Web sites are FOR customers. Web usability is UNKNOWN (but not Unknowable).
Your web site is not for you, at least not exclusively.
It’s primarily for your customers, suppliers, job applicants, and information seekers. Does your web site say and display what you want it to? And does it also conform to what your customers need to do or to know?
Usability of your web site is a complete unknown, when you have no input from users.
You just hope it works and satisfies their needs. To really know how user-friendly and effective your web site is, you must do user observation tests. Test subjects have to be typical, external, unfamiliarized users. Not office staff or project team members.
Without professionally administered User Observation Tests…
You have no idea how easy it is for people to interact with your site..
You have no idea how clear and well-written your site is.
You have no idea how relevant your content is.
You have no idea how smooth your navigation tools are.
You have no idea whether your forms work the way users need them to work.
Just because you and your wife, your staff and your golf buddies can use it--that's no guarantee that typical users will find it easy, satisfying, and relevant to their needs and goals.
This is not meant to overstate the obvious. It bears emphasizing, because it’s a fundamental principle that tends to get lost in the shuffle too often.
Valid observation testing of users is achieved by a trained and experienced Web Usability Analyst. This web specialist knows how to non-invasively (without coaching) observe user behavior. A web usability analyst also knows web norms (what users expect), and acceptable ways to fix usability problems.
Usability is often very poor on web sites. You know what you want to do, or what information you need, but you have to fight with the site to obtain it or to get it done. You click on this and click on that. You try Search Site, but that is usually not much help, especially if you can’t think of how the site refers to your item.
Blog-like Simplicity & Usability.
A blog has a few simple functions, so blogs are easy to use. Web norms are being defined by the blogosphere. As more and more people turn to blogs for information, social networking, personal journaling, and entertainment, their simple functionalities are becoming mainstream standards.
People are expecting to interact with a web site now, not just look at it and read it. Web users want to contact the site owner, and post comments at the site, or at an associated blog. Many web sites are incorporating blogs, for users who like to discuss, debate, and delve more deeply into relevant topics.
Seriously consider making your web site more blog-like, more interactive, and more open to user-generated content. Fresh content is also expected from web sites, due to the frequent, sometimes daily, posting of content on blogs.
Content Relevance: what do your customers need?
The relevance of your web site content can be determined by:
Ø focus groups of typical users
Ø web user observation tests
Ø field studies of user groups
Ø user comments posted to your blog
Ø user emails to you or the webmaster
Ø remarks about your content on other web sites and blogs
Ø blog posts by other people about your content
Ø links to your content
Ø offline citations, quotes, and discussions of your content, as in conferences, newsletters, and books
Ø wide-area knowledge of what's relevant to your audience (e.g. what business book authors and bloggers in your field or industry are writing about).
Marching Orders: Make sure your web site contains both the message you need to deliver AND the content and functionalities your customers want. Do whatever it takes to get to know your customers and market better. Meeting customer needs is how we increase sales and ensure brand loyalty.