The Benefits of Improved Usability

By: Melissa A. Stewart

Usability is defined by the ease of use and learnability of a website.  It is difficult to measure usability because it includes the user's or customer’s perceptions and feelings regarding a website's features and design.  Usability testing is the most useful method of measuring usability and reveals how users react to a website design.  Improving the usability of a website has great benefits including:

“Spending 10% of a project’s budget on usability improvements doubles usability.” [1]  Usability improvements do not directly increase sales and revenue but increase desired usage metrics by 135% on average.  These usability metric improvements include:  an increase in Sales and Conversion rate by 100%, and increase in Traffic and Visitor count by 150%, an increase in User Performance and Productivity by 161%, and an increase in Use of specific or targeted Features by 202%. [2] 

Increased Sales and Revenue

The principal benefit of usability is increased sales and revenue. Increased usability is not measured directly in dollars but measured in increased use, efficiency, and satisfaction.  [3] Improving usability will improve the perception and feelings of the overall quality of the website, which will increase use and thus increase sales.   

Usability testing helps identify the design flaws that make a website difficult or confusing to use.  Users expect websites to be easy to use, or they simply will not use them.  When usability is improved customers will use the website more often or instead of the competitor’s sites and repeat sales will be made to more satisfied customers.  According to Forrester Research 42% of consumers made their most recent online purchase because of a previous good experience. [4] In addition, improving usability generates user loyalty and a loyal user is more likely to recommend the site to other users. And furthermore, marketing a website as ‘easier to use than the competition’ provides an increased competitive advantage. 

Improved usability will increase sales and revenue by making the website easy to use.  A user wants the process to flow without problems or errors which creates feelings of stability and dependability. When a website is simple and easy to use and functions solidly and securely it produces feelings of trust and assurance which in turn promotes user loyalty.

Increased User Efficiency and Satisfaction

The benefit of increased user efficiency and satisfaction is directly related to ease of use.  When a website is easy to use it improves user efficiency and satisfaction.   This benefit relates directly to usage savings of reduced task time, reduced user error and learnability which directly increases productivity and efficiency.

Usability testing increases user productivity because it identifies if users are able to complete the specified task successfully and how long it takes to complete the specified task.  It also identifies design changes required to improve user performance and satisfaction. If a website is plagued with glitches such as site errors and broken links the user will feel insecure and simply leave the site. A user wants the process to flow gracefully without problems or errors which inspires feelings of confidence and trustworthiness. 

Usability testing also demonstrates how easy it is to learn and use the website. A website that is simple to use shortens the learning curve for the users and reduces the user's cost of ownership. Improving efficiency increases usage. For example, by providing an easy and quick sign in process which automatically has the user’s address and credit card information stored makes it uncomplicated and effortless for users to purchase again. This streamlined and efficient process proves true even if the product is cheaper on another site. [5]

Usability testing measures how easy it is for users to accomplish the basic tasks and the users resulting feelings of convenience and usefulness.  A website that is easy to learn and functions consistently inspires certainty and trust with the user.  This feeling of satisfaction and approval promotes user loyalty and website endorsement. 

Reduced Development Costs

The key benefit of usability is reduced development time and costs.  Usability testing validates the design interface, prioritizes features, reduces bugs and thus reduces development costs.

Usability testing helps the design and development team discover the needs of the user early in the design process by actually watching test users use a prototype of the website. The result is a website design that is functional because test users validate the design interface before the website is ever developed. By focusing on the needs of the user, development time is lessened and last minute changes are eliminated. It has been determined that “80% of software re-writes are due to the fact that important functionality was missed the first time.” [6] It is most important to do many rounds of user testing throughout the development cycle in order to maximize usability and minimize the costs of development. Also, usability testing can help discover potential bugs in the system before the system is released to the user.  The earlier the defect is found the lesser the cost of the defect.

In addition, usability testing helps prioritize features by discovering which features the user actually wants and needs to use. Some features may appear to be useful and valuable but after usability testing is conducted it is determined that the features are never used.  The result is less development time needed coding only features that will be actually used by the users. It has been determined that at least 50% of development time is spent doing rework that is avoidable through usability testing. [7]

Usability testing reduces the amount of time needed for development by designing a functional website that meets all the user’s needs.  The final result is a better performing website. Usability testing reduces development costs because designs are tested and completed before coding begins and eliminates last minute changes that are extremely costly. Launching a site that is difficult to use is a guarantee for failure. 

Reduced Support Costs

The final benefit of usability is support savings.  When a website is easy to use it improves user proficiency and thus reduces the amount of help support needed.  This benefit relates directly to a cost savings of providing assistance when the users encounter difficulties.

Usability testing decreases the amount of time a user needs to become experienced and proficient using the website. Usability related issues are the majority of user support needs and improving usability will reduce demands on support.

Usability testing reduces the amount of training time needed for the support team and produces a more effective help line support. A website that is intuitive to use reduces the amount of user support needed thus reducing the costs related to staffing and training a help support team.

The Gains exceed the Costs!

Usability testing is the most valuable method of measuring usability. The benefits of improved usability greatly outweigh the costs. When usability is improved the benefits include:

  • An increase in traffic and use leads to an increase in sales transactions.

  • An improvement in ease of use and efficiency leads to an increase in usage and satisfaction.

  • A decrease in the amount of hours needed for development and rework directly reduces the cost of development.

  • An improvement in usability leads to a reduction in user help support costs.

Usability testing greatly improves the chances of success and competitive advantage. Currently the recommended spending on usability is 10% of a projects budget. Because usability gains far exceed the costs, the budget share allocated to usability will increase in the future. [8]

Related Article(s)

  1. The Elements of Usability


  1. Nielsen, Jakob. “Return on Investment for Usability.” NN/g Nielsen Norman Group. January 7, 2003.

  2. Nielsen, Jakob. “Return on Investment for Usability.” NN/g Nielsen Norman Group. January 7, 2003.

  3. Nielsen, Jakob. “Return on Investment for Usability.” NN/g Nielsen Norman Group. January 7, 2003.

  4. Stokes, Tracy, David M. Cooperstein and Elizabeth Perez. “How to Build Your Brand Through Customer Experience.” Forrester. May 6, 2014.

  5. Weinschenk, Dr. Susan. “Usability: A Business Case.” Human Factors International. Accessed May 12, 2015.

  6. Weinschenk, Dr. Susan. “Usability: A Business Case.” Human Factors International. Accessed May 12, 2015.

  7. Weinschenk, Dr. Susan. “Usability: A Business Case.” Human Factors International. Accessed May 12, 2015.

  8. Nielsen, Jakob. “Return on Investment for Usability.” NN/g Nielsen Norman Group. January 7, 2003.