How to Optimize Your Website’s User Experience
Implementing great user experience (UX) is arguably the most important thing you can do to make a company website effective in generating sales leads or e-commerce revenue, as well as building the brand. If users become frustrated trying to find what they need, they don’t convert, and they are left with an exceedingly bad impression of your company or client’s company. Here are key items to consider when optimizing UX:
- Primary navigation. Make navigation labels intuitive rather than try to dazzle users with your creativity. Stick to widely recognized terminology like “About” and “Contact.” Also important: Keep navigation elements to a minimum, as more options are sure to be more confusing to users.
- Secondary navigation. Sidebar navigation and breadcrumbs work well, separately or together, to handle navigation for website sections. It’s helpful to test secondary navigation extensively with unfamiliar users during the wireframe stage; often, designers are too close to the project to recognize gaps in usability.
- Page loading speed. Fast page loading is essential for UX, and it also boosts SEO performance (Google doesn’t want to serve Web content that frustrates its organic search engine users because it is slow loading). Keep design elements to a minimum, and work with developers to handle images in a way that maximizes loading speed.
- Font readability is critical. Too little contrast, too many font styles, or two many font sizes distracts users and gets in the way of the message. A colleague recently shared his favorite resource for font selection, which he uses regularly to visualize how fonts work together (or don’t work together) to create an appealing Web page.
- Above all, Web pages should be scannable. Use headlines and subheads to highlight key messaging points, and keep paragraphs at three to five lines, as much as possible. Selective use of bold text, bullets and italics also contribute to easily digestible website content.
- Anchor text. For lead generation and e-commerce websites, proper handling of anchor text is key to taking users through the conversion funnel. For internal links, consider long, descriptive anchor text, as it is easier to click in mobile viewing. External links should always open in a new browser window, so users don’t become disoriented and drift from the website on which they started — this can cause conversions to go by the wayside.
- Rotating carousels. According to UX guru Jakob Nielsen, auto-forwarding carousels annoy users. In addition, because users may not stick around on the page long enough to digest the entire slideshow, they may fail to absorb key messaging about the company, undermining the brand presentation and stopping conversions dead in their tracks.
- Above the fold. In past years, it was common to pack as much information as possible above the fold. Today, mainly because mobile Internet usage exceeds desktop usage, this approach is no longer advantageous. We like to design for mobile first, and back into the desktop layout. Pages that require a lot of vertical scrolling work well now on both desktops and mobile devices — provided you give users enough visual clues to continue scrolling.
- White space. Another benefit of breaking away from the above-the-fold mentality is a greater ability to use white space, a key feature of strong UX. White space puts users at ease, reduces the potential for confusion, keeps them focused, and conveys confidence and credibility.
- Inquiry forms, sign-up forms and online-store checkout processes must be kept simple and intuitive. Companies often trip themselves by having too many required fields, and asking for private information of greater perceived value than whatever benefit can be derived from submitting the form. As with navigation, testing forms with actual users is a great way to spot shortcomings in form design.
Analytics Can Help UX
It’s always good for designers to review website analytics — I’m surprised how many times companies or clients overlook this point. When designers can see trends in conversions, abandoned shopping carts and forms, page view times and other critical data, they gain a better understanding of where UX is working and not working on various website sections. Since UX will never be perfect the first time (if ever), continuous improvement must be a high priority, and that is best executed when driven by the appropriate data.