Web Usability is the application of usability principles in those areas where the web browsing can be considered as a general paradigm to build a Graphical User Interface (GUI) . It is also the ability of a system to be understood, learned, used and be attractive to users when handled under specified conditions.
Back in the '50s, computers could only be used and understood by a few experts and scientists. The vast majority of people could not master them as they were far too complicated to operate. Thirty years later in the '80s, when Graphic User Interfaces (GUIs i.e. desktops, icons and so on) developed, things changed dramatically. This new system had software sitting between the computer hardware and the user and made it easy for everybody to operate those machines. The job of the GUIs was to turn tough command to something quite natural, totally revolutionising the computers world. In the late '90s and the early 2000s, GUI was applied to the web interface making it accessible to millions of people.
When the Internet came along, there were a great number of websites that were not easy to navigate. This might have been due to their copyright which was not very good and made the sites themselves obsolete. Their design was inefficient, and it was almost impossible to navigate around them. Lately thou, people started to think about developing a better interaction between human beings and computers and one element of success was for sure the Web Usability and User Experience (UX).
One of the key ideas of Web Usability is to make the Web easy to understand and navigate to everybody. To do that is advisable for a company to have the right amount of computer literates (not too many) to work on their website.
When coming to a website people usually spend only a few second looking at the content, therefore it is essential to have pages that are clear and comprehensible to grab their attention. People have to be impressed very quickly and this can be done through testimonials from other customers and awards. The site may also be easy to navigate and, therefore, preferred to others. Through Heatmaps, the way people look at web pages is monitored and Web User Experience becomes vital in this phase. The web site has to be quickly accessible and transparent to potential customers, not only to the people who built it: an external perspective is therefore needed. The business goals and their users goals have to merge and meet in the middle.
When creating a website a company or a business has to have clear objectives and must recognise what their users want to see and achieve. The pages should be built looking outside the organisation's thoughts and at the same time getting into the mind of the potential customers. Moreover, an excellent website should provide links, buttons and right pages that would make the site astounding.
The organisation also needs to understand their customers and that can be done designing an Awareness Ladder which represents the different points of the conversion and purchase journey and can help to build a unique website together with a good user experience. Different clients and how much they know about the products and services are mapped. The ladder goes from zero which represents the customers who know nothing about that particular company, to five which is where people ready to buy stand. Not using the ladder companies tend to drop everybody at the same page. Applying it also helps to map out the navigational structure to direct customers to that part of the site that is based on their experience.
A vital tool to check how a website is doing is Web Analytics . With analytics, the length of time that people spend on a page can be monitored and the user journey can be mapped. Having those figures, a company can then set up a conversion track where the traffic is mapped as it moves along. Critical issues can also be spotted and these are the areas that usually need improvement:
1) The Page Headlines
2) The Offer (as the existing one may not be that attractive)
3) Calls to Action (many times there is no action request from the company to their visitors)
4) The Page Layout
5) The Site Navigation (the website is not structured in a coherent way)
6) Different Media ( pages are not embedded with videos or pictures)
7) New Design ( the chosen design is not working and a new one needs to be selected)
The team involved in building the website should therefore develop a good analytical testing culture and to do that it can apply different techniques. First of all the problems, if there are any, must be identified so that a solution can be proposed. The team should also agree on the metrics needed to run further experiments to move potential customers to the website. Errors need to be repaired before the site is optimised. Attention to details is also necessary. It is fundamental to build a quick website as people tend to leave the web pages very fast and to have good quality images that can grab the customers' attention. All the latest technologies must also be employed together with a high-speed server.
Furthermore, brand recognition is essential. If people recognise a logo or a name, they are more likely to click on a page and to do that organisations must invest in marketing, social media, promotions and advertisement. Last but not least is the look of the website. 46% of web users have rated the credibility of a website based on what it looks like. If they like it, they will stay on it longer.
As Steve Krug suggests in his book "Don't make me think", people do not want to click on a website and spend time thinking. As potential customers think, they may get nervous and if they get nervous, their experience will not be a positive one and they will leave the page very soon. To understand what people think of a website, there are some tests that a company can run. The most popular are:
- Focus groups
- Depth interviews
- Online surveys
- Telephone interviews
- Usability testing
- Card sorting
The last is very straightforward but necessary: giving a simple posting note to customers a company can ask them to label in order of importance, the areas and sections of their website that they find more practical and helpful.
If a business can invest some money, Outsourcing web usability companies can also be hired. Through them, an organisation can learn important tips and get bits of advice. These experts will get the target audience a company would like to reach, take them to a lab, and allow the business to watch the users getting onto their website. Using this powerful tool the customers know, it's the organisation watching them testing their web pages.
On top of that Qualitative Research will show what people are clicking or not clicking on a website.
Once all that is done it is time to use the Wireframes. This is another important tool that companies will often apply. It consists of diagrams that describes a great number of things like:
- the pages layout
- the buttons position on the page
- the site navigation
- pages linking to other pages
Thanks to wireframes a company can produce Paper Copies of the website and see what it might look like in many different versions before actually building the final one to put online. The versions are tested through web usability companies or simply asking people.
Other tests that can be run are:
- the A/B Split Testing to check if a web page looks better than its alternative;
- the Multi - Variate Testing where many different elements that appear on various page versions are compared;
- the PIE which measures the Potential that the change could make to the business, the Importance that the change could have and the Ease or how easy is actually to make that change.
Organisations can also learn one from the other but one of the biggest danger is to think that something that works for a company and their website may necessarily work for another one. Not having access to other businesses analytics or data there is no certainty. To copy what a competitor does is also not indicated as what they do may not necessarily be good for their customers.
The Internet Archive to conclude, is probably a very interesting and fascinating idea. What the archive does is capturing all the web pages that are about to disappear before they actually do. From there, companies can learn how those sites whose performance is highly rated have grown and developed.