By Thomas Young
One of the most important components of a successful Web site is how it makes the transition from what a user is trying to accomplish and what the site is actually providing. Many times there is a gap between the usability of a Web site and the intended results of the company, or individuals, that developed the site. Here are a few suggestions on how to avoid the “usability gap” that is present in so many Internet sites.
Why the Gap Exists
Most Web sites are developed from the perspective of the company and not the customer. When a user comes to the site they are oftentimes confused because they don’t get the message. The developers of the site are usually so close to the process that they have difficultly communicating in ways that are understood by the site’s visitors. Thousands of Web sites fit this example. I am constantly amazed at the number of sites I visit that make no sense, are confusing or make it difficult to understand what they are selling and promoting.
Marketing Versus IT
In many companies, the IT (Information Technologies) department handles development and maintenance of their companies’ Web site. It is a mistake to have your IT department oversee your Web site. IT can provide the technical work, however marketing runs the process. The Web is a powerful marketing tool that should be in the hands of your sales and marketing department. IT should take direction from marketing to develop a site that gets results and bridges the usability gap. Struggles between IT and marketing can cripple your Web site’s effectiveness. I have seen this with multiple companies and it seems to be worse for large organizations. Many times it pays to go outside your company and work with a high-level Web development team to eliminate this struggle.
The marketing department should take their direction from the actual users of the site. One of the best ways to do this is by developing a site that is customer, or user focused. Ask yourself these questions: “What are users thinking when they see our home page?” “From whose perspective is the site developed?” “Does the average visitor to our site understand the links and how to navigate the site?”
One of the best ways to test usability of your site is through unbiased focus groups. We provide this service to our clients and the results have been very effective in bridging the usability gap and helping our clients get results from their Web sites. It is critical that these focus groups are run by an independent entity because your current customers are not usually inclined to give you bad news.