22 Jan 2013

For Marketers: Explaining the Importance of Usability to Site Owners – Part One

Sell Usability

Show me your money maker.

Most web site owners are so focused on search engine marketing that they neglect the appearance or functionality of their web site. Selling usability as part of the marketing strategy is a new idea for many SEO’s.

Unless a site owner is tracking site activity and watching the data, they really have no idea if their site is performing as well as it could be. For usability purposes even the data is unclear. Site funnels help to show what people do on a site but it offers no insight into why they do it. SEO’s ignore user behavior in their pursuit of driving traffic and fighting for rank. Site owners, especially those with new web sites, aren’t thinking in terms of online customer service as much as they’re focused on getting eyeballs on their site.

Get the Usability Discussion Started

How do you sell the idea of web site marketing improvements that include web design recommendations? There are many approaches but I have two favorites because they always get site owners thinking beyond linking and PPC as their only options for successful marketing.

1. Ask a site owner to show you where the main task is located on the homepage. If they can’t find it, how will their site visitors?

2. Ask a site owner what the top business requirement is for their web site. It might be “get sales leads”, “read my blog”, “click on ads”, “subscribe”, “register”, “earn revenue”, “sell products”, “get bookings”, etc. Once this is determined, ask to see where this business requirement was met on the homepage.

These two approaches never fail to illustrate problems with a web site. They can be asked for any landing page but my first choice is the homepage. When a site owner answers your questions, don’t say anything. Just listen and watch.

Next, if possible ask for a volunteer who has never seen the web site before to sit down and look at the homepage. Ask them to show you where the main task is for them to perform and watch them look for it. How people look for what they need and where to start on a homepage always offers clues on a poor user interface.

Next, ask this person what they think the main purpose is behind the web site.

In most cases the site owner and site user are unable to isolate the main task and their answers to the site’s reason for being will be different. This is a usability problem. Why? Conversions for starters. When you have done all the linking, content writing, PPC, social networking, organic SEO and still see high bounces rates or struggle to rank well, the problem is with the web design.

The preferred way to prove your point when introducing usability reviews and testing to your search engine marketing strategy is to view and use a web site together and ask the above questions. A site owner may proudly show you their big button link to the registration form hiding down the long page somewhere around the footer. They know it’s there and know where the button goes. A first time user, however, will likely take more than 3 seconds to understand the site’s purpose and find the lead task at the bottom of the page. If the site owner is lucky, this user bothered to scroll and even more amazing would be if the user clicked on the button to perform the task without complaint.

You get to ask the money questions. “Why is the main business requirement related task hiding all the way down the page?” “Was there enough information provided to help this user click that button?”

There are many ways to sell usability. For marketers, you want to show the extended value of a usable design as it relates to online marketing. There’s always a difference between how site owners and site visitors use the same web site. You’ll also discover that many site owners simply leave the design to someone else and believe the web site is working they want it to.

In the weeks to come I’ll discuss how to respond to “push back” from site owners when they disagree with your recommendations, how to show the importance of knowing target users and their behavior, and why a poor design contributes to sluggish marketing.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  1. January 22, 2013 at 3:26 PM

    Great article!

  2. Ben January 22, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    great post! looking forward to part 2

  3. Gary Swiftbonds January 24, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    Thanks a bunch for this. However, whenever we ask the owners for what they “believe” the site is for, they typically are not cognizant of what they really want. That is, they say “sales” when what they really want is engagement. Many of them cannot even discuss what “engagement” is or how it would affect their core business. Still, I appreciate the focus on metrics.

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