Step 1: Website Usability Evaluation

by David Jenyns

Money, that's what I want.

If I asked 100 website owners for the one thing they need more of, over 90% would say “traffic”.  This sounds like a smart answer, but it actually reveals one of the most basic misconceptions about online business. What you’re about to read is the most important lesson you’ll learn from this chapter and it forms the foundation of everything that follows.  Are you ready?

The purpose of a commercial website is to make money.

My apologies if that sounds obvious and condescending, but please take a moment or two to really think about what that means.  Most business owners know that the above is true, but they don’t act as if they really understand it.  Instead, their actions indicate a belief that the purpose of having a website is to obtain as many visitors as possible, or worse, simply to be able to say that they have a website.

You could have the prettiest, most technologically advanced website in the world, and a million visitors a day, but if none of that translates into sales, then really, what’s the point?

Yes, getting more traffic might result in more clients, but it’s usually far easier, and much faster, to increase the percentage of your existing traffic that turns into paying customers.  For example, if you’re receiving 300 visitors a month and 2% of those turn into customers, you might only need to spend less than an hour making a few small tweaks to your website to turn that into 4%.  To achieve the same success through increasing traffic, you’d need to double your traffic, an exercise that would likely cost you a great deal more time and effort.

Over the next couple of pages I’m going to reveal the most important aspects of your website that you should adjust or improve when you conduct a website usability evaluation to increase the conversion rate of your website.

What do you want your visitors to do? 

If you answered that question with “spend money”, then you’re absolutely spot on; you’re definitely thinking along the right lines.

But I want you to go back a step and figure out the first step that your visitors must take to start along the path towards becoming a customer.  It might be reading your sales page, watching your videos, putting their email address in your autoresponder form or something else. Before you change anything on your site, you must be absolutely clear on what you want your visitors to do when they arrive.

In the case of my site, www.melbourneseoservices.com, it should be pretty clear that I want visitors to do one or more of the following:

  • Watch the introductory video.
  • Download the free SEO report.
  • Call me to get a quote.

All three options are clearly visible on the homepage, above the fold (viewable without having to scroll down the page) and aren’t obscured with a lot of unnecessary text and images.

Go, right now, and visit your own homepage.  Imagine that you’re a first-time visitor and make an honest assessment of what you see.  Are you quickly and easily drawn to taking the desired action that is the primary purpose of your site?

The easiest way to improve the success rate of whatever it is that you want your visitors to do is to simplify your design.  If an element of your homepage is superfluous to the primary goal then remove it, reduce the size of it or place it below the fold.

The idea is to reduce the number of options available to the visitor, almost to the point where the only thing left to do is take the desired step that places them on the path to becoming a customer.

People are generally lazy. Tell them what to do.

Usability is key

Long gone are the days when you could get away with a slow, clunky website.  If there is anything – and I mean anything – about your content or the way in which it is formatted that makes it awkward to read, your visitors won’t struggle on… they’ll just hit the “back” button and check out your competitors. When it comes to keeping visitors on your site, usability and readability are crucial.

If you’re lucky you might be able to get away with tweaking your existing template, but if you think it’s worth completely redesigning your front end, then hire someone who knows what they’re doing and don’t scrimp on the cost; this is one area where you get what you pay for.  Find a Web designer who is capable of creating a simple, clean, uncluttered layout.

Once you have a Web design that you’re happy with, then it’s time to take a really good look at the text on your pages. Great copywriting is essential – and we’ll cover that in a moment – but it’s just as important to ensure that the text itself is easy to read.  It’s no good having scintillating copy if the act of reading it is a chore.  I could write a whole chapter on this subject, but suffice to say that a large proportion of your visitors will skim your text rather than read it word by word.  To enable them to do this comfortably, without missing anything crucial, keep the reading area narrow, use short paragraphs, and include plenty of subheadings.

For similar reasons you should try and have just one goal for each page, whether it be to teach one main point or to reveal one important benefit about your product. It’s better to have lots of webpages than to try and cram too many different elements onto one page (it’s also better for search engine optimisation). Try breaking up individual webpages and spreading the content over two pages, or more if necessary.

None of the above comes with any specific formula so if you’re concerned that you don’t really have a feel for this, then again I’d encourage you to hire a Web designer who has good credentials in this area.  If you want to be 100% sure that your adjustments are having the desired effect then you can always split-test your changes and see which style converts better.

Direct your traffic

Good sales copy writing is an art that is well worth taking the time to learn.  It will improve your ability to sell, not just on your website, but in the offline aspects of your business as well.  There are some suggested resources at the end of this chapter, but let’s start with a few areas on which you can begin working right away.

Let’s start from the very beginning (a very good place to start): The headline.  The large, bold text at the top of every page is perhaps the most crucial aspect of your copy, so take some time to get this right.  The best headline is the one that convinces the visitor to keep reading and move on to the main body of text.

Compared to tweaking a headline, improving a whole page of sales copy can be a daunting prospect; but improving your style in this area is much easier than you might think.  Simply remember that, if given the choice, people prefer to buy from people rather than from faceless corporations.  When writing your copy, imagine you’re writing an email to a single, potential customer.  Be polite, be professional, but make sure that your style is relaxed and friendly.  Your natural warmth and humour should shine through.  The easiest way to accomplish this is to tell stories about yourself or your business; a good anecdote is fun to read, memorable, and adds a human touch to your site.  Even if you don’t fancy yourself as a copywriter, you can massively improve your results with this approach.

There are plenty of other copywriting rules, but the following are the two that I consider to be the most crucial:

Benefits, Not Features: You might have heard it expressed as “sell the sizzle, not the steak”.  Essentially this is about telling the customer what your product or service will do for them, personally.  People won’t care that your energy drink is high in glucose, but they will care that your product can give them the energy that will enable them to beat their opponent on the tennis court.

Call to Action:  No matter how obvious it might seem to you, once you get to the end of your page make sure you spell out what you want your visitor to do next.  It might be to complete a contact form, pick up the phone, or simply click through to the next page; whatever it is, make sure your visitors are always clear on the next step.

Last but not least, although there is generally less anxiety than in the past about purchasing online, you should still go out of your way to reassure your visitors that you are a legitimate and trustworthy business.  Testimonials, guarantees, and trust seals are all good ways to instil confidence and are a fast way to add a measureable difference to your conversion rate.

Action Steps

Hopefully after going through your own website usability evaluation you already have in mind 2-3 things that you can tweak to improve the effectiveness of your website.  To help you decide where to start, each chapter in this report concludes with a brief checklist of items which represent the areas that I believe will get you the best results in the shortest space of time.

Three things you can do now:

  1. Update the headlines on your pages so that they grab your visitors’ attention and compel them to read further.
  2. Email your best clients and politely request a testimonial that you can add to your website.
  3. Edit the last paragraph on your main pages so that they include a “call to action”.

Three things you can outsource:

  1. Hire a web designer to streamline your template (or create a new one).
  2. Hire a copywriter to improve your sales copy.
  3. Hire a writer/editor to improve the readability of your content.

Additional reading and support

If you want to learn more about improving the effectiveness of your website and writing great sales copy, visit the links below:

1. Samples of sites with usability in mind:

2. A tool you can use for split testing your website’s design elements:

3. A course from a copywriting legend to help improve your web page copy:

4. Services where you can get help from web designers or writers:

If you have any questions about the content of this chapter, please don’t hesitate to contact me at www.davesupports.com.

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