Monday, February 12, 2007

Government Agencies and Non-Profits: ROI From Usability?

Non-commercial sites could use some usability help ...

"Although the gains don't fall into traditional profit columns, there are clear arguments for improving usability of non-commercial websites and intranets. In one example, a state agency could get an ROI of 22,000% by fixing a basic usability problem.

For commercial projects, the case for usability's return on investment is clear:

• On average, e-commerce sites double their sales by following e-commerce user experience guidelines.
• Even sites that don't sell online can double the conversion rates for business goals such as getting leads or enticing subscribers to read their email newsletters.
• Particularly bad sites (many B-to-B sites among them) can record even greater improvements in key performance indicators, such as those related to visitor counts, whitepaper downloads, webinar signups, or other stages of the lead pipeline.
• Improving the usability of a company's intranet can save millions of dollars through increased employee productivity.

But what about non-commercial design projects? Are there arguments for having government agencies and non-profit organizations spend money on usability even when they don't earn it back in the traditional sense?

Non-commercial Websites
It is possible to make hard-nosed economic arguments for some parts of non-commercial websites. Anytime a site collects money – even if it's for opera tickets, research reports, or continuing education seminars -- it can get more money by increasing conversion rates. Higher conversion rates are a direct result of better usability. Anytime an organization sells stuff online, it's doing e-commerce. If you believe in your materials, you should want to sell more; the increased revenues will more than pay for the usability improvements.

Most non-profits accept donations on their site. Obviously, the actual donation pages should follow usability guidelines for registration and checkout. And beyond this? Non-profit sites are competing with many other places where people can spend their money, and such sites must be designed with this fact in mind. We're currently running an eye-tracking study of the "About Us" pages for various charities, and we frequently hear users say that they don't feel like donating to a particular charity because the site doesn't present itself in a sufficiently credible manner.

Another example of how improved usability translates into economic value is in recruiting new staff. Last month, we tested sites for a study aimed at generating new material for our seminar on how an organization should present information about itself on its website. On the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) site, we asked health care workers to look for jobs in the careers section.

Sadly, the main jobs page was rather confusing, with job information in three different places(below).

Most users clicked on the top link, which is a typical response to an unclear set of choices. The top link led to a confusing site that looked as if it were recruiting police officers rather than health care personnel. The previous VA jobs page (above) had told job seekers to "simply" click on the "Agency Search" tab when they arrived on the "new" jobs page. Anytime you find yourself writing such instructions, you know you have a usability problem. Even worse, in this case, there was no such tab."    (Continued via Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

VA Website - Usability, User Interface Design

VA Website

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