Jakob Nielsen is a guru when it comes to web usability principles. You’ve probably heard of him or perhaps even read some of his extremely insightful articles on making the user experience a lot simpler and, therefore, better. His work and his writings have a huge impact on your B2B site because he essentially lays out for you what you have to do in order to make your site so user-friendly that conversions will automatically increase.
Web usability can be defined in the following way:
It “assesses how easy user interfaces are to use”.
In a nutshell, it’s all about the user experience and whether or not your B2B site is easy to use from the user’s point of view. Of course, several unique factors are considered when you talk about usability on any B2B site. Usability can also be a reference to the never ending battle to better the ease of use after it’s online.
Mastering web usability is super-important since it will affect your site’s conversions. It only stands to reason that users who can easily use your site will convert at greater rates than those who get frustrated because of a bad site design.
Understanding the Particulars of Web Usability Princinples
Yes, usability is about making the user experience smoother, easier and better, but it more specifically breaks down into the following five areas:
- Learnability: The ease with which your users can accomplish the most basic of tasks on your site when they encounter your design for the very first time. An example would be how easy users would find it to locate the search box on your site and then conduct an efficient search to find the product or service that they’re looking for.
- Efficiency: The quickness with which your users can perform tasks on your site after they have already learned the design. An example would be how easily your users can navigate your site in order to schedule a demo or take a tour.
- Memorability: The ease with which your users can orient themselves on your site again after a prolonged period of not using it. An example would be how efficiently your users can utilize your site’s navigation menu to find the same category in which they saw a product or service they really liked the last time they visited the site.
- Errors: The count of how many errors users make when navigating your B2B site, as well as the severity of these errors and how efficiently they can recover after making them. An example would be the failure of your site to actually change the color of visited links to clearly communicate to your users where they’ve already been.
- Satisfaction: The overall pleasantness of the design. Some ways to gauge this would include how easily users can find what they want on your site, the clarity of next steps on any given page to move customers down the sales funnel with ease, and even how aesthetically pleasing the design appears.
Understanding the Three Us: Utility, Usability and Usefulness
In addition to the above, you have to consider how web usability interacts with utility in order to achieve great usefulness in your B2B site layout. Utility can be defined as the functionality of your design and whether or not it actually offers the features that you require. For instance, your B2B site will require huge, clickable and easy-to-see call to action buttons. Their presence on your site is one of the factors that determines utility for a B2B site.
Now utility has to be looked at in terms of its relationship to usability, which we already defined above. Taking these two concepts together, we arrive at usefulness, which is simply the combination of the features you need on your B2B site (utility) added to the ease and enjoyableness of using said features on your site (usability).
The Importance of Web Usability Principles to B2B Design
The goal of your B2B site is getting your visitors to convert, whether that’s a micro conversion (signing up for an email newsletter or taking a tour) or the ultimate conversion (buying your actual product or service). Put slightly differently, having a usable B2B site is vital to your survival as a business. If your site is performing poorly for site visitors, then they’ll leave and never return. Your business is clearly going to be on its last legs very soon in such a situation.
Let’s look at some examples of failures in usability to explore how that will make your prospects leave your site, never to return again:
- If your landing page or homepage fails to offer a clear-cut value proposition that smoothly explains what your company offers customers, how it’s better than what competitors offer, and how your site visitors can use your site, then buyers will leave.
- If your website is so confusing that site visitors can’t find what they want very easily or at all, then they’ll leave.
- If the copy on your website is so difficult to read (think small font that makes you squint) or fails to answer questions that your buyers have, then they’ll leave.
This all comes down to this simple fact that you should never forget: Your users (site visitors, buyers, prospects, etc.) will never take a lot of time out of their day to actually learn how to use and navigate your website.
If your site offers a very frustrating level of usability, the first thing they’ll do is leave, as leaving will give them the easiest way of dealing with the problem of bad usability on your site. After all, there are lots of other sites available to them (read: your competitors), and they’ll gladly see what’s out there.
To learn more about what usability is and why it is so important for your B2B site, simply check out these following links:
- What & Why of Usability
- B2B Marketing Best Practices for Website Design (Video)
- 2014 B2B Web Usability Report
Going About Improving B2B Site Web Usability
To get site visitors to convert, as well as to move them down the sales funnel with so much more ease and efficiency, you will want to improve the usability of your site, especially if your site experiences some of the problems that we’ve identified above.
For starters, you will want to conduct a lot of site tests in order to determine if you’ve got usability problems. User testing involves three factors:
- First, locate some representative users. These are defined as “those” who “know enough about user needs, opinions, struggles, and preferences to serve as a proxy for them.” Note that these are not end users. Examples would be any buyers of an ecommerce site or workers at an intranet (they must not work in your department, though).
- Second, tell these representative users to perform representative tasks with the design of your B2B site. This can be anything from trying to find call to action buttons to figuring out how to get in touch with your company for more information and even determining what the next step on a page should be (read: sign up for a demo, etc.).
- The third part is the most interesting. Now, you should observe what your users do, where they succeed (and, alternately, where they fail), and where they run into big problems with the user interface design. The trick here is to just listen to the feedback that the representative users are going to give you.
Know that testing five users is typically sufficient. It’s absolutely more favorable to utilize your resources to run a series of small tests instead of a huge and costlier one. Between each small test, though, you’ll want to remember to change up your site’s design; this will assist you to correct the usability issues as you run into them during testing.
Another thing you have to know: Iterative design is the way to go to really boost the user experience of buyers on your site. It is basically a consistent refinement of your site’s design, based on your using testing.
In essence, you would test representative users on your B2B site. Then, you’d note any problems they would encounter as they tried to navigate through the design. This new iteration would have to be tested again, both to see if the old usability problems were corrected in the redesign and also if any new problems popped up due to the changes.
Suggestions to Improve B2B Site Usability
Now that you know what usability is and how to test it for usability issues, you’ll have to improve because, chances are, your site usability isn’t perfect (no one’s is). So just what do you do to improve B2B site usability?
It’s all about the information: You should give buyers a wide range of information, but you have to present it to them in such a way that it’s very easily understood by site visitors or prospects. This will keep the friction to a minimum, which is always a good way to help increase conversions since it helps to move prospects down the sales funnel into the ultimate conversion (read: actual purchase).
In addition, it is also a best practice to provide highly in-depth white papers and other content like this to aid your prospects in understanding topics such as:
- Return on investment (ROI)
- The cost of ownership
- Whether or not or how your product or service can integrate with the existing business environment of your buyer
Your B2B site must also support the entire buying process from beginning to end, not just a single purchase, as is common on an average ecommerce site. This means that your site should be a super-effective lead generator as well as implement great support in the post-sales stages since these stages determine your customers’ long-term loyalty.
Lastly, take to heart these five tips for improved B2B site usability. They’re a good outline for the key takeaways that you should never forget:
- Get inside the heads of your buyers
- Make it really easy for buyers to scan your pages and content
- Always test your site usability regularly
- Utilize terminology that is straightforward and easy to understand and read
- Ensure that your site navigation is extremely easy for users
Now you know why Jakob Nielsen is a guru when it comes to the field of web usability. All of these pieces of advice and insight are based on Nielsen’s storied, decades-long work in the field of web usability.
It’s no wonder why harnessing all of this knowledge, best practices and advice will result in your company having a website that is primed to bring in a lot of business from the B2B industry. All of it is closely backed up by decades and decades of solid research from Nielsen’s work as a web usability consultant.
As a B2B company, you must never lose sight of the fact that your website is the identity of the whole company and also represents your company to prospects looking to do business with you. That’s exactly why you have to put your proverbial best foot forward. The best way to do this is by making your B2B site the most usable that it can be.
This means that you have to test it not once or twice, but continuously. Only then will you know whether it’s still performing well from the standpoint of your various users. Once you’ve performed copious testing, that’s when you can focus on making improvements that are designed to allow your B2B buyers to find what they want on your site, super-easily.
Do you struggle with B2B web usability issues on your site?
Have you ever performed continuous testing to see if all of your site elements are working to the user’s satisfaction?
How open are you to making your B2B site the best that it can possibly be from a web usability standpoint?