Website usability and the $300 million button

Website usability redesigns are frequently considered an extravagant luxury by SME business owners. In fact, some may not even realise that usability is an issue. But website usability (or the ‘user experience’) directly impacts sales, sometimes meaning the difference between success and failure.

When Foraker redeveloped the discussion forums for way back in 2007, it resulted in a 117% increase in visitors to the website, a 41% increase in new memberships, 53% reduction in time taken to register, and a 69% reduction in help desk support costs. (Here’s the case study.)

As long ago as 2008, renowned usability guru Jakob Nielsen reported that “the average business metrics improvement after a usability redesign is now 83%“.

Jarred Spool even tells us the tale of the “$300 million button” – by changing a single word on a button from ‘Register’ to ‘Continue’, customers no longer felt they were being added into a database and so proceeded with their purchase, resulting in $300 million additional revenue for a major e-commerce website!

Almost a decade later the same truths apply – 48% of shoppers fail to buy due to usability roadblocks, and once you redesign a site that had poor usability it’s not uncommon to almost double conversion rates.

So what are the principles of great website usability?


We often feel obliged to present copious amounts of information to our customers and give them a wide variety of choices. And it’s true that there is some valid psychology in putting comparative pricing side by side – often times a well-structured offer can be perceived as much better value when presented alongside a slightly lower and/or higher priced offer with sufficient differences in the inclusions. But there are times when it’s most effective to present just one simple call to action.

Weather Channel Interactive wanted to increase signups to their Notify! service. They tested over 1000 combinations of headlines, text, images, animated illustrations and more to confirm the most effective approach. Testing proved that reducing the number of options and making the messaging really simple and straightforward was most effective – resulting in a 225% increase in signups.

In fact, ‘landing pages’ are a growing phenomenon for exactly this reason – if a reader is drawn to a website by a very specific message, a landing page stays on target with information which directly fuels their interest – it usually goes so far as to eliminate navigation and other distractions, so that the user is focused entirely on the promotion that first caught their attention. This has been proven time after time to significantly increase conversion rates:

Clear Message

What does this website offer?

Clear and concise language, intuitive navigation, logical taxonomy, all ensure that visitors have a rewarding and engaging experience.

Humans are fickle creatures and we frequently run away from confusing or boring tasks. Very few visitors to a website are obliged to be there, and they’ll frequently go back to Google and find an alternative they like better if they don’t feel that you’ve got the solution to their problem.

Many websites fail because they’re too wordy and ‘sophisticated’. Cut out the waffle. Say it straight. Be compelling.

A great copywriter is worth their weight in gold – and not because of how many words they write. Their skill is in using very few words but making them leap off the page.

Accessibility and Cross-Browser Compatibility

A website is only effective if your audience can access it. This means ensuring that it looks and reads great no matter how a visitor is accessing it. Nowadays, that could be on a desktop PC, notebook computer, mobile device, or tablet. It could be using one of numerous different web browsers (think Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer, Apple’s Safari browser, Mozilla’s Firefox, or a number of lesser known alternatives). And your site visitor may be using a screen reader/accessibility aid.

When web developers create a website, they usually start by testing their work primarily in two or three popular browsers. This is a reasonable approach, and it is likely to cater to 95%+ of the site audience. But there are still numerous use cases which they may have overlooked.

There are some great tools to test websites for cross-browser compatibility and accessibility. Of course, you may have to draw a line at some point and stop insisting on compatibility with Internet Explorer 4.0! But ignore this valuable usability tip at your own expense.

Reduce Effort

Are you asking a visitor to fill in their details when you already have that info? If they followed a link from an email message or another source where you can identify them, why not pre-populate a form with their name and email address?

Avoid redundant steps. For example, does your ecommerce sales process allow the user to check a box to use their billing address as the shipping address? Don’t make them refill information if they made an error and have to step back in the process. Ensure that logins and registrations don’t take the user away from the checkout process and lose the information they already entered. Don’t ask for a shipping address if you’re selling a virtual product.

Ensure Security

Nervous website visitors are unlikely to become customers. Address their concerns before they raise them.

SSL Security logoDo you store their credit card information? (The answer to that should be ‘No’ unless completely unavoidable!) Are website communications SSL-encrypted to protect the privacy of their data? What will you do with any information you collect from them? Are you going to SPAM them if they provide their email address?

Anticipate these concerns (study real users to understand where they balk) and address them before they eventuate.

Make clear statements such as “we’ll never share your email address with others”, “we treat your privacy seriously”, “all your transaction data is encrypted and we don’t store your credit card details”.

Respect Conventions

Conventional ways of doing things may sound boring, but they needn’t be. In fact, internet users learn patterns and norms, and when they see a website that adheres to these conventions it reduces their learning curve, builds trust, and provides them a sense of familiarity.

Unless you’re confident that you’ve got a better solution, or there’s a fantastic reason to shake things up, it’s best to give website users what they expect. Navigation and functionality that works the way they’re accustomed to. Language and design that feels natural and familiar.


Visitors to a website don’t need to hang around – and they frequently don’t.

If you intend to generate customers, subscribers, or an audience for your website don’t ignore the critical importance of usability. It may not generate an extra $300 million for your business – but there’s a high probability that it will add a substantial amount of revenue to your bottom line.

The US Navy principle of “KISS” (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) , and Robert Browning’s phrase “Less is More” have never been more true than in our current digital era.

Focus on clarity, clear communications, simplicity, familiarity and accessibility.

And test your website usability with real people. Test early, test often, and re-test after you make changes.



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