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Website usability, part 1: what is it, and why is it important?

26th July 2011
GWS Team

Recently we've seen an explosion of interest in website 'usability' and 'the user experience'.

And rightly so, as it's a topic that online businesses and organisations ignore at their peril.

The 'usability' of a site refers to how easy the site is to use for visitors.

A good user experience is good for business.

Improvements to your website's usability can increase traffic, reduce customer service costs, increase conversion rates, decrease the time customers need to spend on your site and the frustration they can feel when they are trying to find something, and improve customer loyalty by providing a website that they find enjoyable to use - time and again.

All too often, however, usability and accessibility design issues are left at the very bottom of a long list of 'to do' items for businesses.

They're sometimes seen as an unnecessary 'extra cost' that offers little return on investment and leads to a more functional but less attractive-looking site.

Yet providing an accessible and user-friendly site is not only fundamental to ensuring that your customers receive good service, it can also complement your business priorities. 

If a visitor can't quickly find the dress they're after, or they can't easily read the text on your site, or if they can't find a contact telephone number, or if they're not sure whether they can easily return an item, the likelihood is they will leave your website and look elsewhere.

It doesn't matter if your website did have the exact dress, or if you offered a freephone number, or if you had a wonderful returns policy.

If your website is difficult to use, then your potential customer may already have left.

Jakob Nielsen, an expert in usability issues, encourages businesses to justify the time spent on usability issues by considering it as as a way to increase sales or visitors to the site.

Improving usability shouldn't be regarded as a time-consuming chore for your business or service; it should be considered a key tool increasing business, keeping clients happy, and attracting new visitors. 

Website usability is a subject integral to website design, and something anyone with a website should be thinking about.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be running a series of posts on the subject.

In part 2, we will be providing an introduction to things to look for when considering a website's usability. 

Continue to Part 2: Key Questions to Ask About Your Site

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