Design and Enhance Your Website for a More User Friendly Experience

When designing and maintaining a website, user experience is a simple, foundational concept that is often overlooked.

User experience is about how easy or difficult it is for visitors to your website to interact with the website to achieve their goals (and your goals). A good web site user experience requires:

To get started thinking about user experience as it relates to your website, you should put yourself in the place of a site visitor. Think about your target audience, who are they? Who is interested in your product or content? Are they more likely to be tech-savvy or computer challenged? What languages do they speak? What are their interests? What impresses them? Once you have a good picture of your typical site visitors, start thinking about what they might be after when they come to your website. What are they looking for on your site? What do they want to achieve? How do this tie in with what you want them to do on your website? You will want to make it as easy as possible for them to fulfil their specific needs which are aligned with your goals for the website. This is called “conversion“, i.e. you are converting a site visitor into a customer or a repeat visitor. By ensuring that your web site provides a user friendly experience, you ensure that your users achieve their needs easily and feel satisfied with their experience. As a result, they will be inclined to return to your website, and ultimately become a loyal, repeat user. Ideally, user experience should be planned at the initial design stage of the website and the website designed around user experience, but if you already have a website up and running you should also examine your site’s user experience with a critical eye to see where improvements can be made. Now we are going to take a look at some important elements that contribute to a user friendly experience including the navigational ease of a website as well as the content. As you review the following elements, consider how they relate to your desired or existing web site and what you could incorporate in order to provide a more user friendly experience.

  1. Main Navigation Menu – The navigation menu is what guides your site visitors and helps them quickly find what they are after. If your website is small, you will probably just have a simple single level menu linking to all your important pages. You must make sure that each item in your navigation bar is named appropriately and in a way that helps users easily find what they need. Where possible, stick with standard terms that are widely used. For larger sites, you may need a hierarchical navigation menu. Careful consideration must be given to the organisation of the navigation menu. You should be thinking in terms of what your site visitors would expect and develop a navigation menu that guides them to easily find what they need and accomplish the tasks you want them to accomplish. You will also need to choose the menu location. A horizontal menu across the top of the page works well when there are a small number (typically 5-8) of top level menu items. A vertical menu on the left or right of the page can accommodate more menu items. When you go beyond the simple single level navigation another important usability issue to consider is the number of clicks it takes to get to a given page, ideally it should not take more than 3 clicks. Another important usability issue is to keep menus consistent across the different pages of the site.
  2. Footer Navigation Menu – It is often a good idea to repeat the navigation menu in the footer of each page. This helps the user because when the page is scrolled down they can click on the footer menu go to another page without having to scroll back up to the top. Typically the footer menu is displayed in a smaller font than the main menu and you can fit in additional menu items. This makes it a good place for adding menu items that would not be appropriate to add in the main menu. An example would be a link to log in to the administration area of the site. Another example is: you may want to support other related websites by having a links page but probably won’t want take up valuable space in your main menu, so you can put it in the footer menu instead.
  3. Additional Navigational Aids – A site map is a page that provides links to all the important public pages on the website, organised to clearly show the structure of the web site to the visitor. A simple website may not need a site map but for a larger more complex site a site map helps some users to understand the site structure and layout and quickly gain access to what your site has to offer.For websites with a lot of content, a search box can help site visitors to quickly find what they are looking for.
  4. Written Copy – The way the content on your web pages is written is one of the keys to defining the user experience. You need to bear in mind that a website is a vastly different medium than print or other mediums. The internet can seem like information overload so people have developed ways of coping with it by making snap judgements on the merits of a particular website. When we search for something in a search engine (also consider what the search engine displays on the results page when you are thinking about written copy), we make an initial decision on which results to click on after a very quick glance at the results returned. Almost on autopilot we filter out results that look untrustworthy. Once we decide to invest the couple of seconds it takes to click a link and view a web page, we make an instantaneous decision whether to spend a little more time checking to see if the website has something we are after, or cut our losses and hit the back button right away. If we decide to continue checking out the website, we don’t just start reading everything from the top left right down to the bottom right of the page; instead we scan the page in a matter of seconds, reading the snippets of text that jump out at us. So don’t make the mistake of pasting in a long passage of text on your home page. Instead design it for scanning, get your message across with as little text as possible. You can go into the details on lower level pages which your visitors can click on once you have them hooked. You can build a hierarchy of detail – large attention grabbing titles and headings that emphasize what you offer and why the site visitor should choose you over someone else, with sprinklings of further supporting details. More detailed information can be spread out over different pages. Always spell check your content and make sure it is grammatically correct. Spelling and grammar mistakes damage the image of trust and quality that you are trying to build.
  5. Organisation and Detail – Keeping the content on your Web site well organized allows users to quickly find what they are looking for. If you sell products on your website, organise your products by category and keep your category listings organized in a logical manner. Use specific category titles and if you have a lot of products, break out categories into sub categories. If you have a blog (weblog/ news/articles), spend some time thinking about how you categorise and organise your posts. Online forums can be organised by creating different message boards for different types of conversations. It is important to try to avoid overlap so that it is obvious to a member which board is appropriate for the message they want to post. Creating specific message boards will also help to steer the overall conversation in the forum and may prompt members to post messages that they otherwise wouldn’t have posted to a more general board.
  6. Branding – Branding is about creating the desired set of experiences or associations you want your customers to make with your products, services, or identity. In your website you reinforce your branding message through visual presentation, writing style, error-free delivery and the message you put across in written copy. Make it crystal clear, especially on the home page, what you are all about – what products or services you offer and what makes you stand out from your competitors. Make sure your website has a suitable look and feel for the product or service you are offering. E.g. if you are in the tourism industry you will want to whet peoples appetites for your activity or destination by incorporating suitable photographs and images and presenting an exciting, fun image. The web is a fickle place where the book is regularly judged by the cover in a split second so make sure the cover matches the book!

The next time you are surfing around the web, make sure to pay close attention to the elements you appreciate on your favourite sites, as well as elements that frustrate you, and apply your findings to your own website. Providing a user friendly experience is of utmost importance in creating a loyal user base and critical for driving sales. Offering your site visitors convenient and easy to use navigation, as well as organised, relevant and up-to-date content, will help users easily fulfil their needs and feel satisfied with their experience on your website.

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