Improve Website Conversions Through Usability

November 15, 2010

As a website visitor navigates their way along a website conversion path, there are numerous points along that voyage that may cause the prospect to have positive or negative experience.

If a company hopes to convert that prospect to an opportunity or a customer, the key is to make the path to conversion as short and smooth as possible. One of the best ways to accomplish that goal is to make your website more usable. If a visitor finds a website difficult to navigate and can’t find what they’re looking for, you’ve lost them.

A few months ago, I worked on a value-add project with one of OpenView’s portfolio companies. The company was trying to better understand its prospect conversion process and how it could increase the number of website visitors that it converted to trial users.

We mapped out the typical web visitor’s flow, following the path they took from the home page to their exit from the site. Not surprisingly, two areas of the site had the weakest pass-through rates on the conversion path: the home page and the trial request form. As it turns out, usability is often lacking in both of those areas on a company’s website.

For example, the home page call-to-action may not be featured prominently enough or the number of fields on the trial request form can be too numerous. With the portfolio company we were working with, it was a great example of how beautifully designed websites can be ineffective in converting inbound prospects. Beautiful is one thing, but the website needs to be beautifully designed with an eye turned heavily toward usability.

Larisa Thomason at NetMechanic provides this checklist to make sure your website is usable. Among her many recommendations, Thomason suggests that websites need to be clear and simple, providing content that is both relevant and easy to scan. Here are a few of Thomason’s other website must-haves:

Provide a Clear and Simple Navigation System

A website visitor should know where they are now, where they came from, and where they can go. Keep your navigation bar in the same place on every page so that it’s always easy to find and always include a link to the homepage. Keep links predictable so that visitor’s know where it will take them and always provide a site search box that allows users to search for content within your site — but only your site. Don’t willingly send them somewhere else.

Make Content Relevant and Helpful

Place your most important content at the top of the page. When a visitor comes to that page, you want to catch their attention quickly and keep it, otherwise they’re likely to venture off somewhere else.

Allow for Visitor Feedback

Keep any feedback form short and simple. If a visitor has something to tell you, provide them an easy way to do it.

To Thomason’s last point, web forms can be a crucial piece to conversion path success. With those forms, you can encourage visitors to submit feedback, sign up for newsletters, or provide you with more information about them.

Industry research supports that argument. A great article from Smashing Magazine put together some impressively precise suggestions for designing website elements and how to make sites more user-friendly. It offers 10 tips to design a more usable site, but I found a set of findings at the bottom of the article particularly fascinating. Successful sign-up web forms, the magazine found, usually follow these guidelines:

  • The registration link is titled “sign up” and is placed in the upper-right corner.
  • Sign-up forms have simple layouts to avoid distracting users.
  • Titles of input fields are bolded and fields are vertically arranged more than they are horizontally arranged.
  • Designers tend to include few mandatory fields and few optional fields.
  • Email confirmation is not given, but password confirmation is.
  • The “Submit” button is either left-aligned or centered.

If you’re looking to get more out of your website and online advertising budget, those are great tips to follow. While some of them seem like simple tweaks, the fact is that they’re tweaks that can be implemented easily with immediate results. Increasing conversion at all stages of a customer’s path will ultimately help boost your company’s inbound lead generation.

After all, anyone can design a beautiful website. But it’s the truly great websites (and companies, for that matter) that are both attractive and user-friendly.

Chief Business Officer at UserTesting

Tien Anh joined UserTesting in 2015 after extensive financial and strategic experiences at OpenView, where he was an investor and advisor to a global portfolio of fast-growing enterprise SaaS companies. Until 2021, he led the Finance, IT, and Business Intelligence team as CFO of UserTesting. He currently leads initiatives for long term growth investments as Chief Business Officer at UserTesting.