Tema Frank of Frank Reactions¬†is a pioneer in website usability testing. Tema’s expertise in the fields of marketing and corporate communications, along with her vast Internet experience, makes her advice and insight on this subject invaluable. She can help create strategies and action plans to get marketing and websites where they need to be for success. Tema recently took the time to speak with us about website usability and marketing.

How do you define website usability?

Making a website pleasant to look at while easy to understand and use.

How do you determine how usable a website is, and then how can you help if it is lacking?

There are several ways of doing this, and depending on the situation, we use one or all of them. What we generally recommend is:

a) Before you design your website, talk to customers and potential customers and do a lot of online research about what your prospects are likely to want from your website. What information will they be looking for? What tone of voice is most likely to appeal to them? Will they be checking you out from work (where they may be in a crowded cubicle farm, so a sneaky sound assault from your website is a bad idea)? What’s their educational and technical level?

b) Do some card-sorting exercises to figure out what navigational categories make sense to your users.

c) Once you’ve got a draft site, do some user testing with at least five users who are like your target customers, preferably using their own computers. You can do this in person or by video.

d) Once you’ve fixed the big stuff, do large sample size remote usability testing. Services like ours (Web Mystery Shoppers) can send 200 – 300 people who are just like your real customers to your website and get them to provide detailed feedback every step of the way about what they like and don’t like, what’s frustrating them, where they’d stop if they weren’t being paid to test the site, and why.

You can get a good recap of all the different techniques for usability testing by looking at the article What Works When, which first appeared in Quirks Marketing Research Review.

Good testing will help you identify what needs to be added, removed, or changed to help your website convert clickers into customers more often.

A website is one of the essential components to successful marketing. Can anyone these days be successful without a website?

I think the only folks who can be successful without a website now are little corner stores. There, it is all about convenience in the moment, and the things you are looking for are too cheap to care much about comparison shopping.

It’s not just having a website – it’s how the website works, right? What are some keys to a successful website?

Keep it simple! Don’t be too creative – if you veer too far from what people are used to, it won’t work. Make it as easy as possible for people to find what they are looking for. Don’t try to trick them. Be honest… I’ve recently put out a free e-book with 85 Tips for a Winning Website your readers can get by signing up.

Technology changes so fast it can be hard to keep up. How do you do this so successfully?

It is a constant challenge. That’s why sometimes you are actually better off working with an agency that devotes itself to staying current on a particular topic. For instance, I read a lot about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Google AdWords, but I recommend that people hire companies that only specialize in SEO or SEM (search engine marketing) for those fields. I’d also be leery of hiring a one-person web design firm. No one person can stay on top of all the technological changes that will impact your web design. You need a firm with at least a few programmers who specialize in different aspects of programming or different programming languages.

Please tell us a bit about your mentoring and training programs.

There are three major categories:

I give customized courses to organizations and at universities on how to improve your organization’s digital marketing strategies and tactics. There’s a list of the core ones here: http://frankonlinemarketing.com/speaking-training/. A popular one recently has been “Metrics Madness,” a full-day workshop on what to measure and how to measure it to make sure you get a good return on your digital media marketing investment (ROI).

I work with senior executives and CEOs to help them understand how digital is changing their company’s future, and what they can do about it. This may include things as basic as hands-on teaching time helping them understand new social media tools, to something as complex as helping them figure out how their strategy and processes need to change to cope with our new, customer-centric, social media world.

I mentor junior to mid-level managers on career management and marketing, including how to market themselves and their ideas internally.

Where do you see websites going in the coming years? What do you think will change, and what will stay consistent?

The tools will change. Less and less will be done on big screens; more will take place on mobile devices. (That said, I still think there’s big potential for virtual screens that will let u project a full-size image in front of our eyes. But it doesn’t seem to be happening in the next couple of years.)

I also think we will see more real-time and personalized marketing. So as you walk by a coffee shop, it won’t just be the great smell that entices you; it will also be an offer sent to your phone or watch, offering a discount on the coffee cake you enjoyed so much last week.

What will stay consistent is that to be effective, you have to really understand your users, offer them what they want, when they want it, at a fair price.

How has website usability changed business over the years?

When I started Web Mystery Shoppers in 2001, few people even knew the word “usability.” So we’ve made a lot of progress. A lot of the really stupid mistakes people used to make don’t happen all that often any more. Things like forgetting to put in your store’s location or hours. But there are still way too many companies that think they (or their designers) can build a great website without usability testing. The fact is, they can’t see the site through the eyes of a potential customer. Company staff or owners know too much about the company to see it freshly, and programmers or web designers know technology too well, so things that are obvious to them may trip up regular site users.

You can connect with Tema on social media on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.