A website should accommodate the average user’s desire to find information and accomplish tasks quickly. Websites that are slow or that have a confusing interface are frustrating, and the majority of internet users have no tolerance for poor user experience. Continuously improving your website is important to maintaining a steady stream of happy visitors. If you’re stuck as to how to go about this, here are some ideas to get you started.
Improve Your Website Speed
Make Your Logo Clickable
The logo in your header should be something like a lighthouse, always guiding the way back home. Making your logo clickable means that the user can return to your home page when they’re ready. Otherwise they will have to look around for a home button, hit the back button several times, type the address into the address bar again, or leave the site altogether. Make things simple by creating a big, obvious link to home. People have come to depend on this helpful shortcut, so don’t let them down.
Make Your Site Searchable
Citizens of Web 2.0 largely depend on search features to help them find what they need on the web, so it would make sense to have a search bar on your website. You can get a free one with Google Custom Search. Consider additional ways to make your website searchable, like adding a list of categories, or utilizing a tag cloud for your blog. Making your site searchable has another bonus: Knowing what people are searching for within your website is a valuable metric.
No one likes a cluttered website, but maybe yours didn’t start out that way. Maybe the layout was clean and simplified at first, but over time it started gathering pictures, animations and banner ads like a snowball rolling downhill. Multiple studies, including this one conducted by the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford, have shown that web users consider site design as an indicator of a website’s credibility. So how credible would someone consider your site? Now is the time to remove those extra pictures, redundant controls, and features that your site doesn’t need. If you have excess page elements and you don’t know where to begin, use a tool like Web Declutter to get you started.
Multiple pictures and widgets, an ambiguous layout, and hard-to-locate navigation are no-no’s in the usability book.
Help Visitors Along
Feedback messages and contextual help make user experience far less confusing. Imagine filling out a sign-up page, then being brought back to the same page without knowing why. In a similar way, error pages help to point users back in the right direction instead of leaving them afloat in cyber space. As Steve Krug said, “Don’t make me think.” Add contextual help messages where necessary, and make sure your error pages are in working order.
Use Your Metrics
Your metrics tell you all about how people are using your website, so use this valuable information to make needed improvements. Perhaps you could re-examine which search terms people are using to find your site, the web pages with the most traffic, or what pages people are exiting from. Pay attention to figures that you normally wouldn’t look at, since they might contain helpful information that you didn’t see before. Overall, study your metrics to learn user behavior, and adjust accordingly.
Test, Test, Test
It’s easy to take your website’s functionality for granted when it displays beautifully in your favorite browser, but you still need to test across a variety of browsers and devices. Today’s browsers display websites with few differences between them, but you should still check to make sure. It’s also important to perform usability testing to actually see how usable your site is to others. Jared M. Spool has a helpful blog post on Seven Common Usability Testing Mistakes to help guide you in the right direction.
Pay Attention to Feedback
Your users are a valuable resource for catching bugs and other usability issues. So go through those old emails and see if you see any patterns. Are there features that people keep asking for? A complaint that won’t go away? Surveys are also a good way to get this sort of information. A well-crafted survey can tell you more about your site’s usability than you can find out by yourself. Conduct surveys with services like Survey Monkey and QuestionPro (which are both free). People are usually good about telling you what they think.
Exploring this list might bring about other ideas in which you can improve your usability. The most valuable ideas you’ll get will come from testing, and from your users themselves. The important thing is to be open to change and improvement. Don’t get too attached to any one aspect of your website. If your visitors are happy, then that’s all that really matters at the end of the day.