Web usability expert Steve Krug starts off his popular book on the topic with these words:
People often ask me: “What’s the most important thing I should do if I want to make sure my Web site is easy to use?” The answer is simple. It’s not “Nothing important should ever be more than two clicks away,” or “Speak the user’s language,” or even “Be consistent.” It’s “Don’t make me think!”
This exposes a common problem. YOU, the person that designed or contributed to or commissioned and approved the site don’t have to think when YOU use the site because YOU know what everything means, how everything is supposed to work, where everything is located and where every click is supposed to go. The problem is that your site users don’t know any of those things when they arrive on your site. Therefore, they are trying to interpret things that you already know the interpretation for. It’s easy to use a map when you’ve already traveled all the roads and arrived at all the destinations, right?
You might use a map that is as difficult to understand as the one above if there is something REALLY valuable at the destination, and it’s the only map you have available to you to get there. If either of those is missing, you’re likely to find something else to do. On the web, there are typically countless options for sites that your customers can go to for the solution to their problem—and they’re most likely going to choose the easiest option with the best value (just like you’d choose the easiest map to get you to where you wanted to go).
Make Life Easier for Users
With that in mind, you can see how important it is that your site is ultra-easy to use. After all, you don’t just want traffic do you? You want a long-lasting, profit-generating relationship don’t you? In business, those only happen when you make life easier for your customers, not harder. Plus, how easy your site is to use psychologically reflects on how easy your company will be to deal with (huge!).
Now that I know you’ve just had a deeper revelation of how important good usability is to a website, let me present to you what Mr. Krug is talking about when he tells us not to make our users think.
Get Inside Their Thoughts and Emotions
If you could get inside the heads of your users, what would their thoughts and emotions be filled with as they make the journey to completing the task they came for on your site? Would they have any confusion over where to click on the page they landed on to get to the next step? Would they have any trouble understanding the labels you’ve used for their navigation options? Would they miss the correct path for their task completion because they assumed another option was more appropriate? Do they feel like your site is trying to get them to do what you want them to do instead of do what they want to do? The answers to these types of questions and many more contribute heavily to the fate of a business’s bottom line.
Again, it’s understandable that YOU don’t have any trouble with these questions. But of course, you’re not the customer.
The truth is, every time your visitors have trouble using your site, it contributes to their propensity to leave the site and reject you as the vendor of choice to solve their problem. Might a user still develop a long-term relationship with you if they experienced difficulty and frustration on your site? Of course some will. I suppose it depends on the person. But, you can be sure that site difficulty and conversion rate are inversely proportional. The more difficult your site is to use, the lower your conversion rate will be. The easier your site is to use, the higher your conversion rate will be.
Make Everything Obvious
Every element of your site is on a continuum somewhere between obvious and obscure. One of the most important things you can do for your bottom line is to make everything on your site as close to obvious as it can possibly get.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be guiding us through principles that will help us do this, making your website easier to use—and improving conversion rates in the process.