The Great Monitor Toss: Fix Your Sucky Website

“Usability is like oxygen: you never notice it until it’s missing.”

And suddenly you’re in a rage, gasping for air and throwing your monitor across the room.

Or so the saying goes. But just what is usability anyway? How do you know if your website sucks? And what can you do about it if it does?

What Is Usability

It’s just as it sounds – how user-friendly your website is. But what factors contribute to usability? Here are some qualifying factors:

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

In the simplest terms – when someone visits your website, is it pretty and simple and does it get them what they are looking for with ease?

How Will I Know?

Okay, so how will you know if your website is usable or not? You’re on the inside and are likely numb to the pain points of navigating the site.

1) Be honest. Really. It probably sucks. If not 100%, to some degree. Websites are living spaces, in need of constant maintenance. There’s always room for improvement. So be honest with yourself and start a list.

2) Test it. Get real people to navigate through and see what the sore spots are. Consider how a donor, a member, a volunteer, a client, a prospective board member, etc, would all navigate through the site to find what they need. What would they be looking for? Consider running a focus group and observing people as they use your site.

3) Look at your data. You’re getting hundreds of people visiting the “contact us” page but very few actually contacting you? Likewise with your donation page. Compare visits to conversions (ie, actual donations, contacts, signing up for newsletters, etc.) If the numbers are off balance, chances are there are usability issues.

4) Listen. Chances are there’s a lot of complaining going on, internal and external. At the last several nonprofits I worked for, we fielded just as many phone calls about the website as we had internal rant sessions about it.

What Can I Do?

I understand websites are a HUGE undertaking, of time and money, and we’re often short on both. But your website is and will increasingly be the first touch point for many donors and stakeholders, and if it sucks they may never come back. A full website revamp is seldom in the budget for immediate overhaul, but that doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t make steps now towards making it more usable.

Make a list of all the problems and prioritize. Map out what needs to be done immediately, and what can wait. Further, take cost into consideration. Likely, these changes will fall into three categories, and likely these points will fall into different categories depending on your organisation’s needs. This is truly a giant bucket of syrup, but here are just a few things to start thinking about. I’ll get more indepth on individual items in future posts.


  • Research web trends – what are other people doing? Could you do that (eventually) too?
  • Get all your dates and posts up to date. Delete or archive anything past its due date.
  • Check your links and fix broken ones. Make sure it’s obvious where you want people to click.
  • Do a spellcheck.
  • Ensure your font size/colour/type is legible.
  • Ensure web copy flows easily with good spacing.


  • Refresh your static copy (about us, description of programs, etc.) It’s likely out of date. Ensure it’s written in plain, concise language.
  • Refresh your home page. Make it welcoming. Cut back the clutter.
  • Do you use a lot of PDFs on your site? Ensure the information on the PDF is available on the site (in HTML), in abridged format or brief description. I tend to like when clicking a PDF opens in a new window, but that’s just me. Consider using a service like ISSUU for readability.
  • Another note about PDFs: if they were scanned without OCR (optical character recognition), they will not be full-text searchable by google/bing etc. So, save your docs as PDFs, don’t scan to PDF
  • Delete old/unused pages. Clear your backend of clutter.
  • Domain name(s). Did you buy a second choice domain? Maybe your first choice is available now or perhaps you can bid on it with a service like Do you have multiple domains? Do they all redirect to the same place?


  • Use your feedback, data and user experiments to map out what your ideal site would look like.
  • Narrow user goals and have this reflected in your site’s navigation. If people are coming to donate, to learn about programs, to get info on an event, and to contact you, ensure these 4 options smack the user in the face upon arriving. Map out a user’s journey and experiment with ways you can get them what they need in 3 clicks or less.
  • Do you have a mobile strategy? Get one.
  • Website rebuild strategy – you can’t just build it once and forget it. Write this into your organisational strategy in permanent marker, or on the forehead of your CEO in Sharpie.

As I said, this is a GIANT topic. There is so much to consider, and it’s important to remember that it will never be perfect. There are always going to be mistakes and sore points. The goal is to become agile enough to take care of the little things quickly and tackle the big things in a timely (and budgeted for) manner.