In 2014, the total number of websites in the world reached over 1 billion. That’s a LOT of competition, elevating the importance of providing an effortless web experience to the now, often sophisticated, visitor. The visitor experience - aka the ‘user experience’ - can be successfully developed using a wide variety of tools and methods. Have you ever heard the saying “If you build it, they will come?" When talking about a great user experience, if you build it, they will return. Here are five basic guidelines I’ve found helpful in the website design and development process that will encourage frequent return visits.
1. Choose Your Mission
Everybody needs a goal, right? Websites do too. Your website goal can be in the form of a mission statement or a clear, concise goal statement. The statement should be ‘actionable’ and ‘measurable.’ A frequently used method for setting a website goal is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound. However the format, your website’s goal provides a navigational compass that will help steer you toward the best solution when complex decisions arise. This is your “bottom line.” With your goal statement in place, you can answer the question: “does making this _______ decision help accomplish the goal?”
2. Organize and Prioritize
The ‘user experience’ should be closely aligned with the content strategy of your website. The hierarchy of content informs the structure and placement of important elements, guiding the audience through an effortless, engaging experience. If you want the visitor to find a clear path to the information they’re seeking (and who doesn’t?), organizing the content on your website is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Content organization is a well documented subject with many helpful methods available. One popular method, referred to as the LATCH principle, was originally presented in 1989 by Richard Saul Wurman in his book Information Anxiety. "The organization of information...can only be organized by LATCH: Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, or Hierarchy."
3. Consistency is Key
Consistency will help your website stand apart by providing the visitor a polished, effortless experience. Consistency in the content, design, elements, and interactions of those elements help to ensure a logical path to the information.
- Content: Your website’s content should feel like it’s written by the same person – it should share the same tone and mood. Often this can be a challenge when multiple contributing editors are involved in the writing process. If done successfully, this will make the experience more unified throughout the site. The amount of content should also be carefully considered. Even though we’re no longer talking about 'saving trees,' it still takes time to read those extra words. Add an image or subtitle where appropriate to help break up extra-long copy.
- Design: Design consistency can be accomplished with the use of a grid system for the layout, and a style guide for elements like colors, fonts, graphic treatments and components.
- Elements: The main elements of your website should be in the same place throughout your site. Period. The placement of the main navigation, footer and sidebar should appear in the same place or your visitors will probably get frustrated and leave. Consistency means ensuring a logical path. Moving primary elements to different places is ‘highly illogical,’ as Spock would say.
- Interactions: The behavior - or interaction - of the website elements should also be consistent. What happens when a button is clicked or a photo enlarges? Whatever the pattern of behavior, it should be consistent.
4. Accessibility for Usability
Did you know that approximately 15% of the world’s population live with a disability? That’s an estimated 1 billion people who can’t visit or navigate your website if you’ve not considered accessibility in the user experience. Many references and tools are available that provide techniques and criteria for successful accessibility compliance, including those provided by W3.
Here are a few guiding accessibility principles to keep in mind:
- Perceivable: Information should not be provided through text alone. Images should include ‘alt text.’ Audio or videos should provide an alternate text-based format. Colors should be analyzed to ensure the contrast is high enough for readability.
- Understandable: Clear content and a logical interface provides ease of use and understanding. Consistent (there’s that word again) elements inform the user. Use clear language, and when including unfamiliar terms, define them. Avoid large blocks of text. Spell out requirements ahead of time. (Have you ever filled out a form, hit ‘submit' and got an error message because you missed entering a field that was required?)
5. Know Thy User
The target audience of your website may be one or many. To attract those audiences, you must understand the challenges, needs and expectations they’ll have when visiting your website. By creating a User Persona for each audience type, you can document their journey as they would access specific information. User Personas also help when organizing the content. Various resources and templates are available, which can be very helpful when creating User Personas. Check out our free User Persona e-book.
Performing user research through interviews, surveys, card sorting exercises, focus groups, usability and A/B testing can also improve the user experience. Paying close attention to what the participants say and do (or even don’t do) will provide helpful insight into special considerations and adjustments that may be needed to attract the attention of your target audience and ensure they’re able to find the information they’re seeking – effortlessly.