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Website Usability Leads to Conversions

by Jim Hedger


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Summary : The Doctor's message is fairly simple, "On the Web, usability is a necessary condition for survival. If a website is difficult to use, people leave." That is easy enough to understand. Keep it simple and visitors will use it.

Known as the web's Usability Czar, Jakob Nielsen is one of the Internet's most respected consultants, authors and commentators. Dr. Nielsen's fame stems from his uncanny ability to note basic things most observers miss or gloss over. Although many of his observations on website usability amount to basic common sense, his message is often ignored by small to medium sized business websites and by newer webmasters and search engine marketers.

The Doctor's message is fairly simple, "On the Web, usability is a necessary condition for survival. If a website is difficult to use, people leave." That is easy enough to understand. Keep it simple and visitors will use it. Make it difficult and visitors will find something easier to use. The popularity of the ultra-simple Google interface and subsequent gains made by Google at the expense of its info-heavy rivals over the past four years is a prime example. Dr. Neilson's work should be required reading for students of website design and search engine marketing. Similar concepts are taught to students of architecture, creative writing and engineering, fields that share a number of basic skill-sets with website design and marketing.

For search marketers, there are important tips to be learned by studying Dr. Nielson's ideas. In the early years of the industry, search marketing was mostly about getting Top10 placements for clients under their chosen keyword phrases. As the sector grows in size and sophistication, search marketers are expected to help their clients convert the increased traffic driven by high search placements into increased conversions and sales. In other words, getting a client into the Top10 organic placements and effectively managing PPC positioning is only half the challenge. Helping a site make sales by advising on usability issues is the second side to every coin earned by experienced search marketers.

There is a school of thought in the SEO sector that suggests optimization should be performed for the site users' benefit as opposed to algorithmic focused tricks and techniques. Sites that are designed to be easy for human visitors to use are often the easiest for search engine spiders to navigate. Better navigation options combined with search friendly site architecture and content tend to produce strong search engine placements and increased visitor retention. According to the findings of the Nielsen Normal Group, usability issues have an enormous effect on website revenues. As clients ultimately measure the success of search marketing campaigns by their ROI, search marketers might benefit from a quick review of some of Dr. Nielsen's basic ideas and observations.

Usability, as defined by Dr. Nielsen is, "... a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use." In a short August 2003 essay titled, "Usability 101: An Introduction to Usability", Dr. Nielsen lists five quality components used to inform site builders, webmasters and content creators through the lifetime of unique site-designs. Each of these components leads to an assessment of an overall user experience working from the basic assumption that good experiences are appreciated and rewarded by online consumers.

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