Jakob Nielsen says that "websites are definitely easier to use now than they used to be." That's because in his recent survey of 24 websites, which analyzed users' task outcomes and compared it to data collected from the same sites five years earlier, results showed that web usability has improved.

The study followed the developments of three primary areas of a company's website which, since 2004, have been enhanced by better website architecture. The three key areas:

  • Site Maps: Success rates improved somewhat, from 69% to 71% in 7 years.
  • About Us information: Success rates improved moderately, from 70% to 79% in 5 years.
  • Store finders and locators: Success rates improved considerably, from 63% to 96% in 7 years.

Bad IA Costs Money

Yet despite these successes, Nielsen is quick to point out that bad information architecture is the greatest cause of task failures. Nielsen says, when:

users try to find their way around a site, and if they're particularly motivated, they might even try again if they fail. But if users are repeatedly led in circles or dumped into no-man's land by weak search, they give up and leave for another site.

That's exactly why deficiencies in a site's IA are costing companies money. And that's why site maps and store locators are just the beginning. Helping users navigate easier throughout your site is good, but Nielsen reminds us that users have to also find your site attractive and friendly.

All aspects of a site's design must work together, otherwise users will be slowed down. Not by poor IA, but because of poor taste. 

Good IA Increases ROI

Even though Nielsen estimates that IA causes only 10% of tasks to fail, it's not inevitable that companies will get 10% more business by improving your IA.

Actually it's more like 80%.

Recent studies suggest that business metrics are more likely to increase by around 80% with the extra 70% benefit comes from annoying customers less, so that they're more likely to stay on your site.

Now that's good usability.