When it comes to online marketing, the main touchstone for success is user-friendliness. An obvious example is e-commerce websites, which must make it as easy as possible for visitors to complete transactions from first search to shopping-cart check-out. But every website—from static information pages to dynamic social media forums—must ensure that readers can quickly locate what they’re looking for—be that a desired product, specific factoid or overall experience. All it takes is a moment of confusion or distraction, and visitors are just as likely to click away and take their business elsewhere.
Sitemaps and very clear menus can also help with user-friendliness. Speed (in terms of fast page loads), navigational organization and clarity of layout are also vital. Even the most engaging content must be edited and streamlined to ensure that virtual passersby don’t move right along, because this generation’s ‘window shoppers’ increasingly refuse to jump through hurdles to get what they’re seeking on the Web. In a nutshell, the main tactic is to get visitors from Point A (their landing page) to Point B (the intended conversion) with as few clicks—and as little frustration—as possible.
Recently, profitable partner sites Catster.com and Dogster.com underwent makeovers in order to improve user experience. Even though these two popular sites had no shortage of traffic, realizing that they could absorb even more by enhancing appearance and services led to a complete overhaul of the pet-friendly websites. While the old adage states not to fix things that aren’t broken, this attitude has no bearing when it comes to the Internet. In this case, the sites took initiative based on perceived needs, and noted a full four percent of new traffic coming from iPhones thanks to improvements in small-screen usability.
On the other hand, when does too much become too much? These days, it seems that whenever users discover a glitch or imagine an upgrade, they increasingly expect their favorite websites to predict unprecedented solutions and implement complex programming changes overnight (see: Facebook). Web managers can spare a few headaches by anticipating user needs well before they clamor for change. Strategies include extensively testing the appeal of upcoming features, and keeping abreast of return activity rates. Of course, nothing will ever usurp the time-tested method of trial and error.
And then there’s the good ol’ Suggestions Box. Be proactive: ask users to tell you what they want—before they come around to inform you in the form of a complaint. For marketers, this is doubly beneficial: feedback can be used to help target what users really want, which can influence the success of future campaigns. It’s not rocket science; it’s just basic smart marketing. It’s safe to assume that users are seeking, at minimum, consistent demonstration of your willingness to improve.
With every website, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to usability. Any site that considers itself a finished product rather than an organic process is already on the fast-track to failure—or, at the very least, can look forward to its users becoming a lot less friendly.