UI – The user’s experience is paramounton Aug 24, 2010
Are you finding your site’s bounce rate is high, you’re looking to increase your conversion rate (the percentage of sales generated from site visitors), wondering how online marketing strategies like SEO and social media can benefit your site? Before investing in online marketing, take a moment and carefully consider the UI (user interface) of your site.
‘The user interface of your site??’ - You may ask yourself, why is that important – all you want to do is generate as much traffic to your site as possible. Think of it this way, if your site has a tough navigation system, has unclear elements, doesn’t entice users to go deeper into the site, or more importantly, users aren’t doing what you want them to do, then your marketing dollars are far less effective.
How do users interact with your site?
Users will do a combination of things on your site – first and foremost, a new user will want to understand what your site is about. They will do this by scanning your home page’s text, looking at elements that jump out at them in order to give them the gist of what your site is about. They’ll place attention to visibly strong elements like: Headers, links, bullets, bold text, images, icons, buttons and graphics. They’ll start from the top of the page and work their way down, moving from the strongest elements to the least dominant.
If an element should hold interest, the user will take the time to read the text, look for a link and then move deeper into the site.
The importance of this is to take control and be premeditated about the dominant elements on each page in order to guide your users to areas and actions where you want them to.
The goal of improving your site’s usability is to make the interaction with your site as effortless and intuitive as possible – encouraging users to stay on your site longer and guiding them through the site the way you want them to.
Consider what you wish to achieve from your site, what do you ultimately want your users to do? On an ecommerce site, the desired user action would be to buy something. On a service oriented site, the desired action would be to contact the site owner for a quote. Once you have decided what is your site’s desired action, you need to make sure that you have a ‘Call to Action’ to support your main goal and make sure it’s the strongest and clearest element on your home page.
A ‘Call to Action’ would be a button or link with text that prominently explains what you want the user to do. ‘View our line of modest Swim Suits for 2011 – SHOP NOW!’ or ‘We offer expert translation services in 10 languages, contact us for a quote!’ The Call to Action should be near the top of your site’s page, above the fold and should also describe what your site is about – selling modest swimwear or translation services as in my examples. This way you are clearly telling the user both what your site is about and what they should do within the first moments they are on your site.
Try not to have too many competing focus areas on your home page, you want to keep things as clear as possible for the user or you run the risk of having so many areas that nothing stands out. Here are a few examples of sites with no clear call to action and so many elements that it isn’t clear where the user should go and even what the site is about. What would you do on sites like these? I would simply close my browser:
User Interface Audit
Take a piece of paper and map each page in terms of its areas. How many different areas are there on the page and what is their hierarchy? What is your eye drawn to first, then second, etc. Does this suit the order in which you’d like your users to go? What is the user expected to do in each area? Do you find there are too many competing areas? If so, pare it down – remove areas to other pages or don’t highlight them. It can be enough that a page is in the menu system – not everything can be highlighted or nothing stands out.
Decide what you want the user to do on each page and make sure the page’s content supports that and you don’t have unnecessary highlighted areas that will distract the user from the task at hand.
Once you have mapped out the goals for each page, look deeper at the way you present your content, here are some items you should look over:
- Icons – not just decoration
Not everyone disseminates content in the same way. Think about when you were back in school, some students learned best with spoken instruction, others from being shown how to do something, others through looking at pictures. The same holds on the internet, some people have a natural inclination towards written text whereas others are more visual. It helps users to present an icon for strong headers – it’s great for those of us who are visual and who are drawn to images faster than text and it breaks the monotony of large blocks of text.
- Links – make sure they are where they need to be and are visible.
Links are crucial to draw users deeper into your site and allow them to answer your ‘call to action’. The easier the links are to use, the better the results. All links should have a rollover effect whether they are buttons, tabs or text links. Users won’t always notice the cursor has become a hand; indicating a link – a rollover effect makes links more visible and encourages users to be drawn in.
- Upload time – don’t leave your audience waiting, because chances are, they won’t.
Sites that are very image heavy take longer to upload. As a site is uploading, the lightest elements, text will appear first. If you put important text in images, they won’t appear until the images finish uploading. This can leave your site in a bad state until all of your page elements finish uploading. Depending on how long that takes, the user may not be around when it does. Make sure that important text is in html and not embedded in images so that the user has what to do until the pictures finish uploading.
As a rule though, the faster the site upload the better so make it your goal to streamline those heavy images and animation files to a minimum.
- Search Function – a must for large sites.
Site search engines are now common place and sought after by visiting users. Users don’t have time to go through pages of content in order to find what they’re looking for. If you have a large site with a lot of content make sure it is equipped with a search engine.
- Text that jumps out at you.
Make your site’s text easier to read with headers, links, bullets, short paragraphs, bold text and graphics. Users won’t necessarily read all of your text so you want them to be able to navigate your site by quickly glancing through the stronger elements.
- Difficult Navigation System
It can’t be expressed enough that a site’s navigation system can make or break a site. A clear and easy to use system will seamlessly take the user throughout the site, allowing them to focus on your site’s content. Alternatively a confusing menu system will force your users to concentrate on how to navigate your site and ultimately they are more likely to simply leave.
- Respect Design Conventions
It’s nice to be innovative, but design conventions exist for a reason. If you start playing with those conventions, you’ll only make the user’s experience on your site much more difficult.
- A site’s logo is almost always found at the top left of the page and has an embedded ‘home’ link, changing this by making the logo small and putting it in the middle or at the bottom of the page is not advisable.
- The logic of the design must be consistent, if you have links in one color, it must be carried throughout the site.
- A menu system is commonly presented as a dominant element either across the top header or on a side. Changing this up to something very unexpected and hard to understand only creates unnecessary difficulties for the users.
Take a careful look at your site and check to see how you site stands when scrutinized from a usability perspective. Enlist friends, family and colleagues to review your site and see how they interface with your site for their feedback. Find out what they liked and what they found difficult. It’s remarkable how improving a site’s user experience can make an impact on your site’s goals.
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