Last week, while driving to work I completely lost my way. For about 10 minutes I had no idea how to get here, I was supremely frustrated and I feared that all of society was about to collapse into anarchy. No, I was not drunk.
Before I tell my harrowing story of the road, I want you to think about your website. Honestly, are you doing all you can to ensure usability? Is it enough to have 95% of your links unbroken? 97? 99? Do you just expect people to overlook the occasional link to nowhere, and just find their way?
How many bad experiences will turn a user against you?
Now back to my (completely sober) experience losing my way. We had been house sitting for friends in a rural area of town that I’ve only ever traveled in order to get to their house. Usually, it is a great experience with beautiful scenery: tons of green trees, rolling hills, grazing animals and children on bikes. Very zen.
Usually, it takes long enough to enjoy the experience, but it’s short enough to not be out of my way.
All it took was one unusual experience to change the way I feel about this route forever.
On this particular morning, I was a few miles down the back road when I encountered a “Road Closed” sign. Boom. Stop.
But that was it. No detour. No alternate route. No one around… except 3 other confused drivers and more on their way. Now, this is early morning. In their pre-coffee state some of the other drivers were confused. Some pulled into random driveways, one lady was just doing donuts in a cul-de-sac. In minutes, I could tell that rural route would soon devolve into a scene from lord of the flies. So I took my life in my own hands and went left.
A couple blocks down the road I came across a couple workers. They didn’t have a detour sign. They looked angrily at the panicked drivers. Nearest I could tell, they were arguing over a road cone. I drove on. It’s amazing how frightening and stressful the most beautiful scenery can become when you’re lost. It was like a Disney movie where the trees were alive and reaching out for me. I will remind you though, that I was not drunk.
Backtracking down the road, I found the street corner where the construction workers had been- it was a mystery. They were nowhere to be found, and they had left no detour sign in their absence. Bravely, I risked all and turned down the road into the unknown.
When my gamble eventually opened up to my intended route, I finally saw the mysterious road workers. Again, there were no detour signs to be found, but they were erecting the other “Road Closed” sign. I slowed down as I passed one of them who was slowly dragging yet another “Road Closed” sign to set it up.
“You know, you have 5-10 drivers down the road who have no idea where to go.”
His response? “I know. We’re doing the best we can.”
“At what,” I thought and drove along.
How easy would it have been to put up the detours sign FIRST? Isn’t it their JOB? Don’t they know this already? Each time I drove that route the rest of the week I prepared for another similar experience. If I had a choice I would find another route- even if it meant I’d sacrifice the scenery. It definitely made me think about usability.
Have you checked your site lately for usability issues?
- Broken links
- Mis-labeled links
- Irrelevant or out-of-date information
They’re not just mistakes, they are experience-killers.
- It doesn’t matter how much effort you’ve put into making your site pretty if I can’t get where I want to.
- Maybe it’s possible for me to find my own way, but I’d rather just leave.
- There’s no better way to communicate to me that you don’t care.
Usability issues tell your visitors you don’t care about their experience, and with the constant flow of competitors in your online marketplace, people have more and more reasons to leave.
Take a minute and think about your site. Are there any closed roads without detours? Anything that could be re-worded for clarity? Optimization isn’t just about clean code- take some time today to think about usability.
Or if you want I could just send you a picture of the guy dragging the “road closed” sign for your 404 page.