Poor site usability equals lost revenue

A Web site that isn’t usable is a site that won’t bring in any dollars, according to Don Hameluck.

Hameluck, senior usability analyst at Toronto-based Immersant Inc., said sites should be designed around users’ needs and goals. He defined usability as the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which a specified set of users can complete a specified set of tasks in a particular environment.

There are certain factors that determine bad usability, and Hameluck named “launch windows” as one of them.

“A second window will pop up and often that window will have the full site navigation available within it. Sometimes it even disables all the browser’s controls or takes the controls away,” Hameluck said.

“The user is often at the second window, and I’ve seen it so that people open up to eight or 10 windows without even realizing it. They’ve essentially got eight views in on the site and they don’t know where they came from, they don’t know which was the last window that was opened.”

Immersant offers consulting and development services to e-businesses. Hameluck works at Immersant’s usability labs, which are dedicated to testing Web site functionality, efficiency and overall value.

Companies should keep in mind users come to their site with a goal in mind, he said. “They went there to do something, and they’ll arrive at the homepage or some other page, and they’ll look on the page for some kind of sign that they’re on the right track.”

According to Hameluck, if the users can’t serve themselves on the site, they often resort to calling the business’ call centre, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

Tom Vassos, MBA Internet marketing instructor at the University of Toronto, said some studies show Web site usability problems may actually physically affect the user, “like literally higher blood pressure and things.”

He also said usability plays a key role in the strength of the brand.

“If you have those negative experiences it can actually have a negative impact on your brand image of that company and [the products] it’s selling to you.”

Increasing the site’s readability by lowering the text’s grade-level target is also a good idea, Vassos said, even if that means going below the comprehension level you estimate for your users.

“Why not design it to a grade six- or seven-level readership? I am not going to be mad at that, as long as I can step through the very simple things you’re trying to explain to me,” he said.

Simple items such as search fields can be added so users do not have to find a route through the menu structure to complete their tasks.

“If you’ve got bad usability, people are walking out of the store without making the purchase that they’ve almost made,” Vassos said.

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