So you dropped a few grand last year on a new website. You also paid for a domain name and some web hosting, both registered in your name. Congrats! You are now the proud owner of a website. Or are you?
Your Website’s True Owner
Although your business is footing the bill, your website truly belongs to your customers. Think of it as a service, a convenient way for customers to make a purchase, perform a specific task (like download a file) or in some way interact with your business. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whose name is on the registration or whose logo is at the top of each page. It all boils down to this one simple statement — your website is not yours. You may want to think it is, but you'd be much better off thinking about your website as belonging to your users.
A good website, no matter how pretty it is or how many features it has, is successful because it works — without confusion, hiccups, or frustration for your users. Design decisions should be based on the behavior, tendencies, browsing habits, and preferences of your audience, not your own whims and fancies. Simplicity in function is the goal.
The reason for this is obvious: your business could not exist without your customers or clients. Before you get caught up in adding this fancy feature or that creative navigation to your website, ask yourself how this will impact your users’ experience. The last thing you want to do is annoy them.
Examples of Rotten User Experience
At one time or another we have all encountered websites where the focus was not on ease of use. Do any of these look familiar?
- Slow-loading site
- Broken links that lead to error pages
- Inaccurate search results or no search function at all
- Complex password requirements when creating an account (especially with no indication of what that elusive “special formula” might be)
- Long forms and no “save for later” option
- Annoying pop-ups
- Audio or video that plays automatically when the page loads
- Complex websites with no logical organization
- Confusing instructions or industry jargon
- Disconnect between when a site is viewed on a computer vs. a mobile device
And the list goes on…
Who’s in Charge of User Experience?
User experience (UX) is its own field that, at its core, focuses on the emotional responses of users. There are even UX designers who specialize in this aspect of design only. If you are hyper-focused on user experience, you may want to hire a UX designer.
Web designers, by definition, may not have UX as a primary focus. It is important to keep in mind, though, that aesthetics are a big part of the experience, so whether you chose a UX or a web designer, you definitely want someone who can create something that looks good.
Your best bet, particularly if you aren’t in a position to hire a big agency, is to find a skilled web designer who includes UX principles and practices into the process. Any professional web designer worth her salt will always take UX into consideration when creating the visual design of a website.
How to Test User Experience
When you have a website designed, you want to make absolutely certain UX is at the forefront of the process and is kept there throughout — even after (especially after) it has been launched. You never know how an idea or design will come across until it is in the hands of the end user. Ideally, you will be able to test and get feedback before the actual launch, and there are many tools you can use to evaluate your website’s UX.
Before the launch:
- Balsamiq – Use this tool to quickly create simple mock-ups so you can get feedback before moving on to the visual design
- Pidoco – With this site, create models and interactive prototypes and collaborate with team members or test users
During the process:
- SurveyMonkey – If you have multiple designs that you want to receive feedback on, or if you just have topics that you want to try and get a pulse on, SurveyMonkey allows you to create a survey and pay for it to be sent to a list of respondents. You can target your audience based on demographics like age, gender, and more.
- Verify – Similar to SurveyMonkey, but focused exclusively on design feedback. Test screenshots of your designs to get feedback and reactions.
- UserTesting – One of the most comprehensive platforms of its kind out there, this site allows you to pay for a panel of users to test out your website or app at any stage. You can even have them test out a competitor’s site! Every member of the panel will follow any instructions you give, answer any questions you ask, and record videos as they interact with a site or app, so you can hear feedback straight from the horse’s mouth.
After the Launch
- CrazyEgg – Here you can see heat maps (where on your page people are clicking), scroll maps (how far down your page they are scrolling), which pages are most popular, and more.
- ClickTale – Allows you to see actual video recordings of your users’ sessions on your site. This type of information can be valuable in determining where users are potentially getting hung up and what content actually captures their attention.
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Can You Afford User Experience?
You probably noticed that most of these tools are paid solutions. For the best intel, it will generally cost you. But is it worth it? Studies have shown that for every $1 invested in user experience, you will get $2 to $100 in return. Case studies on companies such as Evernote and Zillow toss around statistics like “15% increase in user retention” and “8% increase in conversions.” User experience testing rarely has a downside because you’re getting valuable information that is often immediately actionable.
The UX Factor
You are not the most important person in your business. (Ouch! I know that’s harsh, but it’s a necessary mindset for a business owner to adopt.) For the success of your business, at some point you’re going to have to kick your ego and preferences to the curb. It’s best to do it sooner rather than later, and especially when it comes to your website. Remember, the point of everything your business does is to delight your customers, and that includes your website.