This is the second posting in a series about what it takes to make a website so easy to use that your audience will return again and again because the experience is simple, painless and quick.

This second part explores the elements of a usable website—that is to say, website usability by the people you are targeting.

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Website usability and a skeptical customer2

Website Usability and the Target User

As with everything in communications and marketing, creating a website that is tailored to your audience first requires identifying that audience. Most businesses are clear on who they are targeting, but may not have considered all aspects of how users will use their website. Rather than hoping that your customers will do what you want them to do, you must guide them to the desired action through website design.

Be very clear about what you want users to do on your site. You may have more than one kind of user, and the different users may be looking for different things when they arrive at your site. What stage of the buying cycle are they in when they arrive? There are several sources of data open to you that can help determine what the users’ goals are:

  • Support call data
  • Field surveys
  • Speaking with current customers
  • Analyzing web traffic patters on your current site
  • Look at referring data from search engines and other sites

Set goals for your site. If your website isn’t designed with specific objectives in mind, it’s unlikely to fulfill your expectations. Here are some typical things you may want your site to achieve:

  • Sales
  • Awareness
  • Support
  • Lead generation

If you are a non-profit charity, the list might look like:

  • Donations
  • Awareness
  • Volunteers
  • Education about the charity’s focus (such as heart disease, childhood hunger or animal rescue)

It’s fine to have multiple goals, but map them out before you begin development (or redevelopment) so that you can influence how users behave on the site.

Understand how users currently use your site (this is an ongoing effort). A friendly site will anticipate what users want to do and make it easy for them. There are a number of different tools that can be used to gather this information, including:

  • Eye tracking
  • Web analytics
  • Focus groups
  • Individual user Q&A session

Here’s a short list of online tools you can use for analysis. Some of them are free:

  • Google Analytics. Google makes a complete set of web analysis tools available for free. These tools can tell you who visited your site, how long they stayed, which pages they looked at, and how long they stayed on each page. They can also tell you where the visitors were referred from, what they do while on the site, and much more.
  • Google Content Experiments ( Formerly known as Google Website Optimizer, this tool compares how different web pages perform using a random sample of your visitors. Up to five different versions can be tested, allowing you to define what percentage of your visitors are included in the experiment and choose which objective you’d like to test.
  • ClickTale: This in-page analytics program records every visitor’s mouse move, click and scroll to reveal how they use your site, including heatmaps that show where your visitors’ eyes move on the screen and also analyzes where and why visitors leave your conversion funnel, allowing you to increase conversion rates.
  • UserTesting: This service uses real visitors to test your site for usability.
  • CrazyEgg: Tests eye tracking and heat maps on your site to understand where users’ eyes move to on each page. If their eyes are always going to a lower-value area instead of to the sweet spot where the sales happen, you’ll want to change that!

In the next post in this series, we will explain some of the techniques introduced here, such as eye tracking, and provide some examples to illustrate how and why these techniques can be used to turbo-charge the value of your website to your business.

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This post was authored by John Thyfault, Vice President of Search & Social Strategy, of Beasley Direct Marketing. Contact John at Thyfault Photo

John has more than 18 years of marketing, sales and product development experience, and he brings a proven track record of successful campaign, program and product development expertise. His knowledge of search engine optimization and marketing, combined with an in-depth understanding of customer identification, market analysis and segmentation, allows him to deliver high returns on our client’s marketing investment for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business markets.

Prior to working with Beasley Direct, John was Senior Client Services Project Director at, a first wave baby boomer lifestyle and community website. At ThirdAge he successfully led major client sponsorships for Fortune 100 companies in healthcare (Tylenol), financial services (American Century), technology (Intel & IBM) and consumer products areas (Revlon & Viactive). He was responsible for strategic and tactical goal setting, project management, new product creation and web site production. John previously worked in Channel Marketing and National Account Sales for IDG Books Worldwide, the publishers of the immensely popular “…For Dummies” book series. Additionally, he managed the wholesale distributor sales channel for Tor/Forge Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.

John is active in local marketing associations, including the Direct Marketing Association, the Business Marketing Association and is currently serving on the board of directors for the Silicon Valley American Marketing Association.

John has taught search engine marketing fundamentals extensively. He has led workshops for the Silicon Valley American Marketing Association, Northern California Direct Marketing Association ( and the Business Marketing Association. He also teaches Search Engine Marketing at UCSC’s Extension in Silicon Valley.