A Land Beyond Usability

  |  April 16, 2001   |  Comments

Sure you appreciate the pothole-free roads, the prominently displayed signs, and the smooth and straight highways of the Land of Usability. But are you on a Sunday drive to nowhere, or are you headed somewhere important?

"Usability." It's the big buzzword these days. And if you ask me, it's about time.

Isn't it amazing how many sites hang out a shingle that says, "I don't care if you can't use it, it's cool."

If you plan to succeed, usability is something you can no longer ignore. You have to keep it in mind early on in the design process, and you have to pay attention to usability issues throughout your site.

Happily, there's a ton of great info out there now.

Not There Yet

And my, how the pendulum doth swing! Usability was neglected for years, but suddenly people are talking about it like they've just discovered the Holy Grail. Don't you already have your tickets for the World Tour? No, Nielsen's not a rock star, but from the way the adoring crowd has grown, you might think so. And the latest mantra has become "Get usability right, and all your e-commerce problems are over."

Much as I hate to break it to you, usability is not the end; it's simply a big step in the right direction.

Usability by itself only reduces your customers' frustration level. That's important, of course, but it's still a far cry from guiding and persuading your customers into doing what they want to do and what you want them to do: buy. Try getting usability to say, "May I take your order?" Or, "What colors do you prefer?" Or, "Would you like to use VISA or MasterCard?"

Getting Your Bearings

For all the "usability this" and "usability that" these days, it isn't actually all that easy to find a definition of usability out there. I guess some writers think we're just supposed to know what it means.

One of the most commonly found definitions is simple: ease of use. "Connecting Online: Creating a Successful Image on the Internet" offers a more value-laden meaning: "the quality of enabling your users' productivity." For sure, Connecting Online understands the online business world's general confusion when it comes to usability:

    Many businesses today look at Web site usability like a foreign object that crash-landed from outer space into their backyards. They've poked and prodded at it, trying to figure out just what it is. Most businesses aren't accustomed to adapting their communications to how their audiences interact with them.

A Smooth Road to Nowhere Still Gets You Nowhere

Make your Web site easy for your visitors to use, and they'll become more proficient users. But if you want them to become customers, you have to think beyond usability.

Think of it like taking a road trip. Usability gets rid of the obstacles to driving: the potholes, bad signage, dead ends. It makes it easy for your customers to go places comfortably and smoothly, with minimal interruption.

But it can't intrinsically tell them where they ought to be going, much less how to get there the quickest, easiest way.

Usability testing usually measures the effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which specified users can achieve specified goals in a particular environment. Wouldn't you want your goal in e-commerce to be a sale and, eventually, a delighted customer? Just because users can complete a purchase does not mean you delighted them or that they will ever buy from you again.

The On-Ramp to the Highway of More Sales

You don't want your customers to take just any road. You want them focused on a destination: buying. And you want them to take the road that leads them to, and through, buying what they want in a way that is not only quick and easy but also comfortable and delightful.

To accomplish this, you not only have to remove the obstacles but also must guide, encourage, persuade, influence, and motivate your customers to go in a specific direction.

That you accomplish through information architecture, layout, and choice and function of graphics and icons. You apply your understanding of consumer psychology. You incorporate a systematic selling process into your site design. You remember AIDAS. And at least as important, you choose powerful and compelling words: Your Web copy matters a whole lot more, and your Web graphics matter a whole lot less, than most designers and developers would have you believe.

So do your usability stuff, and do it well, but you can't stop there. Ask yourself: Do you want your customers wandering around easily but aimlessly in the Land of Usability, or do you want them shopping purposefully and buying in the Land of Sales? That land lies beyond usability.

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES, Shop.org, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at BryanEisenberg.com.

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