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In touch with your inner usability expert

The other day, a client called and asked if I thought they had wasted money by paying to be listed in an online business directory. As far as they could tell, that online business directory wasn't contributing much to their business.

Considering the fact that on Google, MSN, and Yahoo, they were already listed on the first page of "organic" results for their most important search phrases (for free), I said "yes, it's probably wasted money." When I asked why they were paying for the listing, she explained that the salesman who visited their office presented compelling stats and facts showing how many potential customers used his online directory.

When I asked my client if she had ever used that online directory herself, she answered "no." In fact, nobody else at her office had ever used it either. So, in purchasing the listing on that online directory, she was making a decision that was completely counter to her and her entire staff's web experience. She let the "expert's" definition of typical web activity override her personal experience.

 The lesson here is — assuming you meet the following criteria — you should usually follow your instincts when deciding what makes sense for your website:

  • You use the web frequently. In other words, it's not still a novelty to you.
  • You use the web to accomplish tasks. (Folks who use the web primarily for entertainment don't provide a good "usability filter" when making decisions about a business-oriented website).
  • Your demographics aren't drastically different than the demographics of your average website visitor.

The key is to remember what your visitors (i.e. potential customers) expect from your website. It's all too easy to forget that your website is really built for your customers, not you. Don't get sidetracked with "cool" features that don't enhance your visitors' goals. (Nine times out of ten, being entertained by your website isn't their goal — it's to learn about your business).
Keep in mind the features you personally appreciate in other websites when you perform tasks like paying bills, planning a vacation, or buying a product or service. Chances are, you appreciate websites that load quickly, are easy to navigate, use descriptive, meaningful wording, and generally behave the way you'd expect them. In other words, they make your user experience a successful user experience. Studies show that users appreciate a successful user experience above all else, which in turn leads them to doing business with you. And isn't that the point?

This article was originally published in the Coeur d'Alene Press' North Idaho Business Journal
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