A positive user experience occurs when your visitors needs are addressed on your site. For visitors, the power to act is a fundamental element of user experience.
Blood races up the sides of my head and a tension halo wraps around it like a vice as I endure a five second animation before I’m allowed to visit a website. Finally the incredibly nice looking animation is over and now…I have to wait a few more seconds for the ads to load and to click out of the ‘sign-up now’ pop ups. That’s it, I am done, I leave the website.
It was a really nice looking website! But if I can never go back it will be just fine. In fact I will avoid it and have. The reason is this: the content I am looking for is hidden behind things I don’t care about and there are many other sites that I can go to for equal value content. Additionally the website has forced me to move from a position of acting to a position of reacting and in this case what reacting means is that I have to wait.
The goal of this post is to provide a resource for my clients, potential clients and site visitors about user experience. I put this post in the category function because this post is all about how stuff operates.
The primary purpose of how a website functions is to connect your visitors with what you are offering and your goals. This can and sometimes should be layered. Functionality can help to set an initial positive impression, increase discoverability of other things you offer as well as set the stage for return visits.
Elements of design and functionality can combine to add a powerful contribution to creating a positive user experience.
A Great User Experience
Obviously, you’ll want your visitors to have a positive experience of you, your company, band or organization on your website. A great user experience comes from the combined efforts of your content, design and site functionality. It anticipates the need/problem your visitors bring and how best to solve it for them.
Your visitors needs are answered not only in the content they are looking for from you, but also how your site works for them. No matter the quality of your content, if your visitors can’t access your content it won’t work for them. The functionality and design, of your site and your content, should increase the accessibility and quality of the content on your page.
Think of your best experiences as a customer (doesn’t need to be online).
Write down the qualities that made it a good experience.
Would your visitors enjoy these qualities as well?
What would create the experience of those qualities on your website?
For a nice quick read with lots of helpful tidbits check out, “Everything I Needed to Know About Good User Experience I Learned While Working in Restaurants” by Susan Farrell (links out of site and opens in new tab).
User Experience and the Power to Act
Your visitors experience should be approached with empathy. Alternatives to an empathic approach create aggravation, irritation, anger, frustration etc., which all contribute to a poor user experience.
A sense of control and the power to act are important ingredients for a positive online experience. Every single person that visits your site is there to accomplish something. This is true even if they are just browsing the web and want to take a quick look at what you offer.
Everyone who visits your site is there to accomplish something
– and that –
You want to accomplish something with everyone who visits your site
– allows you to see that –
Your website is a bridge between your goals and your visitors goals
– and the place that this is achieved is in –
The quality of your visitors experience.
Since your users visit will in a large way be task oriented you have a key to approach them with empathy. Feedback helps to maintain your users sense of control and freedom. At it’s most basic feedback is simply what happens in response to your visitor doing something.
Feedback helps to maintain your visitors sense of control by letting them know that you are responding to their directions.
Commonplace examples of feedback are contact form success and fail messages or progress loading icons. A better example of positive feedback is a site that loads so quickly that your visitor gains the sense of engaging directly with you.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there is no formula that guarantees that every opportunity for conversions will make conversions. The best we can achieve is to provide every opportunity for our clients to have their needs met with us.
While the devil might be in the details, approaching our clients, potential clients and visitors with empathy will shed light on otherwise overlooked opportunities to provide a great user experience. These could be elements of content, design or function. They might be as simple as the tone of content or a design shade or they might be as complex as a layered and highly tuned harmony between the content, design and functionality of your site.
Example of user experience going awry:
You are driving down the road and all of a sudden your car starts veering to the left. You are pointing it straight but it is behaving as though you are directing it to the left. You have quickly been removed from directing the car to being forced to respond to where the car is taking you. A good car driving experience is one where you don’t have to think about driving the car, it behaves as you would expect. You are in charge, you have the power to choose where and when to go.
What would you think of the car designer who decided to make it so the car randomly veered in different directions, and they designed it that way because they felt like it was neat.
This is analogous with web pages that take the power to act away from their visitors. By meeting your visitors expectations about functionality you are allowing them to be in control of their experience.
If user experience was a conversation:
Imagine if you saw your visitors experience of your site as a conversation.
They click a link to your site – which is for them to say: “Hi, I heard you have thus and such,”
How do you respond?
Do you quickly yell, “SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER NOW,”
or do you give a quick greeting and engage them around what they were looking for?
Overall, a web visit is not like having a conversation, parts of it are, but not on the whole. Conversations are two way. Portions of your site should operate to give your visitors the sense that they are engaging in a conversation with you. Thinking of a web visit as a conversation can help to see what elements of design and functionality are giving or taking your visitors power to act.
The point is that by putting yourself in your visitors shoes (empathy): you will be able to determine the right response to the questions your visitors are asking. The right response caters to people who are in a hurry and those who want to take their time.
Though written for user experience designers, “The Perception of Control,” by Marli Mesibov, (links out of site and opens in new tab) is a fairly quick and interesting read about “why we feel the need for control, how to create that feeling, and whether the creation of placebo buttons is an ethical UX choice.”
For additional reading on feedback check out, “Progress Indicators Make a Slow System Less Insufferable,” by Katie Sherwin (links out of site and opens in new tab).
Interrupt Your Visitors?
Let’s say you are trying to get people to join your newsletter. When a visitor clicks a link from google to your page, they are not looking to join your newsletter, they are looking to engage the content on your site.
There is one step for them between their goal and your goal. It is up to your content to motivate them to join your newsletter.
Of additional consideration is the platform your visitors will be using to browse your site. As intolerable as things like pop-ups can be on a full size monitor, pop-ups on mobile devices are a whole next level of aggravation. Often times the pop-ups are poorly designed for mobile devices and not only are aggravations but lock up the whole screen because the close button is off screen.
You want your visitors to join your newsletter that is all about specific kinds of apples. You are getting visitors from google who want to know more about apples. They land on your page and quickly scroll down to peruse the article they clicked to. While they are scrolling a pop-up shows up urging them to join your newsletter about apples. They don’t know anything about you, nor do they know anything about the quality of content you offer or even if you are likely to connect them to what they are looking for. They click out of the pop-up as quickly as possible.
Now they have to reorient themselves to find what they were looking for. Additionally they have to decide whether or not they even want to give your site a try. Rather than engaging with you through the content on your site they have entered a state of detachment ready to close out of the next pop-up or hit the back button.
What Will Your Visitors Be Accomplishing On Your Site?
Effective web design and functionality facilitates the goals for your visitors on your site. Ineffective web design presents obstacles to visitors, even if they are great looking obstacles.
Your website should be designed to meet your goals.
If you are looking to generate phone calls to your brick and mortar business you should probably feature your phone number prominently. Phone numbers aren’t glamorous but if someone is looking for your phone number and you are looking to get your phone number into their hands, effective web design creates a bridge between what your visitors are looking for and what you are offering.
There would be more to generating phone calls than just placing the number on your page, but if you are looking to generate phone calls then your visitors will need to be able to find your number.
List a few of the top goals your visitors want to accomplish.
Write the steps they will need to accomplish that.
Are there places where they might head in the wrong direction?
What elements of design, content and site functionality would help your visitors accomplish their goals?
A Great User Experience: Functionality
How your site operates will greatly impact the overall experience your visitors have on your site. This is because how you respond to your visitors directions makes a crucial contribution to their experience. How well your site operates is the first thing a visitor will experience.
For convenience sake I have divided a brief discussion on functionality into two sections 1.) A section on load times 2.) a section on overall site operation.
A Great User Experience: Functionality – How Quick Your Site Loads
The first encounter between your visitor and your site starts when they click a link to your page. Websites load faster than they ever have which has created the expectation of quick page loading times. Between sites with equal value content, the faster site will receive more visitors.
Less than a second is fast more than 10 seconds is far too slow.
Load times are largely determined by you, your host and your developer.
Load time responsibilities:
You – quantity and kind of content. Media in particular can have a heavy impact on load times.
Your developer – Incompetent coding can have a massive impact on loading times.
Your webhost – Your webhost can have a critical impact on how fast your site loads. At the present time, for many sites I recommend (links out of site and opens in new tab) Siteground for webhosting (I am confident enough in them to have joined their affiliate program).
Quick loading pages can help to maintain and support positive first impressions.
A Great User Experience: Functionality – Overall Operations
Functionality is how your visitors operate your site. Functionality shows up for your visitors when they need to do something.
The power to act is a fundamental quality of user experience. Make it easy for your visitors to know what to do, where to do it, what it will do and how to do it. While your visitors are on your website, you want them to have a sense that they are engaging directly with you.
Don’t interrupt your visitors experience – you want your visitors to feel as though they are directly interacting with you when they are on your website. Popups are an obvious intrusion that shift your visitors role from action to reaction. Other interruptions may be less obvious.
Search – If the page they landed on is not exactly what they are looking for but they think you might offer it on another page your search functionality will be called upon. In a circumstance like this it will be severely important to your chance of conversion that your search option be easy to find, intuitive to use and that your site provides relevant search results.
Links – Because web users are accustomed to using links, links should operate as we have come to expect in order to make a positive contribution. At their most basic links connect your visitor with what they are looking for. Users should easily be able to identify links and know what the link will do.
Design Elements Interfering With Site Funcitonality – From time to time there are trends in design that when not properly (and sometimes when properly) executed interfere with the usefulness of the page. When design elements interrupt site functionality the result is a poor user experience. An example of this is the trend of mobile design to utilize fixed headers at the same time as bottom of the screen notices.
Mobile devices already have a limited amount of touch space but design elements like this crude example further erode your visitors ability to act.
Good functionality means that your visitors will know what, where and how to do what they need to do, when they need do it on your site.
A Great User Experience: Design
What design elements will contribute to a positive user experience for your visitors? That can sometimes be a more difficult question to answer than which elements detract from a user experience.
Your site design makes a positive contribution to your visitors user experience as long as it makes your site easier to use, adds weight to your credibility and helps your visitors accomplish their goals.
There are a number of general guidelines for web design that translate appropriately to most sites. These are things like consistency of color and font, familiarity of design and visual complexity.
For good and for ill, trends in web design catch up large segments of the web. Regardless of design trends the key components of design that contribute to a positive user experience remain the same. These are things like design elements that aid in the functionality of the overall site. Elements that make the site easier to use and learn.
The personality of the site owner should be present in the design. There may be cases where a skeleton version of a site might be appropriate.
A professionally designed site can help your visitors develop trust as it adds weight to your credibility. If nothing else it cues to your visitors that you are not a fly by night organization. But good design does much more.
Good design elements can enhance your visitors user experience as things like images and colors can engage your visitors emotional approach. This engagement can help to motivate them to accomplish the task that connects their goals and your goals.
Design helps users know what to do and where to look for what they are after. This part of the usefulness could be likened to a map. Things like headings, font size, font style can all help to indicate your web geography to your visitors, to help them navigate the new terrain of your site.
Design overlaps with site functionality when it makes it clear to your visitors where to go and how to do the next step.
Design overlaps with content when it helps to organize and thereby make what your visitors are after accessible.
A Great User Experience: Content
Content overlaps with functionality when it motivates someone to do something else on your site.
There is more that makes up the usefulness of your content then just the words themselves. Content design for instance, can help to expose the landing spots for your visitors grappling hooks so they don’t have to scale a mountain of text in order to find what they are looking for.
Content that makes a positive contribution to a great user experience is content that is crafted for web users.
Content that helps your visitors accomplish their goals is content that contributes to a great user experience.
Ready to get a website created with attention to your users experience? Get a consult.