Is your website a bit weary? Overdue for a fresh coat of paint and a polish? With all the different optimizations that are possible, it can feel a little bewildering at times – which ones are essential, and which ones are superfluous? To save you some time figuring this out here’s my personal “Top Seven” recommendations for the website features that really make a difference to user experience. I hope you find the checklist useful!
One – Fast Page Load
First things first. Fast page load isn’t a luxury “nice-to-have” item any longer – for any serious business owner, ensuring that your website is optimized for fast loading is imperative. More than ever, people are in a hurry. Do you really think they’re likely to wait around while your home page loads up? In their impatience, they will be more likely to go somewhere else instead.
Things to consider about page load times:
- Customers might not have such a good broadband connection as you. Making sure that images are compressed to an acceptable rate makes it more likely the web page will appear within a reasonable time frame even if their connection is slow.
- If you really need to have high-resolution images on your home page (for example, if you are a photographer) then make sure that there is a custom page your visitor can view while they wait for the images to load on your screen. This can be used to make the viewer aware that the page is loading, and should ideally show a progress bar so they know roughly how long it will take.
- You probably already know this, but it’s best to switch to “private” mode on your browser when experimenting with load times on your company website to get the most user-like experience
- Check that your website loads quickly in every state/country where your target market resides. Just because it works fine for you, doesn’t mean that someone a couple of thousand miles away will have the same experience. Your hosting company should be able to help with this if you suspect it’s an issue.
- The length of load time that is acceptable for your audience will depend to a certain extent on your industry. Test your website’s speed against those of your direct competitors. You should be at least as good as them and ideally, you want to be even quicker!
- It’s also important to consider user flow – analyze which pages (other than the home page) are the most frequently arrived at from outside your website and ensure they’re optimized for fast loading, too.
You can speak to us if you’re concerned about your website load times. There are several effective methods for overcoming any issues, depending on the website type and the hosting platform.
Two – Responsive Design
I make no apologies for emphasizing (over and over and over) how important it is to have your website in a fully responsive design so that your visitors will have a positive experience no matter what device they use to access your site with! Seriously, this is so utterly vital to your online success in 2016. Already, more users are searching the web with mobile devices than with desktop or laptop computers – and this is a trend that will only accelerate in coming years. Consider this – every single day, tens of thousands of new internet users come online with a smartphone. This may be their first experience of the internet!
Consider how different this is to the path we’re more familiar with:
- Access to the internet via a modem at school, work, or at a library
- Access to the internet from a desktop modem at home – likely in a designated “study room”
- Access to the internet via a laptop and Wi-Fi, in any room in the house or at work, or at a coffee shop, or anywhere with access to mobile broadband
- Access to the internet via a smartphone or tablet, held in the palm of one’s hand, anytime, anywhere, on the move, when relaxing, working, waiting, or exercising!
As you can see, the world has moved on and the rate of change is so fast that many companies are being left behind. A fully-responsive design will ensure that your website looks good and works well whatever device your visitor uses. If you’ve not already made the switch, time is running out. Needless to say, we’re happy to help with any queries or concerns you may have about responsive design.
Three – Original Images of Real People
It’s tempting, and easier, to only include images of products, places, and stock photos on your website. While this was fine in the early 2000s, today’s website visitors are more demanding. They want to arrive at your site, and feel a human, person-to-person connection – they want to know (and see!) who they are dealing with. Don’t worry if you think you and your team are not particularly photogenic. Trust us, as long as you’re smartly presented (and smiling brightly!) – visitors will be more likely to trust you with their business than if they see a selection of stock photos and computer generated images. A real photo, with real people, ideally your people, helps to establish a deeper connection – everyone can recognize a stock photo from a mile off nowadays. If it is necessary, there are some extremely good quality stock images that can be bought – it’s worth spending the time to find really original images that haven’t already been used on a million other sites.
Four – Easy-to-Read Text
Whatever text the visitor to your website first sees will make an early impression. We all know how much first impressions count, so don’t fluff this opportunity! First of all, remember that the average person has a relatively low reading ability. Simple words and messages work best, especially on the home page. You need to consider the different routes that visitors use to arrive at your site, and then consider what message will be most effective in convincing them they have arrived at the best place for their needs.
Don’t make it difficult for them by using fancy, hard-to-read font, or a dark background. The best web copy reads effortlessly and anticipates the reader’s train of thought. A strong heading that pulls the reader into an introductory paragraph is all that is needed on the home page – use this to direct visitors to the different parts of your website to find what they need. Imagine you are a guide, and the visitor has just stepped off a bus at the entrance to your online “real estate” – what would you say to them? How would you help them get what they need to know, as quickly as possible?
Five – A Strong Appeal to the Emotions
A new visitor to your website will make a very quick assessment of it. To get him or her to stick around, you need to appeal to them on an emotional level if possible. We humans are emotional creatures (even if we pretend not to be sometimes!) and this means we like it when we see messages and images that appeal to our senses in this way. To turn first-time visitors into repeat visitors, you need to be prepared to really dig in on the emotional front. Remember, people are not usually buying a product or service – they are buying a better version of themselves.
So if you’re selling accounting services, it makes sense to show them how much tax they might be able to save (and some of the exciting things they could spend this saving on!) rather than talking about dreary tax returns and claiming back tax receipts, and so on.
And if you’re selling outdoor clothing, remember the buyer is after an emotional “escape” – they want to have the pleasant feeling of buying that set of waterproof hiking boots, so they know they will be able to go out and climb in all weathers – talk about the different conditions these boots will cope with, how they will make the wearer feel confident no matter the terrain or the weather….you get the idea!
Six – A Limited Color Scheme
I’m not saying you shouldn’t make use of colors! Just keep it relatively restrained and tasteful. There should be no more than two primary colors, and it is generally agreed that a pale background is the best choice for effective websites. (Some industries, such as powersports have been shown to be better received with a dark or black background, however.) A riot of colors and heavy contrasting fonts might seem a good way to stand out (or, if I may use the dreaded word in our industry; “pop”) – but it rarely works well in the real world. Users will respond well to subtle touches of color, for example ensuring that the menu changes to the primary color of your logo when they hover over it, but too much of any color or too many different colors will see them heading for the exit – keep the color scheme simple, so that it does not distract from the message you want to convey.
Seven – A Clear Menu
I don’t know why it is, but from time to time businesses feel the need to re-invent the menu (with NO DATA to support their decisions)! Maybe they feel it would be better at the bottom of the screen rather than the top. Maybe they have totally different menus on the bottom, the left, and the right sides of the screen. Maybe they hide the menu altogether and try to get everything onto one page. Others cram their menu with so many options it can feel daunting. Still others decide to use baffling words that give the user no idea what to expect if they select that option – for example, a website I was browsing earlier gave the option to click on a section called “Corporate.” Feeling uncertain, I clicked on it anyway (I was looking for the “About” section, and it was nowhere else, so this was the last resort) and found that under this almost meaningless header, the company history, principles, and vision had been tucked away!
Headings should be absolutely clear so that the user can find what they need as quickly as possible. Think of the menu like a signpost that gives directions to visitors on your site. It’s best not to be too radical with the menu – this is one area where predictability is seen as a positive sign by the user!
There we are – seven ways to make your company website experience a pleasant one this year. There are other worthy additions we could mention (one that almost made my “Top Seven” was a country selection dropdown so that visitors from other countries can select from a list of flags or country names and see prices in their local currency, sizes in their local measurements, and also where appropriate see the site in their first language) but if you have got these all checked off, you should be good to fly this year.
Good luck, and best wishes!