Why Consistency Is Crucial To Usability

By: Jessica @UsabilityL Miller

It is essential that a company has a website with a consistent design, layout and structure in order to ensure that it is usable to new users.

Why is this the case?

Companies should be allowed complete freedom to design their website how they see fit. This design should reflect their own creativity and culture.

For one design aesthetics sometimes lead to a lack of consistency. When you try to make everything look modern and unique it can lead to a muddled message.  A lack of consistency within a webpage does not provide a positive overall experience for users and as a result they will not be happy. An unhappy user is a non-returning user.

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Gartner Analysts say that usability is a way of: supporting a way of working in ways that make sense to them.

Sites should be designed to reflect a company’s individuality but it also needs to be designed with the user in mind. This improves the overall user experience which results in returning visitors. Utilizing a consistent design, layout and structure, a company can ensure that their website is easy to navigate. Information will be easy to find, the content will be readable and most importantly the user will not get confused.

Consistency Conveys a ‘User First’ Mentality 

A consistent website design and layout, sends the message that the website was set up with the user in mind and their best interests were considered. Users have become accustomed to similar online interactions across platforms. Establishing these similar interactions across a website will not only establish consistency, but help users feel comfortable as if they have visited your site before. If a website offers new interactions or tricks that a user is not used to, the user must learn a whole “new language” in order to navigate the website.

As a result, lots of time is wasted learning a new system and frustration takes over, which will likely result in a user not utilizing your website in the future. Users bring their own experiences and expectations to your website, if you ignore this then you risk causing unnecessary confusion and alienation to your visitors. Following web standards and ensuring a consistent layout, will convey the philosophy that the user first. This goes a long way in satisfying users, which results in a large volume of returning traffic.

Consistency Builds Trust With New and Existing Customers

According to a 2013 article written by Nielsen Norman Group, users crave consistency and companies that provide consistent experiences on their websites will quickly earn users’ trust. If the user experience is not consistent, they will begin to question the organization’s reliability. Each interaction or visit by a user is part of his or her overall experience with the company. If consistency is not maintained then trust cannot be built, the relationship will not continue and ultimately, that user will switch to a different company. Consistency allows trust to be built and allows for users to expect a certain type of experience, which they will anticipate from your website.

Once trust is built, positive experiences can be established and maintained. Websites should ensure they are internally consistent and that standards should be demonstrated and applied throughout all their content. This will ensure new and existing users can easily navigate the website and consume the content they are searching for in an efficient, convenient manner. For example, if a website decides to place the “Search” option at the top right of a webpage, they should ensure that it remains in that location on other pages of the site. If this feature is moved to different locations on different pages, users will be confused and not stay for long. As a result, confusion and frustration will ensue and positive relationships will not be built. New users will not last very long. As the customer saying goes: “a brand or company is only as good as my last poor experience with you”. Consistency can help avoid these poor experiences and maintain users and ensure satisfaction.

Consistency Avoids User Confusion

Consistency helps avoid confusion and maintains that customers understand your website, while being able to easily navigate around it. For example, the company logo should appear in the same spot on every webpage. The navigation option, website content, related materials and the search option should all remain in the same place on each page of your website. This will allow users to be accustomed to your website and allow for easy use. If a user is able to navigate and not be confused, chances are they will continue to return to the website in the future.

Another practice that should be emphasized is consistent language. For example, if your website uses the term “Buy”, then this should be consistent throughout the website. Do not switch to “Purchase” on different pages or alternate between the two. Once a user decides to stay on a website long enough to understand the basic layout, one of the easiest ways to lose them is to change it. New users do not want any confusion, they want a simple layout that is easy to understand and navigate. If you can provide this to them and they will provide you their business.

Gartner analysts urge testing to get it right: “usability testing closes the loop by actually letting you see and hear what buyers really want and expect.”

Consistency is something that can be used to an organization’s advantage rather than a limitation. Companies that provide better usability through consistent layout, design and structure on their website will improve their return on investment (ROI). The more satisfied users a website has, the more popular it becomes through word of mouth, social networking sites or social bookmarking. As a result, this consistency on a website will help a company increase their profits, improve their customer base, grow their readership or whatever other goals the website wishes to accomplish.

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Jessica Miller
Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.
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