2049 words|7.9 min read|

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.

[success]Pro Tip – Check your current website performance for free at Pingdom.[/success]

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:

  1. Access to the internet via a modem at school, work, or at a library
  2. Access to the internet from a desktop modem at home – likely in a designated “study room”
  3. 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
  4. 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.

[success]Pro Tip – Read these blogs for more info about responsive design:

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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.

[success]Pro tip – Work from home or your office is also your local Starbucks? Another way of making a website more visually appealing is the use of animal photography. People associate different animals with characteristics, and you can use this to good effect on your website – eagles for focus, lions for power, cheetahs for speed, limpets for sticking ability, and dogs for affection – and so on.[/success]

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