User Experience or UX, is quite simply the experience that your website provides for your user. All websites, by definition, provide some sort of user experience – whether it is positive, negative, or neutral. The point of the UX approach is to make sure that your site provides the right sort of experience.
Why Even Bother With UX?
As the online marketplace expands, so does competition. You may think you have a unique product, but chances are someone else also has the same, or very similar idea. Some might even provide it cheaper than you can afford. So how do you compete?
You provide something that others don’t.
Many people will choose a product for reasons beyond price. To get a good understanding of how this works, we can look outside of the online world. A classic example of this is Apple.
Apple has, for years, been making products which many people like. While sometimes they have been very innovative, their products do not remain unique for long. You can almost always find a similar product from someone else for considerably less.
Apple’s products also tend to cost considerably more, and sometimes up to double the price of their competition. Are they better? Maybe, but are they really twice as good? This is highly unlikely. Yet somehow, they have developed extreme brand loyalty.
So, how have they done it?
The answer is that they use a model which provides a good experience to the user. This is evident in everything from their sense of design to their customer service model. All of their products are sleek and elegant.
If you have ever walked into an Apple store, you also may have noticed that there is a specific look and feel to the store. Even the way their customer service representatives (“Apple Geniuses” is what they call them) speak to you is carefully managed and scripted.
Apple understands the importance of the experience the customers get, not only when using the product, but how they obtain it.
WHY UX? Here’s 13 impressive statistics about User Experience that showcases why it is so important.
Now let’s take these ideas to your website.
User Experience Includes:
This is the way that your website looks or appears to your users. The look of the site will convey information to your users, regardless of whether you want it to or not. Before you organize the look of your site, it’s very important to identify who your target users are and how you wish to appear to them.
The correct approach is not the same for all types of sites. For example, a portfolio website or photography website should likely have a different look than a business consulting site.
This is the area that most think of when talking about User Experience. It’s important to understand and attempt to guide how users feel about using your site. How is the interaction? Is it passive? Are you calling them to action? Do your users feel motivated to respond? What does the user feel when using the site? What are they getting out of it?
Usability may be one of the most important areas in the User Experience model, however the terms are not synonymous. It’s probably best to think of this as a necessary prerequisite to the other UX functions. No matter how cool your site looks, if a user cannot figure out how to accomplish what they wish to do (or, more importantly, what you wish them to do), their experience will most likely suffer.
This can negatively impact how they feel about using your site. If your site is not usable, it may drive them away before you can even get them to interact, or develop a positive experience.
Each of these factors are necessary pieces of the User Experience model. Their relationship is synergistic. If you fail at one, you may be more likely to fail at the others.
The DOs and DON’Ts for UX
What you choose to do depends largely on what type of site you have. However, there are a number of do’s and dont’s that are generally true for any site. Here they are:
1. DO Give Something Away for Free
Remember, there is a lot of competition online for eyeballs. If a user/customer thinks they can get something without paying for it elsewhere, they will leave. For this reason, it’s a good idea to give some sort of “sample” or “teaser”.
This is especially true if you have high quality content or a product that stands out on its own. How can people know how good your product is compared to others without seeing some of it?
Not sure what you can give away?
2. DO Include Content
This way you can provide something to read for people who wish to know more about a product. Not everyone will, but for those that do, it will provide more authority to your site. A positive side benefit is that this will help improve SEO.
This blog is a good example. There are free tips and instructions you can actually use. This helps motivate the desire to go ahead and invest in starting a website, finding web hosting, hiring designers/developers, etc. You have free tools already in your hands, and a steady supply of new information. This (theoretically… nudge nudge) keeps you here.
Some other good examples include major newspapers, such as the New York Times or the Washington Post. These, along with many other quality news sites provide a certain number of free articles per month before requiring you to purchase a subscription. The free articles demonstrate value and encourage purchase. The experience of having access to free and quality content keeps bringing people back.
3. DON’T Distract the User With Ads & Images
Remember this important rule:
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Remember to make good use of whitespace. You want users to focus on your content, not on some other content that may draw them away. Be wary of placing advertisements everywhere. Sure, they may generate a few clicks for those few advertisers, but this could turn off your users in a big way.
If your website has a lot of content (which, btw, as mentioned above, it should) make sure your break it up into smaller easier to read/digest chunks.
4. DON’T Use Run-on Sentences
Short sentences stand out.
Keep paragraphs short. Try to keep your paragraphs to no more than three or four sentences. Online, more people tend to read quickly and it’s easier on the eyes to keep it short.
5. DO Use Headings to Break Things Up
It makes reading much easier on the eyes, and can allow users with limited time to scan your content.
6. DO Provide Links to Relevant Content
This increases the authority of what it is you have to say. If people have a sense that you have researched your topic, they are more likely to take you seriously.
Also make sure that whenever you do use a link, if it is to another site, that it open in another window or tab.
This serves two functions:
- It helps the user keep their place if they just want to check something briefly
- It makes sure that users remain on your site. After they close that tab, they will still be on your site
7. DO Style Your Links To Be Identifiable
Make them obvious. This helps to draw the users attention and serve as a call to action. This is particularly important if you are trying to drive someone to make a purchase, or to read something important (e.g. terms of services, etc).
It used to be that links had to have underlining to make them visible, but this is really no longer the case. However, if you do choose to underline content, it should only be for links.
QUICK NOTE: Did you just try clicking on the above underlined text? It’s okay, you can admit it to yourself. That is because underlined text has been used so often in the past as links, it can easily confuse users who have been conditioned for years to see underlined content as a link.
Also while this may seem obvious, don’t use the words “Click here” for links. Simply turn the referenced text into a link.
8. DO Use Images, But DON’T Use Too Many
People still respond well to visual content. Do you remember the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words”? It’s still true. However, it’s important to pay attention what you want to convey. The wrong image will still send a message, but not necessarily what you want: e.g. obvious stock photo says “generic” and “uninteresting.” Don’t show a picture of chocolate cake on a recipe for spaghetti (unless, of course, your point is to be humorous).
9. DO Make Sure Your Website Has Responsive Design
These days especially, remember that users are accessing your content from a wide variety of media. Some may be using a phone, some on a tablet, some on a desktop, some on a laptop. Make sure your site renders okay on each of these devices. Better yet, have it optimized to use the advantages of each of these formats.
QUICK NOTE: If you use bootstrap or a responsive website builder for your layout, your site will be mobile-responsive by default!
One mistake I have seen a lot: sites which render fine on a desktop on a high speed connection can wreak havoc on a lower powered laptop.*
*I have half-joked in the past that usability on the web would be improved drastically if web designers were forced to use small low-speed laptops. Typically front-end web designers work on fancy large screens. Human nature being what it is, we become accustomed to our environment, and everything begins to exist as relative to that context. It’s easy too for those in the first class seats to forget what flying is like for the rest of us in coach, or on a bus.
Similarly, remember that some users will be working on larger screens; make sure your site looks okay to them as well. What may look good on a laptop may look awkward when stretched to a large size. Test, test, and test again.
10. DO Engage Your Users
People like personalized attention. Simply responding to a comment or responding to a question or complaint works wonders, and can breed customer-loyalty like nothing else.
11. DON’T Assume You’re Right & DO Test Your Site Against Actual Users
You cannot know how effective your site is until you do some testing to see the responses from actual users. They will view your site differently than you may think. Your instincts might be right, but typically this is not the case, quite simply because different people think differently. Especially important – they have different needs and goals than you do as the site creator.
To get you started with usability testing, here is a brief list of several testing methods and a more in-depth guide to doing A/B testing.
This is, of course, a far from comprehensive guide on how to improve the user experience on your site, but this should give you a set of good tools to get started. I’m sure you already have some great ideas. Let me know in the comments section below!
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