What Is Website Usability Why Is It Important

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What Is Website Usability & Why Is It Important?

"People want less information, they don't want more information. They want it to be easier for them to use. Easier for them to get what they want. Easier for them to do what they want to do. The next big breakthrough, is going to come from the usability standpoint." ~ CEO and Founder of Gateway, Inc., Ted Waitt

Users exploring a website

What Is Website Usability?

The usability of a website tells us how effectively, efficiently, and satisfactorily its visitors or users can see, or examine by other means, the website. That includes everything a user would typically experience when they visit the website including any navigation bars, menus, content, images, videos, hyperlinks, buttons, forms, games, etc. Monitoring how effective, efficient, and satisfactory, these attributes and others are will grant website owners and organizations significant insight into their website's usability. So, let's go ahead and break those three key terms down.

When a guest arrives at an effective website, their expectations are well met or exceeded and they are able to use the site to complete their intended goals with ease. An efficient website takes it a step further, enabling its guests to find the information or resources that they need as quickly and economically as possible, without wasting time or effort. Although, arguably the most well-known of the three usability pillars is satisfaction. When visitors search for and discover a website that fulfills their requirements or needs by answering their questions, providing necessary resources, etc. dependably, it makes the satisfaction mark. All three of these ingredients - how effective, efficient, and satisfactory a site is - contributes to the usability of the website.

The usability of a website including considerations of all of these components, along with its overall effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction for users, is often evaluated by user experience researchers, analysts, and designers. 

Why Is Website Usability Important?

Ultimately, website usability is important because it's about customer service. The goal of any organization or business professional is to meet their customer's expectations and needs, as quickly and dependably as possible. In business as in life, we want to be significant; we want to be useful. And in order to attract and keep customers coming back, we have to maintain our usability on every front. That includes the web. So whether you're an employee or an owner, it's important for you and your team to know that website usability can have a significant impact on your department's ability to achieve its mission, boost returns on any investments, and serve customers.

For example, consider the goal of helping students and patients to find important health related information and resources. The usability of a website designed to meet this need, would impact any efforts to attract, retain, and satisfy those populations (e.g. students and patients) and their ability to make informed decisions for their future health. This is no small thing. It is incredibly significant. Further, the simple fact is that the internet is very much a staple in our daily lives. Proliferation of the digital marketplace into nearly every nook and cranny of our world makes usability increasingly significant over time. In regards to education and healthcare, industries which empower and enable us to thrive intelligently, website usability is virtually imperative.

"On the Web, usability is a necessary condition for survival. If a website is difficult to use, people leave. When the homepage fails to state what a company offers and what users can do on the site, people leave. If users get lost on a website, they leave. If a website's information is hard to read or doesn't answer users' key questions, they leave." ~ Jakob Nielsen, Web Usability Professional

What Factors Influence Usability Over Time?

Careful research of an organization's current customers and target audiences is essential for a comprehensive understanding of any website's usability. There are a variety of methods available to accomplish this. The research may include a review of the website's digital analytics from an SEO (i.e. search engine optimization) standpoint. It may also include an investigation into customers needs and receptiveness to specific messages and designs through the development of user personas. Findings from these methods can then be tested and improvements applied, so that both the organization and its customer's experiences are boosted.

Here's a quick review of some of the key factors that impact usability. Most researchers will want to talk to you about this when discussing the success of your website. Ultimately, all of these factors impact your ability to help customers meet needs:

  • Accessibility: Web accessibility here means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the website. This includes benefiting from its information, resources, etc.
    • Can everyone use the website, equally?
  • Responsiveness: Responsive web design (RWD) is, "An approach to web design. It seeks to provide an optimal viewing and interaction experience across a wide range of devices," (Wikipedia).
    • Does the website work on the devices that customers prefer to use?
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): "The process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page through a search engine's free (e.g. natural, organic) results," (How to Order SEO & Marketing).
    • Can customers find the website in search results?
  • Content and Messaging: Users often arrive at sites in search of answers to a specific question. Therefore, its text should be designed in a manner that is noticeable, easy to read, and understandable.
    • If users have specific questions, does the site offer clear answers?
  • Layout & Navigation: How quickly and easily a visitor can find what they're looking for through tools such as a navigation bar, breadcrumbs, menus, buttons, etc. that are designed to help guide them to their goals or answer specific questions.
    • Can people find what they're looking for in the website?
  • Errors & Effectiveness: This may be a measurement of how many errors users encounter when using the website, how many mistakes they make in pursuit of goals or answers, and how many of them exit the site without completing their goal in comparison to those who do so successfully.
    • How effective is the website for its visitors?
  • Task Time & Expectations: A measurement of the amount of time it takes for a visitor to complete their goals via the website in comparison to their expectations (e.g. too long, faster than expected) of that time.
    • How efficiently can people use the website?

Remember to keep website usability central to your online planning and to keep your customer in mind. Happy Computing!

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Bekah Witten
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Bekah is the content writer for the University of South Florida department of Information Technology.