Get Real with Usability

Some of you know that I teach Freshman Comp in my spare time. I think it’s worth doing; as we work more with people in different places around the world, being able to communicate in writing becomes even more important.

It also has benefits for my work with SEO. Since I teach research skills, and therefore inevitably online search skills, I see a constant stream of people interacting with the web. Some move with confidence through the internet, finding information easily and assessing it critically. Others sit helplessly in front of the screen and hope that their home page will present them with the answer to their questions.

Almost none navigate the web in the way that web pros do. Absolutely none navigate your business website the way you do.

Who do you check with when you’re making decisions about your website? If you’re like most of our clients, you have a list:

  • Your business partners
  • Your staff
  • Your family members
  • Web designers and other experts you know

This is fine. We get these people’s opinions, too. But we also know that people approach new experiences differently from the way they approach familiar situations.

Imagine my typical class of freshmen entering the computer lab for a first try at research. Half of them will immediately go to Facebook. They’re expert at Facebook. Their fingers fly on the keyboards and they can get the latest gossip and check someone’s relationship status before I get everyone signed in and tell them to get off their Facebook pages.

This is how you are at your business website. You know where things are. You know what you want people to do. It doesn’t have to be intuitive, it doesn’t even have to make sense, because you already know it well.

This is not how your average visitor approaches your site.

Checking with experts is great. People like us have enough experience that we can probably tell you some useful things about how your visitors are likely to respond to your website. But we see a lot of feedback from designers, and I have to tell you that it often focuses on very different issues from those your visitors will notice.

For example, web designers are 427%  more likely to care about your font than the average visitor.

So get feedback from the people whose opinions you trust and the people you care about — but also from ordinary visitors. Use your analytics, get together a focus group, try a usability testing tool, but get that feedback.

When we persuade people to test a website, one of the most common things they report is that they kept wanting to tell their volunteers that they were doing it wrong. Let’s get real, though. Unless you really want to limit your customers to people with special skills and background knowledge, it’s not the user who’s doing it wrong.

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