I wouldn’t profess to be an expert in website usability, but I know enough to be dangerous. Here’s a fairly obvious but often overlooked tip: make it as easy as possible for your returning site visitors to take the actions they will take repeatedly. You can quantify this with a click count, which is, simply put, the number of clicks it takes a user to accomplish a task.
Google Search provides an example of how to do this right, with a click count of one—you type in what you want and click “Google Search” (or just press Enter).
Here’s how to do it wrong. Lightning Source, Inc. (LSI) is a company that prints books on demand. The #1 thing publishers return to their website to do (typically once per day) is to check an online sales report indicating how many books were ordered. In fact, for the vast majority of publishers that print books through LSI, checking this report is the only thing they will come back to do for months at a time. You would expect, then, that there would be an obvious link to run this report, wouldn’t you? Here’s how LSI actually implemented it.
First, you must log in by clicking the Login button at the top of the homepage to bring up the login form, enter your login credentials, and click “Login” to submit your credentials. Pressing the Enter key doesn’t work here (bad design). That’s two clicks.
The next step requires dexterity. You must navigate to the My Account pull-down menu, select the second option (cryptically called “Financial Information (View and Pay),” then select “Publisher Compensation.” One more click.
Next is where the click count tally really adds up. The publisher compensation report users will want in most cases is U.S. sales, for the current month, for all titles, displayed on the screen (not sent via email). This should be the default choice. Instead, there is no default choice. You must select the “LSI period” using two clicks of two drop-down menus, one for the month and one for the year. Then, you must check the box for “United States.” And then scroll down (below the fold on most screens, another bad design issue) and click “Submit” to see your report.
Grand total: seven clicks.
This entire process could be done with two clicks. The home page could include form fields for a login name and password that are always visible, so that a visitor wouldn’t need to click “Login” to see the login form. There’s one click to submit the form information. Then, on the page that appears after logging-in, there should be a prominent button labeled “Run Publisher Compensation Report” or similar. That’s the second click. Done. Either under that button or on the report page, there could be a link to “Customize this Report” so that a user could run a report with parameters different than the default.
So, food for thought. Check your own website to make sure you are not asking visitors to jump through hoops to perform common tasks, such as signing up for your e-newsletter or finding your organization’s phone number. Remember, unnecessary clicks aggravate your website visitors, giving them a reason to abandon your site.