It doesn’t matter how beautiful a website looks if it’s too hard to use.
In one of our past posts, we covered what web accessibility is, how accessibility is part of the American Disabilities Act, and how you can create a more accessible website. This post will now cover usability, or the experience that the user has when interacting with a website.
Usability is important because digital presence is more than just having a website; it’s the entire experience of using the website as well. If you have good usability, users can easily interact with your website—if you have poor usability, users will struggle to interact with your site, resulting in low engagement and dissatisfaction.
So what is usability?
Usability is defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as the “extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals effectively, efficiently and with satisfaction in a specified context of use.”
In everyday American English, what this translates to is the ability for a user to easily and efficiently carry out actions within a given context.
But isn’t that the same as accessibility?
While web accessibility and usability have some overlap, the two are not interchangeable. Accessibility is the ability for every person to reasonably access a website; usability is about the user experience and how easy it is for users to use a website, which depends on how intuitive a website is.
Long story short, accessibility is the ability to use, usability is the degree of ease to use.
Quick ways to test usability:
Three click rule - you should be able to carry out major actions in roughly three clicks, so check to see how far can you get with three clicks. For ecommerce, can you purchase something in three clicks? If the most successful content for your site is a whitepaper, can you download said white paper in three clicks? Can you contact a company via the contact us form in (as you’ve probably guessed) three clicks? Check to see just how easy, or difficult, it is for users to carry out the actions you want on your website.
The water cooler test - find five people around the water cooler and ask them to user test for you. By asking five random people to try and carry out an action on a website, you can get 80% of the way to understanding how users interact with the user interface (no, I don’t know the math behind that number but it was given to me by Jason Cortes, a frontend designer and founder of the Albany UX Meetup group). Monitor your user testers and check to see if they can easily navigate and accomplish goals without asking questions or hitting snags. Take note of deviations of how you thought users would interact and how users actually interact.
Having it both ways - play around with moving through your site to see how many ways there are to carry out an action on a website, or to navigate to a new page. How many ways can you search for something (search bar vs pull down menu)? How many different routes can you take to get to the homepage (site map vs navigation bar vs upper left logo)? Good usability means your answers will likely be more than “one”.
Tools you can use:
If you’re interested in checking into your site’s usability, here are three tools for usability testing, each with the description of what it does directly from the website *Note: each of these tools use the freemium model, so not all features are free to use.
Optimal Workshop - “A User Research Platform that helps you and your team make design decisions with confidence.”
UsabilityHub - “UsabilityHub is a remote user research platform that takes the guesswork out of design decisions by validating them with real users.”
Optimizely - “Test headline ideas, images, CTA’s, colors, graphics, in-code pricing algorithms and more. Optimizely lets you control how many people see your experiments and then measures their responses by segment.“
We hope this post helped give you an idea of what usability is, and why it matters. If you already knew what usability is and its importance, we hope the tips gave you insights on ways to improve usability. If you already knew all of that too, we hope our tool recommendations will help you work towards continuous improvement! If you have any thoughts or comments on usability or tools, feel welcome to drop me a line—I’d love to connect!
This piece was written by our team for our partners at SMPS Boston.