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Marketing Insight: The Five Principles of Web Usability

by Randall Craig on August 11, 2013

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Marketing, Web

Tagged as: , , ,

Why are some sites just so frustrating to use?

To answer this question, we need to look through the lens of the user experience designer – and their cousin, the marketing director.  When sites are poorly put together, it is likely that the site has violated one of the five principles of web usability.  Balancing them properly means commercial success; poor balance – or ignorance – reduces the odds of success considerably.  (And frustrates users, and nibbles away at brand equity.)  Here they are:

The Principle of Multi-Navigation:  Everyone isn’t the same – they all have different needs, different knowledge levels, and different levels of urgency.  And not everyone thinks, or learns the same.  For these reasons, it makes sense to provide multiple ways to get to any internal web page: menu navigation, search, sitemaps, banners, and embedded links are but a few of the alternatives.

The Principle of The Guided Journey:  When a user gets to a website with many many links, they may immediately find what they’re looking for.  But they may also get lost in the clutter and abandon their quest.  Or they may get distracted by all of the other “interesting” content, meandering aimlessly and forgetting their original intent.  The Principle of the Guided Journey removes (or demotes) content and navigation that is secondary to the goal of the site.  A simple example: Does the Careers link really need to go on the main navigation? Or would job seekers spend the time to look for this link in the footer?  A variation of The Guided Journey is Conversion-centered Design: in this case, the Guided Journey simplifies the page down to its essence, for a specific single purpose: to encourage a sign-up.

The Principle of User-Centricity:  Some content is only relevant at a certain time, or to certain categories of users.  For example, when a user is going through the shopping cart check-out transaction, why display anything that might distract the purchaser from completing the transaction?  Nix the main navigational menus, sidebars, ad links, and extended footers.  Similarly, if you know who the user is – or the category of the user – why not strip away irrelevant content, and display a custom navigational menu?

The Principle of Commercial Art:  This principle describes the difference between a beautiful website – a piece of art – and a beautiful website that works – commercial art.  Design can create a deep emotional connection with the user, and is critical to getting the user to act; (it can also reduce support costs.)  Design that does not drive towards the commercial goal of the website gets in the way – no matter how beautiful.

The Principle of Consistent Experience:  The brand is most powerful when the entire experience – online and off – is consistent.  This means that the content, and user interface, and branding on the public site, the private account area, and social media venues are coordinated and consistent.  It means that the “culture” experienced at an event or during a one-on-one meeting is congruent with what is happening online.  When this happens, the brand promise affirmed, and the message is amplified.

This week’s action plan:  Take a look at your organization’s web site: what grade would you give it on each of these principles?  And what needs to change for your site to have more than just a passing grade?

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Randall Craig

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Randall has been advising on Digital Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of eight books, including Digital Transformation for Associations, the Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business, and Social Media for Business. He speaks and advises on Digital Transformation, Digital Trust, and Social Media. More at

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