The terms "usability" and "conversions" are often used loosely or in combination with each other. Neither is very descriptive and both are open to interpretation. In truth, they are two separate web design practices, with different goals. When brought together for a site design, the potential for web site success is explosive.
The Biggest Difference
Web site usability is the art of designing web pages that are easy to use. Web accessibility is design so that everybody can use the site. The goal of conversions design is creating web pages that people will want to use. Conversions, which are nothing more than helping visitors complete a task, depend on usability, accessibility and knowing exactly what your customers need and want. Persuasive design, emotional design, and human factors design create opportunities to conversions.
The more site owners and their staffs know about their target visitors, the better their conversions analytics data will look. Of course there are other factors that play a role, such as having a solid online business plan, a clear set of requirements, site goals such as generating revenue, getting subscriptions or getting people to use your Internet application and your marketing strategy. Let's say you have all that and someone has tossed you the usability and conversions balls to play with but you're not sure how they're different or why they're lumped together.
The approaches are different. All web sites should be user friendly but not all of them care about conversion rates, such as some blogs and hobby sites. Sites that hope to generate revenue are more interested in the conversions column. Usability and accessibility are lesser priorities.
Page structure - Every web page design should keep needed options and content for each task visible without distractions. Avoid redundant information. Be consistent with layout, colors, fonts and link decoration.
Calls to action -Limit barriers to completion. Create momentum by good organization, good content elements, and proper placement of buttons and links and eliminating distractions. When your visitors are overwhelmed with too many links, choices, and unneeded information, they leave.
Content - should be easy to read, contrast well, broken up for easy scanning. Images require alt attributes. Videos, sliding images and animation should allow user controls to pause them.
Landing pages - Since many conversion paths start off-site, your landing pages must be on a single message, understood in 5 seconds and contain calls to action for the next steps. Product pages with high bounce rates are likely lacking enough specification and information for making decisions.
Value - Create user confidence by proving claims, creating trust and illustrating good customer service.
Content writing - You're not physically there to help your site visitors so your text has to stand in for you. Avoid using "we", "us" and "our" in your content. Choose "you", "your" and prove you understand whom you are addressing by discussing certain traits, needs, and shared experiences or expertise. Write using terms they will understand.
Forms - design forms so that everybody, regardless of their disability, can use them. They should be easy to use, find, understand and prevent user errors. This also gets into how to enter data (formatting.)
Form layout - For successful and high conversion rates, forms layout is critically important. Everything counts, from the choice of field to the field label, putting related things together and separating unrelated things, reducing user errors and promising privacy for user personal information. Confidence and trust are factors here.
Information architecture - the backbone of all web sites. The logic, structure for search engines and humans, taxonomies, and foundation must be well built and allow for expansion and future growth.
Navigation - is the key to conversions because to complete a task requires directions that work and are easy to understand. Links have to be accurately labeled, descriptive and consistent. A common cause for low conversion rates is navigation that sends users on a wild goose chase or the steps to completing a call to action are ridiculously high or complicated.
Analytics - design user paths based on site goals, user types, customer needs, solutions to problems, leading tasks and more.
Analytics - create funnels in Google Analytics to see if they function properly. While there, gather information on browsers, devices, new vs. return users and more. All of these tidbits help uncover any mysterious and frustrating data like high bounce rates and even designing for the wrong resolutions.
Testing - usability testing includes heuristics, users, eye tracking, task analysis, accessibility, mockup reviews and more. These tests are for web standards compliance and ease of use.
Testing - is critically important and should not stop until you get the results you want. Split A/B testing, surveys, and general feedback forms help with trouble shooting and experimenting until the perfect combination is met.
Site goals - determine what these are and design to meet each requirement. This can be branding, sales, information, directories, ad sales, subscriptions, social networking, shopping cart, online applications and more.
User goals - It sometimes never dawns on site designers and owners that their needs are vastly different than their customers. The list of what drives people to complete tasks is endless. So is the list of what they need, whether they are aware of it or not. This area alone can increase or destroy your desired conversions.
Human factors - is where you incorporate knowledge of human/computer behavior and apply it to your entire design. This includes mental models, data driven personas, use case scenarios, studies on color, culture, and much more.
Human behavior and neurology - the amount of new information on persuasive web design techniques is staggering. Create user personas, imagine the level of difficulty certain environments may have on someone's ability to complete tasks such as adding to a shopping cart or booking a hotel room. The more you know about why site visitors don't complete tasks, the more chances you have to make repairs.
Devices - all web pages must be easy to use and accessible on mobile devices and tablets.
Devices - all tasks must be easy to perform on mobile devices and tablets. With some niche sites such as local businesses, this is vital.
Brand reputation is tied to our interactions with a web site that represents that brand. The most desirable conversions are driven by people who had a positive experience on your web site.