Posted by Andy Romanofsky on July 02, 2018
For years now, programmers have been putting a lot of effort into ensuring that search engines, robots and their algorithms “enjoy” crawling around on your website. But what about the human beings?
When you decided to build a website, it was people that you wanted to attract. You’ve no doubt heard that good SEO is vital for attracting users to your site – and it is. But SEO is evolving from being mostly about algorithms to being driven by user experience. So while you’re making edits to ensure that robots are comfortable on your site, don’t ever lose sight of the people – remember, no one stays somewhere they aren’t comfortable.
UX: Do what you can to make your human visitors comfortable.
The art of designing a comfortable site for the user is referred to as ‘usability’ or ‘user experience’, commonly shortened to UX. Here are some high-level places to start when designing a site with humans in mind.
First, it really goes without saying that your website needs to work well. A ‘page not found’ 404 error will drive folks away immediately. The same goes for page speed. No one will sit around just waiting for your site full of videos, giant images or animations to load. You also need to consider mobile responsiveness – if your site can’t be easily navigated on a phone or tablet, you’re going to lose visitors. But just having a site that loads quickly without errors and adapts to any size screen isn’t enough by itself.
Remember, people generally like what they are familiar with. So when you are structuring your website, remember to find a balance between unique elements that may be more risky, and more commonly used, “comfortable” elements that promote instant familiarity. There’s a reason we see many sites with a search bar at the top right, a logo at the top left that links you back to the homepage and a menu bar either right under or between the two. Particularly in the world of B2B, and especially with certain types of audiences like engineers, some familiarity will help visitors navigate sites more quickly.
The things I’ve mentioned so far are all around navigation, because one of the two universal things that people are naturally afraid of is getting lost. They want to quickly find what they’re looking for or do what they came to do, and move on. They also want to know that they can find their way back to where they were if they get distracted to another page on their way to completing their main task.
The second uncomfortable feeling for most people is helplessness. After getting to the right spot on your site, they want to very quickly know how to do what they came there to do. If the purpose of the site is to sell products, it should be obvious how to start purchasing. If the purpose of the site is to sign people up for something, it should be obvious how to subscribe. If the goal is just to share information, then that information should be easy for them to find.
Some guidelines to help you help people.
Enough about our fears. Let’s go back to what makes people comfortable on a website. And that would be knowing what to do and how to do it.
- Menu items should be simple and without hidden submenus. If hidden submenus are really needed, there should be a visual cue from the parent menu item that a hidden menu will appear if selected/hovered. Clicking or rolling over a parent item should not be the only way for the user to figure out that there are additional menu items available. Also, submenu items should, in some way, be related to the parent item. Menu items should almost always be descriptive text and not icons, unless it is a well-known icon such as a magnifying glass for search or a house for home. Everything should be clear by just looking. It has been determined that horizontal menu bars should contain seven or fewer items for people to quickly remember all the choices.
- All pages should be consistent. Small differences, such as one page having a sidebar or a banner, are good, but the headers and footers should stay consistent, as well as the font style and size, color scheme and overall style. Your visitor does not want to have to relearn the ways of your website on every page they visit.
- Visitors should be able to tell what is on a page without scrolling. Important items should be near the top of the page, not hidden all the way at the bottom.
- Feedback is very important. If the visitor does anything, the site should respond. Buttons and links should react when pressed. If a form is submitted, your user should get a thank you message or a thank you page that clearly states that the form was received.
- The homepage should guide visitors on where to go. It should also let them know what else your website has to offer.
- Keep branding consistent. Depending on your design, try to reduce the amount of colors and keep them consistent in tone and meaning. Use contrasting text and background colors (but not white text on black). Color sets the mood of your site, so choose wisely, but remember to keep to your overall brand. This makes for a cohesive experience.
Can I break these rules?
Yes, but do so thoughtfully and carefully. Although I can list many guidelines, the number one rule is that your guests should enjoy using your site. It should not confuse them. Visitors don’t come to your site to learn how to use it, they come for the reason you created it in the first place. When deviating from what users are used to, try to to find a balance between the creative and the familiar. The competition for online attention is tight, so if your site doesn’t make people feel comfortable, they’ll find another option.
Test your website with real live people.
One last thing. The best way to know if human beings can comfortably use your website is to test it with real human beings. Use Google Analytics (or a comparable web analytics tool) to watch as users engage with your site. Do they bounce quickly from the site, or spend time visiting multiple pages? Are they finding what they need and converting on your offers? Can you identify (and build) clear traffic patterns? (Remember, give folks a path and they will follow.)
Need help building a site that visitors want to return to again and again? We can help.