A million dollars worth of usability research for nothing

Really effective web design incorporates usability research. That is research that tests how users react to your site in a real environment. Seven years ago we offered this research as a service, but at that stage no-one was convinced enough of the need to do it – unless they had huge budgets.

There is more usability research happening now than there used to be, but it still tends to be concentrated in the really big-ticket sites. There is a good reason for that. Most businesses can get themselves a functioning website with eCommerce for $10,000 plus or minus $5,000. Thorough usability research could easily double that budget.

Now good usability research could also give them a 20% better outcome from the site, which would translate into a much larger percentage lift in profits worth far more than the research, but faced with a capital purchase, that is not the way that most businesses tend to think.

There is a way to get access to good research without paying for it – check out what the sites that really work do. These sites will be large enough that they will have spent thousands of dollars to get the best results.

How do you know which are the best sites? There’s no way to be absolutely sure, but a good rule of thumb is that any site ranked in the top 10 in the world has good design. You can work out who these sites are by using Alexa.

Alexa is owned by Amazon and provides a very reliable guide to which are the most popular websites. The Alexa system works by putting software on the web-browsers of users who opt-in to install it which reports back on every site that they go to. From this Alexa compiles a number of statistics including a ranking. The number one site is the one that is the most popular, and they work all the way back down into the tens of millions.

Alexa warns that past 100,000 the system is not particularly reliable, but it is very robust when it comes to working out the most popular. It’s also not too bad for relativities between 100,000 and a million at least. We manage a number of websites that are on the Neilsen NetRatings system, used by advertisers to determine who is worth advertising with. Their Alexa rankings match-up pretty well with their Neilsen stats.

Go to Alexa’s Top Sites page and you will see the top sites ranked around the globe, by country and by category. It’s a good way to get a handle on what design really works.

Leave a Reply