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« Focus Groups versus Usability Testing | Main | Keeping Your Web Site Simple . . . »

Web Usability ISN'T . . .

If you ask ten different people the same question, you’re most likely going to get ten distinct answers.  Even among the experts it is difficult to get a straightforward definition or explanation of web site usability. Instead of concentrating on defining what web usability “is,” we’ll look at what web usability “is not.”  Two critical components for any web site are accessibility and marketing.  Each is unique and distinctly different than usability.  It is important to know the differences and how each aspect is ultimately important to any web site.

Accessibility
In Mark Pearrow’s Web Site Usability Handbook, he makes several distinctions about what isn’t web usability.  One of the most common misconceptions is viewing usability and accessibility as the same thing.  Accessibility specifically concentrates on making a web site available to as many people as possible.  People with disabilities are an important focus of web accessibility.  Web accessibility allows people with disabilities such as hearing or visual impairment to access a web sites.  Web standards and technology are used to compensate for people's disabilities. Accessibility also delves into the challenges of delivering a web site over a variety of devices.  You can access web sites from PDA's, Smart phones, Laptops, etc. Accessibility ensures that users can get to a web site regardless of the type of device they're using.

Marketability
Pearrow also points out that “usability is not marketing research.” Online Marketing focuses creating awareness and interest for a product, service, or web site. Usability focuses on making sure that the product, service, or web site is easy to use.  A marketing centric approach might try to guide users along a predefined online path or compel them to purchase something.  Usability ensures that regardless of whatever path a user takes, they’ll find the information easily. 

Accessibility and Marketing are both important to online success.  Yet they shouldn’t be confused with usability, which focuses on making something easy to use and understand.

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