For all the thought we invest in developing a distinct brand and a pointed marketing campaign, it’s surprising how little of it goes into engaging that attention once we’ve got it and, ultimately, converting it to something of any real consequence. It’s almost as though we’ve become so obsessed with our perception that our success is now based on a certain amount of likes and follows.
It isn’t, of course. Likes and follows don’t pay the bills.
The great flaw here is perspective. Everything about the opening paragraph suggests that we’re completely wrapped up in looking at the world through the eyes of our brands, not our audiences. And perhaps nowhere is this more glaring than our websites, specifically the ease with which they can be used, or website usability, as it’s known, a benchmark that can only truly be measured from a visitor’s perspective.
Simple in description, clear, intuitive website usability is becoming exceedingly difficult to pull off.
“You essentially have to read someone else’s mind, so the expected user experience matches the web experience you design,” writes Daniel Burstein, the senior director of editorial content at MECLABS, in a recent column for MarketingSherpa. “So the challenges of website usability aren’t necessarily unique to the web. These challenges are the very fundamentals of human behavior and interaction.”
Eyeing up a moving target
The more prominent a website template and theme becomes, the more it helps web site usability. “When a design becomes standard convention, more visitors will know how to interact with it,” Burstein says. You don’t need to look any further than your pocket to appreciate that idea. Pull out your phone and consider just how different it looks from the one you held just five years ago, or 10. And yet, you skip through apps and functions without pause.
But there’s a hitch hidden in there. Intuition, when it comes to tech, feels a little different (and sometimes a lot different) to everyone, and we’re all evolving at different paces. A 14-year-old, Burstein notes, is not going to see your site the same way a 64-year-old would.
The trick, he says, is acknowledging that, but not getting too hung up on it. As hard as you work to know your audience and try to be empathetic to their experiences, you can’t, as the adage goes, please all the people all the time.
Be attentive, but not fixated
What, then, should you be doing? (Besides constantly striving to know your audience even better than you already do.) To start, Burstein suggests having someone who’s unfamiliar with the site, or, at least, not staring at it day after day, look at it before any significant redesign launches.
He also cites a slew of problem areas that have tripped up even savvy designers and marketers: navigation, the amount of on-page messaging, the amount of on-page content, the clarity of on-page messaging, the location of on-page messaging, the call-to-action, pop-up forms, form error codes, form field descriptions, and the continuity between traffic referrers, like Facebook and LinkedIn ads.
There’s no magic formula, if you haven’t already gathered that. There’s also nothing that guarantees that even if you strike the right chord with each of those points, every visitor will convert to a customer. Nothing online these days is static, including the users. As they grow more sophisticated, your site should, too. Stride for stride. But it’s a race you never want to be leading.