What kind of first impression is your website leaving?
Put yourself into the shoes of a first-time visitor. They may be intrigued by the products or service but are still unfamiliar with your company.
As your website flows (or grinds) itself onto the screen, it will elicit emotions and assumptions that aren’t easily removed. The greatest product or most efficient service won’t make up for bad design and a clumsy interface.
What kind of user experience are you delivering?
Even if you aren’t familiar with how users interact with websites, you can probably recognize a bad user experience pretty quickly.
Imagine yourself walking into a restaurant.
No-one greets you at the door. You peer around in the dim light, but there is no indication of what to do – whether or not you should find your own table or if you should wait to be served.
You take a chance and wander off in search of a table. You accidentally find yourself in the kitchen for a moment, after taking a chance on an unmarked door, but soon enough you come across an empty table.
The waiter arrives eventually. He asks several meaningless questions, trying to understand your purpose for being here. He collects your email address, for unknown reasons. In time, he takes your order. You repeat the order several times, slightly louder each time, before he gets it right. “The food will be ready in about 15 minutes” he says.
Half an hour goes by without any further explanation from the waiter. Suddenly, he bursts forth from the kitchen, bringing you a meal that you didn’t order.
That’s a memorable experience – for all the wrong reasons.
Understanding UX & UI
UX (user experience) refers to the “feel” of a website. It’s the intangible flow; the intended simplicity with which options are presented and choices are made.
UI (user interface) refers to the images and buttons. Their design and layout determine whether the user experience is satisfactory.
Fundamental to this is understanding what your user wants. All the good intentions in the world won’t hold up if the experience your users get is poor.
Don’t expect good results if your website utilizes poor visual hierarchy, where unimportant information dominates the page and critical navigation features are difficult to find. Likewise, don’t expect miracles from a process flow with too many options and settings that frustrates the user.
Think like your User
What is your user trying to accomplish when they visit your website?
If they can’t do that with ease then you’ve got yourself a problem.
A company with an easy-to-use website will get more forgiveness than a company with a tangled online labyrinth.
Every added complication or unnecessary step gives visitors to your site another excuse to leave. Often, they’re going to bounce right over to your chief competitor.
A friendly guideline is that users should be able to get anywhere on your website with only 3 clicks from the home screen. Following this instruction keeps layouts and navigation simple.
It should be easy and intuitive to contact your company, whether that is by phone, email or contact form.
What could be more frustrating than wanting to contact a company to ask a question or register a complaint but being unable to find that option? This is the age of social media; we know discontent won’t just fall by the wayside because a button isn’t available.
When the customer experience suffers, the company’s reputation suffers. Bad or unfinished design is akin to shooting yourself in the foot.
The holistic approach
Excellent UX and UI is never the result of “winging it”.
The steps of a process need to strong planning. They need thorough analysis into what users are looking for and what they are expecting.
This relies on real-life research. Optimizing your website for an ideal customer who doesn’t actually exist won’t do any good.
Build buyer personas to help you understand your clients – from their demographic information, to their motivations, to what fuels their buying decisions.
Though Feature A and B might seem like the primary selling point of a product to you, your customer might actually be looking for Feature C and D.
Once you understand your client inside and out, you can build a website that suits them. That meets their needs.
How do you know if it’s broken?
Web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, will give insight into whether your design choices have been successful.
A reliable way to check if your user experience is positive is to check the bounce rate. Having a high number of users exiting or “bouncing” from your website suggests that they aren’t getting what they want or expect. This can be a site wide issue, or it can be a problem on a specific page.
For example, a contact form with a large bounce rate might be asking for users to give away too much information. A landing page with a poor bounce rate might not be presenting users information in the right way.
Here’s an example of using a heatmap to analyze where visitors are looking and clicking on your website:
Here’s an example of using a heat map to analyze where visitors are looking and clicking on your website
Keeping a finger on the pulse of your website is the best way to ensure that you get value out of your investment.
Anticipating the needs of your online visitors is an art. Without investing time and energy into UX and UI development, your pearl of a website can begin to work against you. This can give your company an unwanted reputation for clumsy design and cumbersome processes.