An effective website conveys your values and presents your products or services in a simple, easy way.
Quality websites value user experience because a happy user is more likely to stay on the website, and ultimately buy services.
What is User Experience?
User experience is the interaction a user, someone visiting your website, has with your site. It can include anything from the visual interaction (colors, fonts) to the actual physical interaction (purchasing a product).
Creating the best user experience possible ensures people will want to visit and interact with your site.
Improving user experience is an ongoing process. Something that users find pleasing and easy today might be difficult and ugly next year or even next month.
Getting constant feedback from users about the features listed in this section will greatly improve user experience.
Appearance and Design
The first thing users notice when they reach your website is the appearance – the fonts, the colors, the layouts.
The design of your website should not detract from your content or purpose. It should engage user interest.
The best design to engage a user depends on the context. For many, Excel is a confusing application – it has tons of buttons, formulas, and features with little on-page explanation:
This design works for Excel’s primary users. Excel’s target audience consists of business professionals who need to create high power reports for their companies on a regular basis.
On-page explanations and visuals would get in the way, decreasing the efficiency of this process.
Technology websites, on the other hand, adopt minimalistic and sleek designs to engage users, complete with moving graphics and large glossy images. Apple has a simplistic toolbar and a pleasant scrolling design with one piece of information per level:
Users go to Apple’s website to buy modern technology and to marvel at their capabilities. The design of the website reflects this user need.
Both the visually appealing design for Apple and the utilitarian design for Excel, will not work for every site.
If you’re designing a dentistry website, your customers won’t want to scroll through a slideshow of information to find your services and prices.
Similarly, they will become frustrated if you bombard them with the fees and services for every operation on the front page.
The best design and appearance will cater to your users’ needs.
Improving your website’s appearance is a great first step – it will convince users to stay. The key to keeping those users on your site lies in usability. Is your site clear and easy to use?
Users should have an easy time navigating your website. Browse websites similar to yours and see what navigational structures they employ. Users find it easier to navigate familiar systems. Propel your website past your competitors by catering to user expectations.
For example, suppose you are creating a furniture website. The first question you should ask yourself is, “What do users expect when looking for furniture?”
A quick glance at big name websites like Amazon, Target or Ashley Home Store will tell you everything. Users want categories to choose from, organized in a systematic and intuitive way:
Once inside a category, users want to sort and filter products. This allows users to find the type of object they want quickly, without having to wade through extra information.
Users often know what they want before reaching your website. Consequently, a search bar in a prominent location improves user experience:
Filters and categories, while helpful to the casual browser, are cumbersome to the user that has an exact idea in their head.
A search bar allows these users to immediately search for “wooden platform bed” or “red leather sectional” without having to do additional navigation.
A signifier tells your users how to use the features on your site. In the image above, the search bar has both text (“Search”) and an icon (the magnifying glass).
The downward facing arrows next to “Categories”, “Deals”, and “Sign-in” inform the user that those categories expand down.
Signifiers need to be intuitive and easy to understand. Some, like the arrows above, appeal to natural spatial knowledge.
Other common symbols are determined by particular countries and cultures. It’s important to think about the shared knowledge of your user base when constructing signifiers.
Feedback is the response users receive when they complete an action on your website.
Whether the user completed the action correctly or made a mistake, your site should tell them as specifically as possible.
The image below shows the feedback a website offers when their form is submitted, but not complete:
The message “this field is required” along with the red outlining, informs the user about the mistake. Use text, colors, common symbols, and noises to provide feedback to your users.
Users also want to know when they’ve completed the action successfully. If they attempt to purchase something and are taken directly back to your home page, they may think the order did not go through.
This will lead to a duplicate purchase or a confused email, which create both more work for you and frustration for your user.
Just as with signifiers, make sure to use feedback mechanisms in a familiar way. If errors are marked with a check mark and correct actions are marked with an “x”, your users will be extremely confused.
Common symbol usage can be different based on the country or culture, so if you create content for other countries, make sure to familiarize yourself with their practices.
Performance is perhaps the easiest usability concern to address, as it has little do with the users and everything to do with your website’s design.
Faster sites that generate no errors are more usable than slow sites riddled with errors. Performance also factors into Google’s ranking of your site!
A 2009 study by Forrester Consulting found that users expect your site to take 2 seconds or less to load. In this same study, 51% of people stated that “quick page loading is important to their site loyalty.”
Slow sites lose business.
Sites that crash while users are viewing their pages lose business.
It is important to invest in good website code or to create your website through an online platform.
Keeping users on your site is great. Convincing them to take action is even better. Get them to subscribe, fill out a form, purchase your products, or sign up for classes.
You need an apparent call to action!
A call to action is a feature of a website that asks the user to do something. It’s not always an action that contributes revenue right away.
For example, many clothing websites have an email subscription screen that you must close before actually entering their website.
Some offer a discount off any first-time purchase, just for signing up!
Even if a user doesn’t purchase something, signing up is an easy thing to do. It’s sensible in the mind of the user – they are getting a discount for doing practically nothing.
The mailing list submission also ensures that they will see the company’s products (or at least the company’s name) frequently.
The process of convincing the user to answer the call to action is Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).
Analyze what your users like and want out of their website experience and convince visitors to become converters.
This could be as simple as offering a 10% discount on their first purchase, throwing in a free gift, or offering a free consultation.
Do user research (see section below) and figure out what your users want. Once you do, use that information to convince them to convert (buy, like, share, subscribe, email, etc).
You can track conversion rates using tools like Google Analytics.
How to improve user experience
Do user research
Create an intuitive website that gives users what they want. Pinpoint your target users’ needs and behaviors to make your website a better fit.
User research can be conducted in a variety of ways. Have a discussion with targeted users about their website needs.
Create a survey on your website. Do user testing (see section below).
One handy (and very easy) way to learn about your users is to use tools like Google Analytics that display your site metrics.
This data can tell you a lot about who is finding your site and how. For example:
This graph shows how users find your website. Click “Source/Medium” to view each source (Facebook, Youtube, Google Search, Bing etc).
Under “Acquisition Report”, Analytics provides data for new users, bounce rate, pages/session, average session duration, and conversion rate for goals that you set (see section on CRO below).
Analytics also offers a breakdown of users by time of day, country, and device, which allows you to optimize for those specific users:
Page Analysis is one of the best features in Analytics. It lists the pageviews, time on page, and bounce rates for each of your website’s pages.
Entrances tells you how many people landed on this page of the site. Entrance (and landing page) data is helpful to understand how users found you.
Use landing page data to pinpoint topics that are important to users. Use length of view measurements to determine your most engaging content.
Unsure how to set up Google Analytics? Check out our post How to Set up Google Analytics for Squarespace.
Conduct user testing
Pinpoint bugs, errors, and other UX issues before they deter potential clients. This test doesn’t have to be some big, scientifically controlled ordeal (many web designers don’t have those kind of resources).
It can be as simple as asking a family member, friend, or coworker to look through the site and give their honest feedback (impressions, misunderstandings, difficulties).
For more accurate results, find a friend that fits your target audience.
If a discussion about likes/dislikes and issues isn’t getting you the needed data, you can create a more structured test.
Give your participant a list of tasks followed by a questionnaire. For example, ask your participant to find a certain object or service on your site, write down its details, and navigate back to the homepage.
Simple tasks that simulate an actual user’s actions will reveal the most about UX issues.
Develop a Brand
A brand creates a user culture, a relationship of trust, and is ultimately a vessel for holding consumer loyalty.
People most often associate brands with logos on products.
At the grocery store, for instance, many consumers choose food brands they are familiar with and discriminate against those they are not.
Some brands inspire a fierce devotion in consumers.
Brands create a culture and a reputation – Car brands like Dodge are “American” and “rugged”, while others like BMW are “high-class” and “luxurious”.
You can see the respective reputations in action by visiting their websites:
When developing your brand, first define your business goals. What are your values? Who is your target audience? What feelings and actions do you want to inspire?
Once you’ve pinned down your goals and audience, select stylistic elements and create content.
Consistency is important. If you’re branding yourself as a cutting-edge investment firm that makes smart fiscal decisions, your website and content will need to reflect that.
A minimalistic sleek designs conveys “cutting edge”, while technical content about financial news conveys “smart fiscal decisions”.
Why is user experience important?
A site's user experience directly impacts whether it will succeed or fail.
The appearance of your website is essential to keeping users on your site. Black backgrounds and neon letters of different sizes make users weary of staying on your site.
Website layout convinces users to interact. If items are easy to find and purchase, they are more likely to buy your products.
Calls to action are essential. Inspire your users to interact with your website in a valuable way.
The heart of user experience is figuring out your users. What do they love? What do they need? What are they looking for?
The answers should dictate website structure, calls to action, and the values your brand should convey.
Build a loyal customer base; understand your users and cater to their expectations to expand your company’s reach in the digital world.