The value of a great user experience

Great online brands combine ongoing testing, feedback and improvement cycles into their daily practices and invest in listening, learning and modifying the user experience to create positive returns in revenue and loyalty. This means user experience is not just a practice or a process—it is a philosophy.

The user experience should be:

  • Comfortable
  • Intuitive
  • Consistent
  • Easy to understand and relate to vistors needs
  • Marry brand objectives with user needs and wants

The user experience for your website should be foremost when both designing and optimizing your website.  There is no “we’re done” when it comes to web optimization because user needs change as they collect information that will transform them from consumers to customers.

Create comfort—first and foremost.

Online, comfort is created in many ways. The tone and voice of the company, established through copy, content, social media and online media should reflect the brand personality of the company but more than that it has to bring consumers into the brand rather than bombard them with sales messages

  • Create a friendly and appropriate “voice” for your company that is reflected in the copy and in the visual language of all materials, online and off.  This means warm inviting images and easy to find links to your social media presence.
  • Make sure the home page explains the purpose of your site, company or product clearly and concisely.  You should also use various home pages to better segment your audience and never try and say too much on your homepage.  Keep it simple.
  • Create an easy way to get “home” from every page of your site. Use standard conventions such as linking the logo back to the home page. Make it easy for people to get back to where they were or to find information within your site.
  • Make it easy to find what you are looking for. Search should yield usable results (not 2,000 non-relevant links). Paths to products or information should be easy to follow and hassle-free. This means your search should only search your site not the whole Internet.
  • Keep surprise to a minimum. When linking outside of your site, give a warning and use a pop-up if possible. When downloading a PDF or other media, make it clear how large the file is and give an estimated download time.  Also don’t change the structure of your site if you have a lot of returning visitors.  People are growing tired of having to learn new things over and over and in most cases they will leave your website if it’s changed too much.

Make the experience intuitive.

Every time facebook makes a change to their website people throw fits because it means they have to learn facebook all over again.  In recent research people 35+ clearly told us that they were tired of having to learn how to change things on personal websites like social media and when tasked most did not know how to do even simple tasks.

  • Think like a first-time visitor—understand specifically who they are and what they are looking for. Provide an easy starting point from which to begin.  Why are they coming to your site and what keywords brought them there ?
  • Navigation, links and content should be easy to read, not full of jargon or insider terms your company may use internally, but which would be unclear to an outsider.  This is especially true for links like contact us or disclaimers.
  • Organize your site in a way that makes sense to the visitor, not according to how your brand wants people to access information.
  • Make sure that links and clickable items look active. Make images and headline text active when appropriate.
  • Incorporate rounds of small-scale (informal) usability testing into your development process all the time. Remember it’s about both users and business objectives.

Keep it consistent.

Creating a consistent experience takes time and attention to detail. Although your site may change over time, the experience of interacting with your organization or company should retain a consistent focus on quality of product, service or content.

  • Maintain brand standards whenever possible. Invest in the creation of a branding style guide for your company that translates to your online and offline presence.  In other words full integration but not to the point that you cannot leverage the strength of the Web.
  • Use CSS (Style Sheets) to create consistency and to ease updating or better yet think about upgrading your site to HTML 5.0
  • Use clear and consistent labeling from the top-level pages down through the lower-level pages of the site and don’t make it hard to find information through too many sub-levels of navigation.
  • “Chunk” similar information together on individual pages and create a consistent manner of representing content on pages.
  • Content should be consistently written and presented throughout the site in a warm and engaging tone.  It should be easy to understand and brand should also understand that the longer the content to higher the chance that people will not read the full page.

Just because your site has a good user experience today does not mean it will be a good one tomorrow.  You have to stay on top of users needs as well as competitors.  You should always be testing your website for content, navigation and branding.  Never settle for good enough especially on the Internet.