Imagine walking into store to buy a gift, attracted by the window displays of beautiful merchandise. At first, you’re blown away by the appealing products and certain you will succeed in finding what you need. But frustration soon sets in as you realize that there are no sales people to help you, the aisles are not labeled, and the merchandise is mixed up and disorganized. You’d leave pretty quickly, right?
Unless you make your website’s usability a high priority when you design it, a potential customer’s experience will be no different than the frustrated shopper in a brick and mortar store. No matter how awesome your site looks or how unique its content is, if a visitor can’t quickly, easily, and enjoyably use it, he will take his business elsewhere.
How do you ensure your website isn’t driving away potential customers? Here are six easy strategies for improving your customers’ experiences online, and as a result, your bottom line in the year to come.
1) Cultivate Homepage Zen.
When it comes to design, embrace a “less is more” approach on your homepage. Include plenty of white space, use legible text, and place call-to-actions (eg. cues urging users to perform desired activities) in prominent places. Limit menu choices to what is most essential and ensure users can find all information in three clicks or less. Also, don’t go overboard with animation. While in small doses it can be exciting and enhance user experience, too much flashing is distracting, reduces reading comprehension, and slows down the amount of time it takes for your website to load (eg. become visible) in a browser, also known as load time.
2) Faster Load Time = Better Bottom Line.
When it comes to load time, every second counts. According to web analytics firm, KissMetrics, 40% of consumers will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load and a one second delay in page response can result in a seven percent reduction in conversions. If that’s not reason enough to speed things up, consider this: A slow load time can also hurt your search engine rankings. The takeaway? Prioritize a fast load time over extra bells and whistles!
3) Get *Mobile*ized!
As more people access the web on the move, having a mobile-optimized web presence has become a business must. According to the latest research from Google’s mobile playbook, 57% of people won’t recommend a company with a sub-par mobile site and 40% will visit a competitor’s site after a bad mobile experience. Whether you design individual mobile and tablet websites or experiment with responsive web design (a newer design method that automatically expands or contracts your site to fit any screen size), ensuring this growing consumer base can easily access and use your website on the go is essential.
4) Don’t Rest Until You Test.
The old adage, “if something can go wrong, it will” definitely applies when it comes to building a website, which is why pre-launch testing is so important. What does this entail? Before your website goes live, make sure it is compatible with major browsers and hardware. Check that all links are working, set up necessary 301 redirects (a method of telling web browsers and search engines that a web page or site has been permanently moved to a new location), and ensure people with disabilities can access it by meeting government accessibility requirements called 508 compliance standards. If your site contains a sizable amount of content and your budget allows, you might also consider investing in user interviews, focus groups, online surveys, and heuristic (expert) review to determine who your users are, how they think, and what you can do to best target your site to their needs.
5) Dummy-Proof Your Navigation.
Getting lost online is just as frustrating as it is in real life, and it’s not something you want potential customers to experience on your website! To ensure users always know where they are on your site and how to find what they’re looking for, place clear headings on every page and make sure the hierarchy of those headings is easy to understand. Also, use bold or large font to make the site navigation stand out, and keep it consistent throughout the site to ensure that users can see the path they took to get where they are and easily retrace their steps. Lastly, no site is complete without a Home button and a link to a sitemap on each and every page.
6) Don’t Reinvent The Wheel.
When it comes to using the web, people like familiarity, which means that it’s important to follow basic website conventions. These include
- Placing your logo at the top of the page and ensuring it links back to your homepage to aid branding and navigation
- Underlining links in a different color than the text to make them stand out
- Checking that your URL works with and without the www to ensure visitors who type your URL into a browser can find it
- Putting your contact information in a prominent location so it is easy for potential customers to get in touch with you.
If you put all of these practices in place, your business will be on its way to having an extremely user-friendly website – one which no one will leave without having found what they are looking for.
Do you have any web usability tips for business websites? Please share them in the comments below!
Rebecca Rubin is a Digital Marketing and Usability Specialist for award-winning interactive agency, Blue Water Media. She creates, implements, and manages multi-tiered marketing campaigns and usability initiatives for businesses of all sizes, non-profits, and government agencies. Follow her on Twitter at @RebeccaIRubin.
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