If you’re building your first website, producing great content is only part of the challenge. How you organise your information plays a significant role in how visitors interact with your website. If you want them to find out more about your products and services, sign up to a newsletter or make a purchase, you’ll want to spend some time planning your user experience (UX).
So, what is UX
While the term itself (user experience) is self-explanatory, the factors that contribute to a user’s experience of your website are generally not so obvious. When visiting a new site, people will typically decide within in the first five seconds whether to stay or to head elsewhere. UX principles play a significant role in this decision. While I could list a number of these principles here, I think it more beneficial to use an analogy.
To get an understanding of good UX principles, it’s worth looking at how supermarket operators design stores to create a positive customer experience. Like a supermarket, a good website should be easy to navigate, tell your brand story, increase sales, and encourage return visits.
Despite the fact supermarkets stock thousands of products, finding what you’re looking for is (usually) pretty simple. This is achieved through effective signage and adhering to a well-known layout that groups similar products, i.e. baking goods, dairy products, etc., together. If supermarkets didn’t do this, completing your weekly shop would be near impossible and it’s unlikely you’d ever return.
The same is true of your website. While you might only sell one product, it’s important visitors can easily find what they’re looking for. People are notoriously impatient when searching online and if they become confused, chances are they’ll go elsewhere.
To ensure your visitors never feel lost, reassure them that they’re in the right place. You can do this by summarising a page in its opening paragraph. The effective use of headers and bullet points will allow visitors to easily scan a page and (hopefully) find what they’re looking for.
It’s important to remember that the majority of your traffic will be there to complete a particular task, i.e. they’re not browsing. So, you need to reassure them they’re in the right place.
The layout of supermarkets is generally pretty uniform. This helps people find what they’re looking for. A website that also adheres to common conventions will be easier for people to navigate. So, while it might seem like a creative idea to locate your main navigation bar at the bottom of the page, if people can’t immediately locate it, it can create a frustrating user experience.
Chocolate in the checkout aisle
It’s likely that you’ll want visitors to your site to perform certain tasks. This might be to buy something, to book a service, or sign up to a newsletter or blog. If so, it’s important to make your pitch at the right time. Supermarkets will often display chocolate bars at the checkout aisle. They know people will be more tempted to buy them while waiting to pay for their groceries than if they were placed in the fruit and vegetable aisle, for instance.
The same holds true when deciding where to place ‘sign up’, ‘request a quote’ or ‘buy now’ buttons. If new visitors to your site are confronted with a newsletter 'sign up' form before they’ve had the chance to learn about you or your company, chances are they’ll ignore it. It’s better to introduce these action requests once the visitor’s interest has been piqued or a sense of trust has been developed.
Showcase your brand identity
It’s no coincidence that fruit and vegetable aisles are located at the entrance to almost all supermarkets. This creates the impression of freshness and vitality. Imagine if the first aisle you encountered sold laundry powder and dog food – your first impression would be much different, and probably not a good one.
It’s worth keeping this in mind when planning your UX. If your company installs swimming pools, a banner image of kids having fun in a pool on your homepage is going to be more effective than an image of a staff member standing in front of a van branded with your company logo. The picture of the staff member will be more effective if used in an ‘about us’ page. The home page banner image should immediately convey key brand attributes as well as letting people know what you do.
A well-thought-out UX used in conjunction with good content will take visitors by the hand and lead them through your website, answer their questions and offer suggestions at a point when they’re amenable to them. While UX is not something that’s immediately visible when visiting a website, it does leave a lasting impression.
If you’d like some help building a great UX for your next website, let us know.