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Last updated: November 2017
This is one of a series of articles, the first of which is here.
Usability problems kill conversions.
There’s no easier way to grow a business than to eliminate them.
(As an aside, in our experience, the three other easiest ways to grow a business are to optimize (i) its strategy, (ii) its value propositions, and (iii) its pricing.)
In this article, we describe how to find usability problems. And then solve them. And we explain why so many designers are “usability-blind.”
We carry out usability tests every day. We ask users to carry out tasks, and then we watch—mostly in silence—as they struggle to complete them. The tasks are usually typical goals of the website. (For example, “Add to your basket some smoking mittens, some metal-detecting sandals, and a photorealistic bacon scarf, and then proceed to the checkout.”)
This script by Steve Krug tells you exactly what to say during a usability-test.
If you’re a sadist with a technical bent, you will enjoy running usability tests. During tests, we see users caught in wild-goose chases, scratching their heads, and sometimes swearing or even hitting their keyboards.
Why do marketers make websites that cause people to punch peripherals? Because marketers are afflicted with the curse of knowledge, a cognitive bias that makes it extremely difficult to think about a problem from the perspective of someone who’s less informed. Marketers spend so long looking at their own websites, they can’t imagine what it would be like to see the website for the first time.
As a result, the website’s users appear to be stupid. It’s a compelling illusion. But look at it another way:
Now who’s stupid?
How can you overcome the curse of knowledge? Design your processes for what you perceive to be a busy, lazy, drunk, amnesiac idiot—a “moron in a hurry”. Even geniuses with time on their hands will be grateful that you did.
You can carry out usability-tests with people from the following groups:
During usability-tests, we often use ScreenFlow to record a movie of the user’s screen. ScreenFlow can also simultaneously record video from the users’s webcam, so we can capture the user’s facial expressions (frustration, confusion, despondency, etc).
If you are too busy—or introverted—to carry out usability tests, you can pay for a service to do it for you. UserTesting.com provides a good service. If your budget is limited, you may wish to check out WhatUsersDo and FeedbackArmy. UsabilityHub even allows you to carry out tests for free, provided that, in exchange, you complete other people’s tests.
Here’s how those services work:
To learn more about usability testing, see our talk, “How to make millions from usability testing.”
One type of usability problem occurs when the website malfunctions. This is particularly common when the visitor is using an uncommon device or browser version—or when the page is new. The solution is to follow a robust quality-assurance (QA) process before any page goes live. Smashing Magazine’s list of “45 web design checklists and questionnaires” can be useful.
Identifying usability problems is only the starting point. You then need to come up with solutions to the problems. And that’s the hard part.
Great usability is hard to detect, because usable solutions are invisibly elegant. In the same way that you never notice that you have a spleen until you have a problem with your spleen. So it’s not easy to learn good usability.
The following three documents provide great examples of beautifully elegant solutions to usability problems. We urge you to read them:
There are many good books about usability, but the following ones will teach you most of the concepts you need to know.
This book is an excellent introduction to web usability. It’s so entertaining—and contains such valuable life skills—that our co-founder Karl started reading it to his children. They found it boring. Kids these days…
This book is less entertaining than Don’t Make Me Think (Karl’s kids would hate it), but it covers more usability concepts. If this book list seems worryingly short, that’s testament to how much ground this book covers.
This is the book that popularized Minard’s visualization of Napoleon’s 1812 march (mentioned above). It contains many examples of complex data shown in beautifully elegant ways. And it’s much more enjoyable to read than you’d guess from its dull title, its drab cover, and the last two sentences.
Finally, a video that describes the pains of completing an online checkout process:
We keep a database of all our experiments. Here are just a few of the wins we have had by solving usability problems:
In fact, almost every win has great usability woven into it. Just like most successful books have “good grammar” in them. If you’d like to read about other wins we’ve had, visit this page.
1. We have already grown companies just like yours. (We have helped to grow clients in 37 countries in 11 languages.) So wherever you are in the world, if you’d like us to work on your website—to dramatically increase its profits—then claim your FREE website strategy session. On this free phone consultation, one of our experts will discuss your conversion goals and suggest strategies to double your sales.
2. If you’d like to learn conversion for free, go to our “Learning Zone” page, where you can download templates of million-dollar winning pages. Or, if you’d like us to build your company’s in-house capabilities (not for free), then contact us and we’ll discuss your requirements.
3. If you’d like to work for us—or see why our team members love working for us—then see our “Careers” pages.
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