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Often when asked, “What is the number one priority of a Web site?” many will reply emphatically, “make it usable!” While I agree that is important, is it really the number one priority? I say, not. In fact, I believe it to be the third priority. I can hear the groans as I type. Let me explain.

Before a Web site can be deemed “usable”, it needs to be “desirable”. The user has to be compelled to interact, to navigate, to immerse themselves in your online world. Following suit, whether or not desirable, is it viable?

Is your Web site “able?” Consider the following six “abilities”…

  1. Viable: Does the Web initiative align with the organizations overall strategic business objectives? Does it support desired business outcomes (independent of the Web site)? Does it clearly map to target audiences and their needs? Do you clearly understand the differentiating benefits that your organization brings to the table?
  2. Desirable: Strong and differentiating presentation of the brand and content is vital. Users must want to use it, beyond a cool factor or design innovation, but because it addresses a need they have when connecting with your organization. Research shows that user’s attitudes are quickly formed around your brand in the first few seconds. Effective and compelling visual design is important to make that first impression as well as establish an effective user interface for the continued experience. In addition, good content is essential. It must be well written and in a manner that works well on the Web. The overall design and content should work together to compel, inform, and guide the user’s experience.
  3. Usable: Your site visitors must be able to access content and reduce frustrations, augmenting the strength of your brand. The overall order of content should map to the user’s “mental model” and not by default be a direct reflection of your organizational model. It is often necessary to label and organize information usefully, which is not always the same as grouping the content logically.
  4. Maintainable: The site must adapt to changing technologies, content, organizational shifts, user patterns and workflows. Choosing the right content management system is important, but determining oversight and governance for ongoing development and long term support is of greater priority.
  5. Sustainable: The day a new site launches, it’s already heading toward obsolescence unless it’s part of your overall ongoing communication, technology and marketing strategy. It needs to be constantly updated, measured and altered to represent the latest information, facilitate necessary transactions and continue to be in sync with your evolving business goals.
  6. Measurable: A successful approach to gaining insights into the effectiveness of your site can be found in looking at performance-based outcomes in addition to the traditional activity-based measures (clicks, page views, etc.). Performance outcomes will relate directly to key strategic objectives. In the end, it’s important to understand the difference and relationship between the two types of measures.
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Author: Jeff Johnson

As VP, Managing Director, Jeff Johnson leads efforts in our Boston office and brings deep expertise to our healthcare and higher education practice areas. Jeff's 20+ years of agency and corporate experience laid a solid foundation for his ability to understand complex business challenges and develop effective, award-winning interactive solutions.


Published May 2010


Comments (1)
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Tom N

Are clients still saying “make it usable”? I thought the trend these days is “make it the iPod of [your product here]“.

Good perspective, Jeff. Nice post.