail out" at the checkout if they are unsure what is happening. They should be told what the process is going to be, and how far they are through the process.
Web Usability also applies to how you construct the product database; remember that half of your visitors will choose to navigate by product categories to find the items they are looking for and the other half will go straight to the Search facility.
To help this, it is important that the product descriptions and any associated keywords are logical and meaningful, and that your Product Categories fit in with the way in which people will expect to browse.
For example, if you sell Computer Monitors, don't hide them away in a Category called "Other Peripherals" since those people looking for Computer Monitors are unlikely to find them there.
If the products that you sell are often from well-known manufacturers then consider offering a "Shop by Brand" option; if people are unlikely to know the brands that they are looking for, then this can only add confusion.