How many times have you visited a Web site and found yourself wandering aimlessly, trying to find the answer to a question? Now, ask yourself how many times the customer or prospective customer for your small business might have become lost or frustrated on your own Website.
If that exercise makes you uneasy, it should. Data about Website user experience from Forrester Research suggests that most Websites are abysmal at their jobs. The research firm's examination of more than 1,500 websites found that just 3 percent of them earned what Forrester considered to be a passing grade for user experience.
The sites considered were a combination of business-to-business, business-to-consumer, different industries and different geographies. Forrester doesn't really say much about the size of the companies behind the Websites considered, but in my mind that doesn't really matter. Especially since that is part of the point: On the Internet, small businesses can look much bigger than they really are -- if they take time to focus on this.
Those results are part of its new report, "Lessons Learned from 1,500 Website User Experience Reviews." And, astonishingly, the results are actually better for the past year than they have been over the past 12 or 13 years that Forrester has been studying this.
What is user experience in the eyes of this research?
It differs depending on the sort of company you are considering. For example, a financial services company might be rated according to how quickly a person can set up an account. For a retailer, it might be the ability to search for and buy a specific product, or sort of product.
For the purposes of Forrester's research, however, it came down to four primary things: the value of the content, navigation, presentation and trust (which is related to security).
Here are the high-level results. The percentage for each statement is the percentage of Websites that failed for that question:
- Is text legible? (87 percent failing)
- Are task flows for the specified user goals efficient? (76 percent)
- Does the site present privacy and security policies in context? (74 percent)
- Do layouts use space effectively? (66 percent)
- Is the content that's required to support the specified user goals available where needed? (63 percent)
- Focus on establishing trust. That means spending time disclosing your company's privacy policies, investing in the proper security measures for submitting information, shoring up error message policies and so forth. The more transparent, the better.
- Invest in better navigation. Even though metrics for trust and value of sites have gone up over time in the Forrester research, this is one area that has barely budged since the company started tracking Web site user experience. If someone can't find something on your site, it is useless. Period. What's more, things that were tolerated in the past may be more frustrating to people used to the simplicity of social networks. One thing that bothers me, in particular, is when I get stuck in the shopping cart portion of a retailer's site when I want to buy more than one thing.
- Think about presentation and design. Let's face it, we are in an age of video and images. Is your site too text-heavy? What font are you using? We are also in an age of mobility. If your Web site can't be accessed easily via a smartphone or tablet, you are missing out on a big opportunity. Just this week, I ran across an access issue of this nature.
- Remember your mission. Think about how your site reflects your company's corporate strategy. If you are a retailer, it is pretty clear that e-commerce should be the focus. If your company offers professional services, it should convey just enough -- without trying to get into all the minutiae. Companies that have been on the Web for a long time might have an especially hard time of this. But think of it this way: you throw out printed brochures and other collateral that has become outdated, why wouldn't you do the same with your Website? Eliminate what's superfluous and focus on underscoring your company's real strategic advantage.