How do people view your website?
The ultimate goal is a well-performing website that meets your criteria.
(Ask us about attracting visitors to your site; we’re pretty good at it).
In this article, we’ll cover some of the key points to help attract people to your website, plus additional points to persuade them to stay there.
For as long as websites have been published, there have been countless articles written about making them ‘sticky’.
The longer you can keep someone on your site the better, right?
It will certainly look good for your website performance stats if a customer roams around your site for ten minutes clicking from page to page.
Most site owners will have a clear idea about how they believe visitors will use their online service.
This may be an occasional or even one-off visit to find a specific piece of information, or to make a product purchase, or to return regularly for news/reference, plus anything in between.
Legend has it that the perceived popularity of MySpace (measured in terms of its huge number of page views, i.e., stickiness) was due to that fact that it was virtually impossible to find what you were looking for.
Fixing the user experience (UX) would have potentially ruined mySpace’s business model, i.e. selling ads based on page views. However, this strategy did not do the company any favours in the long run.
A solid Google Analytics strategy that monitors the paths you want your customers to take – funnels – can help tell the difference between the lost and the engaged (but that information is for another blog post).
Careful consideration of content, architecture and design is needed in order to ensure that people use your site in the way you hope, finding what they want with ease and speed.
Whilst you are making sure your visitors’ experience is everything that you want it to be, you need to encourage them there in the first place, so you need to take SEM – Search Engine Marketing – into account too, which requires a fine balancing act.
Once you have gone to the trouble of attracting a potential customer to your site and you are selling to them, you need to be aware of the next stage in the conversion-cycle; encouraging them to become a repeat visitor or even a brand ambassador.
There is nothing like bad user experience on a website to stop people from coming back.
Some major sites manage to get away with bad UX and the use of ‘dark patterns’ – i.e., making visitors jump through hoops to gather more information than is actually required in order to complete a transaction, but which would be massively handy for future marketing purposes.
These practices are often carried out to help companies meet their business objectives, however, these sites tend to be the ones where people have little choice but to use them, or the end benefits are so great that the negative experience can be overlooked.
As far as most businesses are concerned, making sure that an online customer leaves their site with a good memory of the experience, and an inclination to return, is arguably as important as the optimisation and marketing activity that attracted them there in the first place.
One of the key areas which influence the way a visitor will feel about your site is the ease with which they can interact with it and find what they want, i.e., navigation.
Navigation – visibility and usability
Whether the subject is the main menu, sub-navigation or a call-to-action, it is important that it can be seen and identified as something to click on, in order for the person using the site to be taken somewhere else.
It also needs to be clear what that subsequent place is going to be.
If information on your website is important, do not hide it under a ‘hover-over’ to be discovered accidentally (a hover-over will tell the person on your website when they have a link under focus, and most importantly, which link is under focus).
This advice is becoming more and more important with the increased use of touch screen devices that do not currently have the capacity to recognize a ‘hover-over’.
Some usability experts go as far as saying that ‘hover-revealed navigation’ diminishes the user experience by causing hesitation and irritation.
For example, when a visitor who has already decided to click an option discovers that they need to choose from an array of sub items instead.
(However, this approach appears to work satisfactorily for John Lewis, who seem to be the default example of a ‘hover-activated Mega Menu’ at the time of writing this blog).
On a basic level, make a link look like a link; and if it isn’t a link, make sure it doesn’t. Even underlining, and turning the body text bold, can encourage a click.
Design – consistency
When one of our designers puts a site layout together they aren’t just decorating, they aim to have as much content up front as possible.
The system that is created provides a hierarchy of content, and consistency of layout, that enables any visitor to the site to learn how to use it quickly and confidently, plus makes the content as understandable and discoverable as possible with the least amount of effort.
People learn patterns very quickly, and divergence can cause confusion; with visitors asking ‘Why can’t I click that box in the sidebar when it looks just like the one I clicked before?’
You and your site guests will have certain expectations of every website you visit – clicking the main logo to return to the home page, a contact link as the last item in the main navigation, and probably a home link as the first.
This is not necessarily logical in the last two cases, but it is expected nonetheless.
One of the key aims of User Experience Design is to avoid making the visitor feel stupid.
Sites don’t fail because of dim users, they fail because of bad design, poor content and badly thought through information architecture.
A site may look practically edible, but if it requires a manual to use, you may as well put up a picture of a kitten and a link to your competitor.