10 Tips to Improve the Usability of Your eCommerce Site

Posted on October 11, 2012

Of all online business models, eCommerce is experiencing an incredible growth. Small start ups and large brands alike are seizing the opportunity to reach a larger market on the internet than they can locally. The issue for many is that the platforms that power most eCommerce stores are prone to shortfalls in their usability. Poor site usability will diminish profit and compromise the integrity of a site's brand in the eyes of potential customers. There are a number of usability guidelines, but the following ten should be implemented first.

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10 Tips to Improve the Usability of Your eCommerce Site

Of all online business models, eCommerce is experiencing an incredible growth. Small start ups and large brands alike are seizing the opportunity to reach a larger market on the internet than they can locally. The issue for many is that the platforms that power most eCommerce stores are prone to shortfalls in their usability. Poor site usability will diminish profit and compromise the integrity of a site's brand in the eyes of potential customers. There are a number of usability guidelines, but the following ten should be implemented first.

1. Take the Header Test

Many websites communicate who they are and what they sell in the header. This is fine, but it should not be the only way visitors can determine what a site is about. The header test, sometimes called the five second test, is the practice of removing the header and having someone else look at the site for five seconds. After this short amount of time, they should be able to state what the site is about. If they cannot, the site needs to be redesigned or content needs to be updated to quickly and effectively communicate the purpose of the site. It should go without saying that the header test should be conducted with someone who has not seen the site before.

2. Design Navigation Bars to Be as Clear as Possible

Navigation should follow the three click rule. If a user cannot find what they are looking for in three clicks, they become more likely to leave the site and choose another option.  The best way to ensure that the user finds what they are after is to make the navigation menus as clear and specific as possible. Adding in dynamic sidebar navigation can also improve the user experience and keep them on-site for more than three clicks. Split testing of various top level and sidebar navigation menus can reveal the best option to retain visitors for the longest amount of time.

3. Use Split Testing

Split testing is the best way to get a general view of which layouts work the best. Tracking conversion rates against an "A" page and a "B" page will often reveal startling statistics on usability. Split testing can be made more effective through the use of heat mapping.

4. Sign Up For a Heat Mapping Service and Use It

Heat mapping is a technology that enables site owners to "spy" on their visitors. By tracking where a visitor's mouse hovers most often, and which links are clicked the most, a split testing protocol becomes much more powerful. Site designers are often very surprised to see which parts of a page attract the most attention compared to what they previously thought would be the case. Heat mapping is similar to the five second header test in this regard.

5. Simple Checkout Solutions

Web users are impatient. If they have to go through a maze of mouse clicks and credit card entries, they will not be likely to complete a transaction or return for more business. Amazon's one click checkout system is praised for the simple reason that it is quick. Not every site has the resources to design this sort of checkout procedure, but any site should be able to simply the process. The three click rule of navigation should also apply to checkout. The fewer the clicks, the better.

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6. Make the Cart Obvious to Find and Easy to Use

A user should be able to quickly and easily navigate their way to their shopping cart. A cart symbol in the upper right hand corner of the page is the most common place for this. Making it as clear as possible, some sites will also place the word "cart" next to the symbol. Users should be able to navigate to the cart to see what is in it, as well as what the total costs will be.

7. Provide a Search Box

A lot of blogs don't use search boxes, but eCommerce sites should. When the three click rule may have failed, the search box can come to the rescue. Place it prominently in the navigation bar, or perhaps above a sidebar on the right. User attention often drifts to the upper right, so put important functions in this space.

8. Allow Customers to Purchase without Registration

User registration allows eCommerce stores to track buyer history, capture an email address for further promotions, and provide quick purchase options. However, some customers are wary of giving out their email address, or are only interested in a one time purchase. Letting customers buy once should also help to reduce abandon rates of online shopping carts.

9. Cross-Sell: Show Related Items

A related items widget in the sidebar or below a product description keeps users on the site longer, and helps them find the product they are looking for. When the three click rule has failed, and the search function has not worked, related items widgets can be the last opportunity for a customer to find what they want.

10. Get a Trust Certificate

A trust certificate, from a company like Verisign, lets users know that their information is safe. It may not directly impact how usable a site is, but it will often impact whether they choose to enter their credit card details or not.

eCommerce is Difficult to Do Properly

eCommerce is a difficult business to enter. There are problems with search engine optimization, saturated markets and most of all, usability. While traffic to a site can be bought or earned organically, converting that traffic into sales is the biggest concern. Implementing these usability guidelines should improve any eCommerce site's chances of making more money from the same amount of traffic.

About the Author

Steve Baik  from AddMe - AddMe traffic program is structured to deliver controlled bursts of quality visitors and traffic to your website. AddMe traffic will increase sales, signups and overall branding for your site, for more information about this exciting service Click Here!


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