It's amazing how some companies spend thousands of dollars on Web site development without ever asking the site's intended users what they want.
After all, if you're designing something that's a tool, you've got to design something that works. Many organizations, though, lose sight of the fact that people don't go to a Web site to sit and admire it, they go there for a reason.
Consider this: You never surf the Web aimlessly.
On any given Web page, you have a goal in mind and that goal is driving what you do. Either you will click on a link that you think will take you toward your goal, or you'll hit the back button to take another path.
Unfortunately, too many sites leave us hitting our back buttons.
According to a recent study by Kansas State University psychologist Keith Jones, the problem lies in the difference between how Web designers think and how Internet users think. Jones and other experts believe that too few companies are testing for site usability before, during or after a Web site has been launched.
And Jones says that business Web sites are some of the most confusing for users.
When tested, users had a hard time finding information on many business Web sites because the information wasn't categorized in a way the user thought it would be.
"You see this a lot with corporate sites. It's organized in the way the CEO thinks about the company, not how the customers think about the company. Our research shows that is going to be problematic, because the only person who can really find information on that Web site is the CEO," Jones said.
"Every company really needs to sit down with the people they are trying to serve and make sure their site is providing the services that it should," said Dan Lee, director of marketing and client services for Oklahoma-based EyeQ Research, a company that specializes in content planning and user testing for Web sites.
Using focus groups and one-on-one user testing sessions, EyeQ has worked with several national clients to test Web site usability.
"Testing always uncovers something that you don't anticipate," said Lee.
For example, one EyeQ client almost launched a Web site with an online reservation process that three out of 10 people couldn't complete.
Another client was about to spend thousands to develop Web site features that focus group research showed their dealer representatives didn't want and said they wouldn't use.
Even if you can't hire a research firm to test your site's usability, there are several simple things you should consider that would improve a user's experience. …