Site Usability Issues Matter During the Holidays

    December 4, 2009
    Chris Crum

We’re well into the holiday season now, in terms of having sites ready for holiday sales. That said, it’s never too late to improve your site. Your sales may depend on it. There are lot of key ingredients that go into the recipe of a successful e-commerce site: marketing, analytics, customer service, prices, competition, and the list goes on. Somewhere in there is design, and more importantly, usability.

With said holiday season in full swing, it can’t hurt to brush up on a few usability tips. Usability issues are sometimes debatable, and a matter of opinion, but accessibility plays a vital role. Make sure your site is accessible (at least to the best of your ability) to those with disabilities. It’s not only the right thing to do for them, but it also opens up the door for them to give you their business.

Designer Chris Spooner has a nice list of usability crimes (things to avoid). This list includes things like logos that don’t link to the home page, not specifying visited links, not indicating active form fields,  not using alt descriptions on images, etc.

In a recent interview with WebProNews, Frank Bauer of Web Tuning Garage (who is also a moderator at the WebmasterWorld forums) shared some tips about URLs, which can play a crucial role in usability.

Don’t use intrusive ads on your site. Ads are fine. You have to promote your stuff (or if you’re a content site, ads are usually your primary way of making money). Just don’t use ads that intrude on the user’s experience. Don’t use ads that take up the whole screen if a user happens to mouse over something. It will only annoy them and they may leave. Perhaps these kinds of ads actually work for you, but if they’re not delivering you good results, it may be time to ditch them. They could be hurting you more than you know.

Brian Terry, another designer, has some pretty good tips in this article. "First it’s vital that you know exactly what you want your ‘ideal’ website user to be doing when they come to your page," he says. "It’s a good idea to map this out ie: when a new visitor comes to my webpage I want them to see ___________and do ______."

He also discusses things like sitemaps and tracking. One thing he touches upon is the use of "breadcrumbs" for navigation. If you are unfamiliar with the term breadcrumbs, it refers to the hierarchical display commonly used in site navigation. For example: Home Page>Product Page>Product A Page.

Google recently began displaying breadcrumbs in search results. So not only will they be useful to users on your site, they can be useful for getting users to come to your site in the first place, if they happen across it in a Google search. Breadcrumbs in the search results give the user more points of entry – more words/links that they can potentially click on. On the site, breadcrumb navigation can provide a good way to keep users browsing your inventory.

There are certainly plenty more tips out there for improving the usability of your site. We’ve merely brushed on a few. The larger point is that if your site is not as usable as you can possibly make it, there is a good chance your sales will reflect that. This is especially worth noting during the time of the year when nearly everybody is shopping.

What usability tips do you have? Share them with WebProNews readers.

Related Articles:

> Google Rolls Out Breadcrumb Display in SERPs

> Accessibility Information Webmasters Can Use

> Satisfying Usability And SEO