The Do’s and Don’ts That Create a Good User Experience
You invest a lot of time (and money) into designing your site, writing valuable content, and attracting traffic to your pages. If things are going well, you are tracking a steady flow of new and returning visitors.
But once they arrive, do they stay for a while (time spent on page, number of page views)? Do they click on the call to action for your Most Wanted Response (click throughs and conversions)?
If your traffic stats are indicating less than satisfactory results, it’s time to review your site and look for some potential causes.
Visitors often take a fraction of a second to judge your site. If the design or layout turns them off, they leave, without even getting to the content. So the user experience you offer them is essential for your business success.
Your site needs a layout that’s easy to navigate, and a design that draws visitors into your outstanding content.
Every site is different, so there’s no prescription that suits everyone. However, there are some basic do’s and don’ts to remember when examining the design and layout, and the overall user experience (UX), of your website.
User Experience Do’s
1. Do use a consistent and easy-to-follow navigation system. Navigation is one of the most important parts of your website. If viewers can’t figure out how to get from one page to the next, they simply won’t stay on your site.
If you change the navigation system from one page to the next or within sections of your site, it will frustrate your visitors. Keep it simple and easy to follow. Let them concentrate on your content, not on how to get around your site.
2. Do identify a page’s most important content (usually the content leading up to the page’s Most Wanted Response) and make it the focal point of that page. Remove anything that distracts visitors from this content.
This includes hard-to-read fonts, graphics that don’t support or enhance the content, and animations. Interesting pages grab attention, but you want the attention focused on the content.
Encourage readability. Test the reading level of your site content to ensure it can be easily understood by most people. The Flesch-Kincaid reading level is a good standard to use. There are a number of online testing tools available. Microsoft Word also provides this capability.
3. Do make it easy for visitors to read your content by using high contrast fonts. If your site’s background is a dark gray, don’t use a light gray font. Use a white font. Even better: Use a light background with a black font.
Keep in mind some of your visitors may suffer from color blindness (studies show 9% of men and 0.5% of women are affected). You can check how your website and pages look by using an online testing tools such as Color Filter.
The greater the contrast between the characters and the background, the easier it is for visitors to consume your content. And people are used to reading dark fonts on light backgrounds.
4. Do make images that look like buttons function as buttons. It’s frustrating to click on what appears to be a button only to discover that it doesn’t do anything. Many users will think something is wrong with their computer or browser because the button doesn’t work.
Eliminate the aggravation by making buttons look and act like buttons, and images look and act like images.
Make all buttons at least 32 pixels high. This makes them stand out on the page, and easy to tap on tablets and mobile phones.
Also ensure that there’s enough space between buttons (and between text links) that someone with large fingers can tap the desired button or link without tapping another one at the same time.
5. Do select a color scheme that suits your niche and your audience. A site in the 20-somethings dating niche might have bright, fun colors that appeal to the younger crowd. A dating site for 50-somethings would have a different color scheme.
And a site in a more serious niche (for example, personal finance) would probably have a more professional (usually darker) color scheme.
Keep in mind that color has inherent meanings. You can refer to this visualization chart to help you understanding the meaning of colors among various cultures.
6. Do use subheadings and lists to make your pages easy to scan. Most visitors will size up your content before deciding which parts they want to read or whether they want to skip to another page entirely.
Add headline tags (h2, h3, h4 – you’ll rarely need to go below h4) to break your content into sections and subsections. This makes it easier for scanners, and readers, to find and understand your content.
Lists also make your content easier to scan. When creating lists and navigation items, put your most important points in the first and last position.
These are the two positions naturally caught by the eye when a viewer skims through the list. If those points are important, they may convince many readers to read the rest of the list as well.
7. Do use visual elements within your content to draw your visitors in. Great photos, videos, graphs and infographics can help to attract visitors’ eyes away from the template and into the content itself where you want them to be.
This next one isn’t about the user experience, yet it’s still an essential part of your site’s success.
Do make sure the template is SEO-friendly. Some designers make sites that look impressive but can cause issues with search engine optimization (SEO), or give ranking penalties. Make sure your template looks great, will perform great, and uses no “black hat” SEO techniques.
If you plan to purchase a template, research the ones you like. Look at reviews, support issues and how long it takes to resolve them, and any other indicator that the template is good and the designer is even better.
User Experience Don’ts
1. Don’t complicate your site with a busy background. You may enjoy a fun pattern or bright color, but your visitors may find it distracting or unattractive. Remember, keep the focus on the user experience and not on what you like.
2. Don’t use ALL CAPS in your content. ALL CAPS is considered shouting online. It also makes your words harder to read.
3. Don’t use full justification for your content. It’s easier to track from one line to the next when each line has a different length.
4. Don’t add background audio to your pages. Music files can slow the load time of your page. Some viewers may be sitting at work or a public location when they click to your website. They don’t want to scramble to adjust the volume. Most will scramble for the Back button instead.
In the same vein, don’t autoplay videos upon page load. Let your visitors decide when to start the video. This is especially important for mobile users, who usually not have unlimited bandwidth in their data plans. Don’t make them download a video they may not want to watch.
5. Don’t assume that your visitors are all using desktop computers or laptops. Many will view your website from their smartphone or tablet. If your site is not responsive, it won’t display properly on every device screen size. To make sure it’s easy for everyone to consume your content, invest in a responsive web design.
6. Don’t allow ads to dominate the page. Besides giving a poor user experience, Google punishes sites with a poor content to ad ratio (too many ads), especially “above the fold” (the first screen of content the visitor sees). Always make your content the priority on the page, along with its call to action.
7. Don’t overwhelm your site with too many colors. Select a color scheme that features a primary color and one or two accents, and ditch the rest of the rainbow. Too much color will make your site look unprofessional and distracting. This applies even if all the colors are part of the same color scheme. Stick to just a few colors.
8. Don’t let plugins, widgets, videos and other features lengthen a page’s load time, or stall the load. Test load times regularly and fix problems immediately so that you don’t lose impatient visitors.
9. Don’t assume that fancy elements are the best choice just because everyone else has them. Simplicity is usually the best choice.
For example, a home page slider slows down load times, and can cause issues with SEO. What’s worse is that it doesn’t convert well (visitors don’t click on one of the images to go deeper into your site). A recent study showed that just 0.22% of users clicked on slider images. That’s a lot of valuable above-the-fold real estate being wasted!
10. Don’t expect viewers to take more than one action. Keep it simple and allow them to focus on one call to action.
When you complicate the site with many calls to action (AdSense ads, banner ads, newsletter signup, link to another page, etc.), you reduce the odds that viewers will take any of the desired actions. Many will end up taking their desired action, which is clicking on the Back button.
Always remember that content is still king. Ensure that the user experience your site offers polishes the crown rather than tarnishing it.
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