Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lets look at site usability

Trotters Independent Trading
So you’ve had an amazing idea for a website that is going to make you richer than Del Boy.
You’ve found a website design agency who’ve produced a slick, modern looking site.
Your advertising campaign has gone live. Traffic is coming to the site.
Now it’s just case of waiting for those orders to flood in....

Nothing happens, or at least nothing on the scale you expected.

You know your figures stack up and on average you should be converting 1% of your visitors into sales but your site simply isn’t achieving that. Oops!

In my mind the main thing that has an adverse affect on site performance is usability. Let’s draw some comparisons between an e-commerce site that sells ‘widgets’ and a fictitious supermarket, for the sake of argument we’ll call them ‘Freshco’.

What’s the first thing you see?
“You notice how they always put the fruit and veg at the entrance to the supermarket? You go in thinking 'this is a fresh shop, everything in here is fresh! I will do well here.' You never go straight to the bit with the toilet paper and squeezy brushes do you? ”
Eddie Izzard – Definite Article
Eddie hits the nail on the head here, first impressions really count. Your site sells widgets and the first thing a user should see when they land on your page is a picture of a widget. It should also be a nice clear picture taken by a professional photographer, not something that you’ve snapped on your phone.
If you have an adwords campaign running you should make these first impressions more specific. If a user has searched for ‘Blue Small Widgets’ take him straight to the page that has the information about ‘Blue Small Widgets’, don’t just dump him on the home page and let him find his own way there.

What’s the lighting like?

When you walk into a Freshco it’s bright, almost as bright as the sun! Even in the middle of the night they keep the aisles well lit. As a result Freshco has an electricity bill roughly equivalent to the gross domestic product of Venezuela but they do this for a reason.

Imagine how much harder it would be to go shopping in the dark. All this light makes it easy to see things without having to strain your eyes and your website should be no different. I’m not suggesting that you make your design a white so bright that you could get a tan from looking at it but you should be able to read text easily and the images of products should look as crisp and well lit as possible. (Usually you’ll find manufactures are happy to supply you with good, isolated images of their products.)

Where’s the beef?

At Freshco the beef is in the beef section. The beef section is in the fresh meat aisle. The fresh meat aisle is in the refrigerated area of the store. Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

And that’s not only at Freshco. If you were to drop anyone (with the possible exception of vegans) into the middle of a modern day supermarket they should be able to find the beef easily. The same should be true of your widget store.

  • Have a search box that can search product name, description and code easily. Stick it somewhere obvious near the top of every page.
  • Navigation. Make it simple, straightforward and intuitive. Use both horizontal and vertical navigation if need be.
  • Use a sensible hierarchy of products and categories.
  • Make sure that there’s a ‘Basket’ and ‘Checkout’ link in an obvious place.
 Put the high profit items at the end of aisles.

Yes, that’s what they do at Freshco. Believe it or not they’re not putting the most useful value for money products at the ends of aisles, they’re putting the ones that have the higher profit margins there because most customers will pass by these area.

Ok, so an e-commerce site doesn’t have physical aisles but there are areas on the page that could be used to push high profit, or end of line products that relate to the rest of the page. If you’ve got 100 orange widgets that you want to get rid of, it doesn’t hurt to promote this fact on pages relating to red and yellow widgets.

Everybody hates forms!

Unless you’re applying for credit at Freshco you can take your shopping to the till, pop in your card, key in your pin and you’re good to go. You don’t have to become a member. You don’t have to give your address. You don’t have to give a daytime telephone number.

Granted there are certain pieces of information that are important, such as delivery address, but try to make this easy for the user. Don’t force users to register if they don’t have to. If possible and budget allows use a post code look up that pre-populates the address fields. You should definitely have the ‘Is the delivery address the same as your billing address?’ functionality. Keep the information that you ask for to a bare minimum. You can always have a text area that allows for any other comments should someone wish to explain the intricacies of catching the train from platform 9¾ at King’s Cross.

Don’t look shifty!
We all know and trust Freshco. Unless you’re lucky enough to have built a large household brand there’s a good chance that users won’t know exactly who they’re buying from the first time, and when it comes to money, people are careful. Having the logos of the cards that you accept will help a little but there’s much more you can do.
  • Having a ‘Shop safely with us’ type page will allow you go in to detail about how you ensure that users details are safe and secure, link to this page from somewhere prominent either on every page, or at the very least from the basket page onwards.
  • If you’re a limited company put the registered number in the footer of the layout. Widgets Ltd Registered in England and Wales No. 1234567 looks better than ‘Make all cheques payable to Dave T Geezer... discounts for cash!’
  • Display a telephone number, even if it’s likely to go to answer phone.
  • Put a physical address and not just a contact form on the site.
  • Make sure the site looks good, works and that the copy is spelt correctly. A lack of attention to detail can result in a lack of trust.
Check your stats.

In Freshco, even the untrained amateur can spot the useless check out attendant from 30 yards away, you can see clearly if an item is out of stock or if the tills aren’t working. This is because everything is under one roof.
Your online shop is slightly different from this. Your customers are more than likely sat on a sofa wearing nothing but underwear and scratching themselves, with Hollyoaks on in the background. You don’t have the luxury of being able to watch their experience but your stats can give you an idea.

If, for example, there are thousands of users who get through to the final checkout page but don’t complete the transaction have a long hard look at that page to see if anything could be improved. If the bounce rate is through the roof, on a certain entry page, scrutinise that page, tweak it, and see if that makes a difference. If there’s fewer visitors than you would like hitting a particular page, than make it easier for them to get to, perhaps by placing it on the home page.

Your stats aren’t just a meaningless set of numbers to show the bank, they can help you get an idea of how to improve your users experience.

Make it as easy as you can for people to part with their hard earned cash!

This pretty much summarises it. The whole journey should be...
1.    Go to site
2.    Find Product
3.    Add To Basket
4.    Repeat if necessary
5.    Pay

Anything outside of that, any additional clicks or processes will slow people down and make it more likely for them to go elsewhere.

On a slightly more serious note, whilst talking about our hypothetical Freshco is one thing, putting all this into practice is quite another. Whether it's starting from scratch or improving for an already existing web development, why not get in contact with us here at Rocktime, and our Sales Team will be more than happy to talk strategy and solutions over tea and biscuits.

Author: Foz


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