Web Designers Need To Spend More Time In The Real World: Usability 101

I am constantly amazed at the perspectives that people have surrounding usability and web design. There seems to be a belief that the online world is somehow different from the offline world. Newsflash: people who use the internet live on planet Earth (shocking, I know). The truth is that people have become numb to the annoying and obtrusive sales’ tactics that web sites try to play.

We need to start thinking about usability like we think about friendships IRL. For example, do you have a “like us on Facebook” button on top of your website? Can you imagine walking up to a stranger in real life and asking him to “like you” before he even gets to know you? In most cases, people build trust with each other before they become best friends. Websites are just like real life. If you want people to buy from you, they need to get to know you; they need to trust you; and they need to understand how you are going to add value to their lives.

I have the privilege of owning an Inbound Marketing Company. This gives me access to analytics and sales’ data that most internet users are not privy to explore. Over the years, I have observed how internet users interact with websites. I have also experienced first hand how optimizing a website’s design and user experience instantly increases its sales.

Your website exists to make you money, right? If you are going to invest in a website, you might as well invest in one that will make you money. Here are some of my best usability tips that apply to almost every business. For the sake of keeping things interesting, I am going to relate my advice to a friendship. Even if you ignore my usability tips, maybe, you will take the relationship advice to build stronger friendships ;)

Space Is Good:

When I start looking at improving a website’s UI, I look at its use of white space. Whether we are talking about websites or friendships, people do not like to feel trapped. Here is a screenshot of Forbes.com (just to clarify, I love their content; I do not love their website). Once you get past Forbes’ interruption-marketing pop-up advertisement, you will land on one of these articles.

forbes website design

I honestly feel like I am going cross-eyed trying to read this article. Users are forced to read content inside a small column that is squeezed between advertisements on either side of the post. Our eyes naturally read left to right. The problem here is that the left-hand column is a fixed row of social media icons. How am I going to share this if I can’t even force myself to read it?

Space is your best friend. Take away anything that makes your users feel trapped, and give them enough room to breathe. This is the first step in a good UI because it will keep users on your site longer. If they feel comfortable navigating your website, they will spend enough time on-board to actually reach a conversion.

Honesty is the Best Policy:

Let me ask you something: How important is honesty to you in your friendships? I am going to guess that honesty is on your top 10 list of things for which  you look  in a good friend. Businesses need to take the same approach. People who use the internet have a short attention span. They are used to finding any information they need in >5 seconds.  You need to be upfront with people. Give them the information  for which they are looking . Let me explain.

Before a customer buys from your company, he is going to need some information. Customers are going to need basic information from you including prices, information about your company, your return policy, and your “social proof.” For the sake of keeping this article digestible, I will focus on prices. It seems obvious enough that  customers want to see your prices, right? Unfortunately, too many companies make their prices hard to find. Here is a screenshot from Adobe.com. They are starting to fix the problems in their store, but they still have a long way to go.

adobe website usability

How much does Photoshop CS3 cost? I have no idea. If your customers think you are hiding prices from them, they will assume you have something to hide. Trust me; you do not want them to assume that.

Control Yourself, Not Your Customers:

Rule number one of healthy friendships is Don’t try to control everyone! How many “over-controlling” friends do you hang out with on a regular basis? Your users want to feel the same freedom from you that they require from their other relationships. Set up your website easy to navigate. Make sure they can easily browse from page to page without being forced into opt-in form or sign-up forms. It is ok to require information from your customers when they pay you, but it is not ok for you to force people to “sign-up” to browse through your website.

Shoe Dazzle has created an innovative way to shop for (you guessed it) shoes. I actually commend their innovativeness. The problem with their site is the fact that you are forced to go through a sign-up process before you can enter their store. Can you imagine this scenario working in any real-life friendship? This is crazy! Shoedazzel would be better off having an “opt-out” button that lets users browse through their shoe collection without singing up. Once a shopper is exposed to the high-quality shoes they offer, they will feel more comfortable signing up for the Shoedazzel experience.

shoe dazzel website usability

Putting your information behind a pay-wall also takes away your ability to harness the power of SEO. How are people going to find you in search results, if the search engines are blocked from your content?

Friendships are a two-way street:

You need to give something to get something. Every time you ask your customers to give you something, e.g., a  Facebook like, you need to ask yourself one question: “Why should they?” The Decal Guru has a lot of work to do on its overall design, but they are doing a great job at social media CRO. They do not expect users to “blindly” follow them on Facebook. They have a “Free Decals” button that leads people to a Facebook-like box, “The box simple.” It tells visitors that The Decal Guru gives away  free decals every month on Facebook, and invites visitors to follow them.

The decal guru cro

What Do You Think:

If you think about usability like you think about relationships, it will change the way you view the internet. What are some other websites that need a little CRO tutoring?

By Bryant Jaquez: Bryant, is the founder of BrewSEO, a creative inbound marketing company and co-owner of RedFounder, a philanthropic business community. He helps companies make more money.

Puya Turkiyan – SEO & Online Marketing Specialist

Puya Turkiyan is an established online marketing specialist providing Information Architecture for websites across beautiful Vancouver, BC. He has a great track record and an eye for conversion & lead generation.