Don’t Let Bad Usability Kill Conversions

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Captain ConversionCaptain Conversion reporting here.  Website conversion optimization is about persuading more visitors to take action, whether it’s sign up, subscribe, buy or book.  And much of it is about better marketing and design: layouts, headlines, copywriting and calls to action.  A big part though is avoiding barriers that block people who are persuaded to convert from doing so.  This report details a loathsome Conversion Killer that deters prospects through poor usability.  It also explains how to defeat the villain.

Conversion Killer Profile

The Usability ProblemSuperblock

The Usability Problem

An obstructive creature, Superblock prevents website visitors from completing their tasks. Known weapons include inefficiency, form errors and faulty navigation.  He’s one of the most reviled Conversion Killers because he stops people who want to convert from doing so.

Here are some key usability issues Superblock prevents conversions with:

Slow-Loading Pages

Website visitors are extremely impatient.  They often leave sites after 10 seconds if the content doesn’t look relevant and interesting.  And that’s assuming the content has loaded:

Even a few seconds’ delay is enough to create an unpleasant user experience
- Website Response Times

Browser Problems

Users view websites in different browsers, at different resolutions, and on different devices.  One user might visit a site using Google Chrome on their high-resolution desktop display, while another could be looking at it through Safari on their iPhone.

If the site’s design appears broken, people are going to have trouble using it.  Maybe the navigation is squashed together and overflowing off the screen.  Perhaps the content is so compressed it’s unreadable.  Or maybe the look of broken design is enough to deter.

Poor Navigation and Site Structure

Jakob Nielsen puts it in layman’s terms:

If the customer can’t find the product, the customer can’t buy it

He reveals that poor information architecture (IA) is the key reason for users not completing their tasks (converting) on websites:

Bad IA is now the greatest cause of task failures because it’s the stumbling block for getting anywhere on a site.

Information architecture means the structure of your site: the way pages are named, organized and linked with one another.  It includes navigation and menu design, sitemaps, and any other aspects of finding things on a site.

Missing Information

Visitors need sufficient information to make decisions.  If they’re booking a holiday apartment for the family, they need to know what the bed arrangements are: Is it two doubles, one double and one single, or all singles?

Participants in a usability study I ran experienced this problem on one site.  They could see how many rooms were in each apartment, but no bed arrangements.  Most of them said they’d leave the site and try elsewhere at that point.

Badly Designed Forms

Unnecessary fields, cryptic error messages and coding bugs stop people submitting forms and converting.  In projects I’ve done, forms are one of the most sensitive areas when it comes to abandonment.  Any objection can make people give up and retreat – like a form requiring too much information.  This article agrees:

Ask for too much information upfront and your visitors will pass on your website this time round. They may never come back.


First you need to find out what the underlying usability problems are, rather than guess.  Research methods like usability testing, feedback capture and surveys can get you the insights you need.

The great thing about usability testing is you can uncover several Conversion Killers at once.  As participants go through your site thinking aloud, you’ll see first-hand the different problems they’re experiencing.

Here are some ways to proactively avoid common usability issues.

Slow-Loading Pages

Use a tool like this to find out how quickly your key pages load.  If it’s more than a few seconds, use guidelines such as these to get your site up to speed.

Browser Problems

Check your site in different browsers, preferably just the ones your visitors use (which you can see in Google Analytics).  This tool will get you started.  Consider a responsive design.

Poor Navigation and Site Structure

You can run card sorting sessions to discover how visitors expect things to be organized on your site.  And keyword research shows you how people think about your content – the words they use, page titles they expect etc.

From there you can create sitemaps, user flows and conversion funnels around the things your visitors want to do – and the things you want them to do.

Badly Designed Forms

When it comes to forms, less is usually more.  The less fields you ask people to fill out, the more conversions you’ll get (less room for error, less time-consuming).  Expedia removed one optional form field which resulted in $12 million profit.

Usability isn’t about marketing and persuasion; it’s about completing tasks.  Make sure your site isn’t blocking visitors from completing tasks and converting into customers.

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