Websites are ubiquitous in business these days. It’s rare that a business does not have some sort of web presence, even if it’s just a clean landing page. I know that, as a consumer, it’s frustrating when I look for a business online and don’t find anything, other than perhaps a YP.com or Yelp listing. I shake my head and wonder how that’s even possible anymore.
What’s perhaps equally as frustrating is when you do get to a site and it’s almost indecipherable. It’s hard to read, the colors hurt your eyes (red text on a black background?), things aren’t where they “belong,” and links or pages are broken.
So while having a website is a necessity, having a great website is just as important. But what does it mean for a business to have a great website? It means that the user has a positive experience on the site. They are able to find what they are looking for, navigate easily, and gather information. Perhaps they can even make a purchase or schedule an appointment. In this article, we’re going to look at the seven secrets to giving visitors a great experience on your website.
Usability and functionality have to be two of the most important factors to consider in any website design. Users have to be able to navigate easily and accomplish what they are going to the site for. If those things are not present, then you will lose visitors and customers. That’s money out of your pocket.
It’s all about creating a positive user experience. Way back in 2004, information architect Peter Morville created a User Experience Honeycomb that highlighted the seven most important factors to a user’s website experience:
Morville purposely chose the honeycomb design to show the individual facets of a solid architecture, at the same time focusing on the combined strength when all facets work in harmony. Eleven years later, which is an eternity in the world of the Internet, every aspect of the honeycomb is still 100 percent relevant.
Keep these seven elements in mind as you read through the seven secrets to creating a great user experience in this article, and you’ll quickly see how they intertwine with one another to result in a strong, successful, converting website.
Define your target users by creating an avatar
Before you get too heavily into the design of your website, you need to determine who your target user is. The best way to do this is to develop a customer avatar, or detailed profile. This profile will include the demographics of your target, but also focus on their interests, likes, hobbies, behaviors, what they will be using the site for, and so on. By understanding your target, you can build your website, taking all these things into account. Chances are if you’ve taken the time to create a detailed customer persona, you’ll see higher conversion rates because people will get exactly what they’re looking for out of your site. Ideally, build three customer avatars. When building an avatar, get very specific and include things like:
- Name, age, gender
- Where they live
- What they do for a living
- Education level
- Employer/company size
- Spending habits
- How tech savvy they are?
- What factors go into a buying decision?
- What are some favorite websites?
- What sorts of hobbies do they engage in?
- Identify some pain points – what problem would they be looking to solve?
Don’t sacrifice usability for design
The main objective for your website will be to make it easy for visitors to find what they are looking for on your website. And perhaps the worst mistake you can make is sacrificing ease of use for design. Think about your own browsing habits. If you visit a site and can’t find what you’re looking for, what do you do? You leave. And where will you go? A competitor. Finding what you do want is just a click of the mouse away. As a business owner, you need to do everything you can to keep visitors on your site and give them what they want. When you’re building your website (either yourself or with a contractor), don’t get so married to a design or design element that you overlook functionality and ease of use. To see how this can impact your bottom line, take a look at these two statistics from Usability.gov, a group that studies and develops best practices for a website’s user experience:
- Roughly half of potential sales are lost because people can’t find what they’re looking for
- 60 percent of the time people cannot find what they are looking for on a website.
Are you willing to risk losing half of your potential sales because you mistakenly chose design over providing a great user experience? If you are, then you don’t need to read anymore.
Put website elements where someone expects them to be
This ties directly into ease of use. You want to put your website elements where people are going to expect them to be. By now websites have been around long enough that we all look for certain elements in the same general areas. The main navigation menu will generally either be across the top of the page or down the left side. The Search box will be somewhere near the top of the page. We know that, for the most part, ads will be on the left side of the page. You may think you’re being “unique” by mixing things up and being “different,” but what will end up happening is you’ll confuse site visitors and they will abandon their efforts, heading over to your competitor. Don’t make people hunt for basic elements.
Keep your navigation menus simple
In this case, seven is the magic number. Limit your navigation menu options to seven items, at most. Any more than that, and you’ll overwhelm visitors. If you do have more options than seven, add in a drop-down menu that will display the additional options. Even with a sub-menu, you’ll want to again limit the number of options so as not to confuse or overwhelm.
Use a breadcrumb trail
Just because you’ve limited your navigation menus to seven items and only two-levels, doesn’t mean people will lose their way. When they want to go back and return to the page where they started, you want to, again, make it as easy as possible. To do this, make sure you leave a breadcrumb trail for them to follow. This is an important element to make navigation easier. A breadcrumb trail is a series of links that shows the path someone took to get to their current point. If they want to retrace their steps at any point, they can go to the trail and click on a link to go back.
Save the crazy fonts for someplace else
Above anything else, the words on your site have to be easy to read. Here is another place where you don’t want to sacrifice style for functionality. When someone has to strain to read what is on a page, you run the risk that they either misread your information, experience eyestrain, or worse, abandon the site. You may think you’re being fancy and elegant by choosing a swirly cursive font, but it may actually be illegible. While we’re talking about fonts, be sure to limit the number of different fonts to three at most so your site doesn’t look jumbled and messy.
Make sure your website is responsive
More and more people are viewing websites on something other than a computer or laptop. We’re using our smartphones and tablets, all of which have different screen sizes. So it’s important that your website is responsive. This means your website will adjust and look good on any screen, no matter the size. This is all done behind the scenes, in the code. The good news is that most website templates today are automatically responsive, but this is important to know if you are having a site built from the ground up.
Here’s the interesting thing about responsiveness. Not only it is important for site visitors, it is important for Google. Google factors responsiveness into its search algorithm because they want to make sure users have the best experience with their search results. You’ll know a website is responsive because when viewing it on a mobile device, you won’t have to scroll or zoom to see all the content, all elements of the site fit on the screen, and all the text is readable. Be sure to test your website on different devices (computer screen, tablet, different phone sizes) to ensure its responsiveness.
While this list might seem like a lot to take into consideration, it’s really not that overwhelming. The reason is because these steps are relatively simple, and much of the time, they are second nature. If you’re building your own website and are working with a template as a foundation for your design, then chances are a lot of these elements we covered here are already built in. The template will be responsive, have a limited number of coordinating fonts, have a pleasing color palette, and have the key elements where they mostly make sense. If you’re working with an experienced website designer, he or she should be familiar with all of these concepts and be able to take your vision and translate that into a pleasing, functioning website. Perhaps the thing that will take the most time and thought will be creating your user personas (avatars), but that will be time well spent.
Dan Monaghan is co-founder of WSI, the world’s largest digital marketing agency network (founded in 1995), and director of Franchise Capital Corporation, a private equity firm investing in early stage franchise and technology companies. Follow him on Twitter.