Top Ten Low Cost Ways to Improve Site Usability

I get called by online retailers very frequently who have done significant work in SEO, are driving quite a bit of traffic to their website, but seem to have hit a wall in increasing the revenue. They are baffled that despite all the good work in SEO and online marketing, they are unable to maintain a healthy conversion rate. The one factor that often results in a low conversion rate is site usability. In other words: Are visitors able to effectively navigate to find what they are looking for and then finally buy the product, once they are on your site?

Imagine walking into a store in the offline world. You see clutter everywhere. The only thing that is clearly visible is an exit sign. No matter how good the pricing is, you are likely to walk straight through that exit door if the store is not organized in a presentable manner. Similarly, in the online world a lot of online retailers do not focus on getting objective feedback from external users on site usability. This is true especially for the small and medium size retailers who feel that things like usability testing are for the big guys who have a lot of money at their disposal. Not any more. There are several cost effective tools available now that would allow you to test and improve the usability of your site in an objective way, without making a dent in your wallet. Here are 10 low cost ways to understand and improve the usability of your site:

10. Five Second Test

Five Second Test helps you easily identify the most prominent elements of your user interfaces. People use five second test to locate calls to action, optimize landing pages, and run A/B tests. Basically, you can upload images that will be reviewed by random Internet users. Users view the image for just five seconds then click on the screen to indicate areas of the images that caught their attention. Using text fields provided on the screen, they describe what they saw on the places they clicked. This works from the basic principle that visitors have a very short attention span and they typically don’t spend more than five seconds before moving on to other parts of the page. Therefore, you need to get their attention on the most prominent aspect of the offer in those five seconds. This is a free service and can help you identify opportunities with your ad or other image units.

9. Feedback Army

Start a usability test for your website in two minutes. Receive 10 responses from an army of reviewers for $10. This is as cheap as it can get! If quantity is your thing then you can’t go wrong with Feedback Army. However, you may have to throw away few responses because at $1 per response you have to question the quality of some of the responses. However, if some is better than none, you can’t go wrong with them. I dug a little deeper into their offering and it seems the feedback comes from workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service. Started by Amazon, Mechanical Turk is the crudest form of crowdsourcing, where you will find workers willing to do small virtual tasks for less than $1. So is it a virtual sweatshop taking advantage of poor people from third world country? According to a Mechanical Turk demographic study, the answer is, “no”. An interesting observation from this study is that more than 75 percent of the workers are from the United States and at least 50 percent have a college degree.

8. Loop11

Loop11 is a web-based user-experience tool, which allows companies to conduct remote, unmoderated usability testing on any kind of digital interface. It is a good complement to lab-based user testing which enables you to quantify usability metrics with hundreds of participants. It costs $350 to run a user testing project with up to 1,000 participants.

7. Chalkmark

Want to test the design or UI prototypes with real people? You can use Chalkmark to get powerful insights from real people to tweak navigation and layout. As the results roll in, heat maps for each task are dynamically generated. Clusters of clicks are combined to give percentage read outs. You can quickly run a test on your UI prototypes to answer any nagging questions about usability. You can get a 30 day plan for $109 and create unlimited tests and surveys.

6. Concept Feedback

Getting ready to launch a brand new concept? Would you like to know what other professionals think before you release it to the world? You can receive quick, actionable feedback from a professional community by uploading a concept (a website, logo, or advertisement) using Concept Feedback. Each reviewer has a reputation score so you can pick the best feedback.

5. Crazy Egg

Crazy Egg lets you create tests to figure out what people are doing on your website. You can enter the URL of the page you want to track, enter how long the test will run and CrazyEgg will provide one line of JavaScript that can be applied to your site. You can see all sorts of heapmaps and overlays to figure out what people are clicking on and, more importantly, not clicking on your website. For $19 a month, you can track up to 25,000 visits per month. Or for $99 a month you can track up to 250,000 visits per month.

4. Ethnio

For $400 you can recruit about 200 research participants from your website and perform a moderated focus group session with real visitors from your site. Ethnio uses basic JavaScript and DHTML, so integration is fairly quick and easy on your website. When a user chooses to participate, a notification is sent to the person who will moderate the session. The moderator can then telephone the participant and conduct a moderated session or a focus group session.

3. Google Website Optimizer

Don’t worry about making it perfect. Brainstorm a few site variations and try them out on real visitors with Google Website Optimizer. If you don’t have this tool setup, get it now. This is one tool that lets you test and learn different variations of banner ads, promotions, design and immediately understand which version is driving the best results. On top of that, this is fully integrated with Google Analytics and it is completely free! Need I say more?

2. uses the Web 2.0 crowdsourcing model to dramatically drop the price of usability testing. It lets website owners easily get pre-screened users to rapidly do usability testing of their websites. It only costs $29 and the results are typically ready in an hour. You get a Flash video of a user speaking their thoughts as they browse your website and a written summary where that same user tells you what they liked, disliked, and what would have caused them to leave your site.

And the Winner Is…

1. 4Q From iPerceptions

Want to get quick, actionable insights from your visitors? Meet 4Q by iPerception. It is a free, online survey solution that allows you to find out why visitors are at your website and whether or not they are completing their tasks (and if they aren’t, what’s getting in the way?). It easily integrates with any website, requires only a few lines of code and, best of all, it is free. The reason I like this the most is because it allows you to create conversations with your users using a simple and direct methodology and it can provide key insights in improving the overall offering or the usability of the site.

Darpan Munjal
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