B2B Website Usability

Website Usability

Looking to engage your B2B website visitors? Then you will need to take usability into consideration. The key to website usability is to do all the thinking for the visitor. As usability guru Steve Krug likes to say, “Don’t make me think.” So what does that mean for you as a B2B website owner? It means you need to do the hard work.

It implies that you need to plan and organize your site in a logical manner that follows standard web conventions. In other words, make your site look like other high quality B2B sites on the web. Don’t be radically different and turn your home page into a Flash-heavy experience where users have to click or roll over everything to discover what the site does.

The idea is NOT to make your home page into a Where’s Waldo children’s game.

Today most web sites follow a five-or six-section organizational structure. The standard convention is to put your main navigation in a bar at the top of the page or on the left hand side of the page. If your pages tend to be long (over 900 pixels), putting footer navigation that mirrors the main navigation is highly recommended.

It is also important not to force your company’s unique organizational structure on the website visitor. For example, if have an internal department called “Inventory Item Return Authorization” that handles all your customer service requests, don’t put that up on the website as a main menu choice. Instead, use language like Customer Support, Customer Care, and Technical Support etc.

Design your home page for scanning and not for reading.

Break page one up into 6 to 9 logical blocks. Use a 2 or 3 column layout. Organize your most important messages at the top of the page. Visitors visually scan your web pages in an F pattern. What does this mean from a design perspective? Imagine drawing a large F on your website. The top of the F should be where your main navigation bar is located. In the upper left of the F, you should have sub navigation.

Since visitors are scanning your pages, you will need to put H1 headers at on each page and sub headers. Effective use of headers and sub heads helps the scanner quickly determine which elements of the site interest them and which don’t. It is also recommend that you test your site’s usability.

This does not have to be a complicated process. All you need to do is find a few willing volunteers and ask them to perform common tasks on the site. For example, you could ask a few customers to beta test the site using Webex or Go-to-Meeting. Have them attempt to navigate the site. If they struggle or take too long to perform the common tasks, you’ll want to redesign the section of the site that is difficult to navigate. For in-depth analysis, we recommend investigating heat map tools like Eyetools or Crazy Egg.

The overarching principal you should follow when designing and organizing the site is to follow the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Stupid. This will go a long way towards making your site easy to use and prevent visitors from bouncing off your site after viewing only one page.

Want to learn more? Download our 2011 B2B Website Guide