Learning Center

Improving the Online User Experience

We usually don’t over-think our interactions with technology — we follow our instincts to perform tasks. It’s generally only when things go wrong or don’t work as well as they could that we notice the technology we’re using. In other words, we take positive technological interactions for granted, but take note of negative ones. This is crucially important when evaluating the online user experience (UX for short). Here’s more about what the online UX entails, why it matters, and how you can make your website work harder for your business.

Forrester Research found in a 2011 study that more than $1.1 trillion in retail sales were “web-influenced” purchases — defined as offline retail sales that were influenced by online research. What that tells us is that the modern consumer considers web research to be a vitally important part of making purchase decisions.

That’s why most of businesses claim to be heavily committed to delivering the best online UX possible. But it’s one thing to say you’re committed, and another thing to act towards that goal.

Defining UX

The best word to describe a positive UX is seamless – in short, users should not have to think about their web experience. When users come to your website, they most likely have a goal in mind — some information they want to learn, a question they want answered, an action they need to complete. The goal of user experience design is to help users achieve their goals in the simplest way possible.

To make this less abstract, you could compare your website to a door. Say your customer simply needs to get to the other side of the door. How can we make this most efficient and intuitive? Should we use a lever handle or a doorknob? Does the door open with a push, a pull, or does it move in both directions? Every detail is important in creating a positive experience and lasting impression as the user navigates your site.

Modern technology users expect speed and efficiency. This is even more true with the Internet – web users expect things to be fast and easy. If a website’s information is hard to use or takes too long to load, it’s very easy for the user to simply browse to a competitor’s website instead. People have high expectations about what your website should be able to offer.

Common Areas of Breakdown

What are some common areas of breakdown that businesses should be on the watch for in terms of the online UX?

Long load timesStudies show that about half of all web users expect a website to load in two seconds, and many will leave if it’s not loaded after three seconds. Seconds feel much longer in this context than you might realize, because users’ expectations are so high! Your website should be optimized for viewing on mobile or tablet devices as well.

Confusing or hard-to-use navigation – Labels should be easy to understand and straightforward. Navigation should be intuitive. Avoid functionality that makes nav bars difficult or frustrating to use.

Cluttered design/lack of white space – Unorganized content and unnecessary filler content make it hard for users to focus on one area of the website and find what they want.

Incorrect content hierarchy – Consider what actions your users are trying to perform. If the majority of the users coming to your site are trying to log in to their accounts, should the login button be small and hidden, while the “About Us” button is big and obvious?

Bad form design — A form is an important mode of communication between the customer and the website or website owner. Web forms are often used to allow customers to contact you, let them login to purchase products or attain information, or for you to gather information about your target audience. This is why we should make sure they are clear and easy to use. Especially in the age of mobile devices and tablets, forms should be short and to the point. For example, before you design a form to ask for a user’s mailing address, consider whether you really need that information. Unneeded fields make forms longer and more intimidating — preventing users from completing them, or even starting to fill them out at all.

Other specific points about forms:

  • Don’t break telephone numbers into multiple fields.
  • Try to keep things in one column, as many users will overlook the right hand column.
  • Be clear about which fields are required, and which are optional.
  • If a long form is necessary, break it into manageable sections.

How does the concept of “above the fold” hold up with modern users?

As many people know, the phrase “above the fold” was originally used to refer to the top half of a newspaper, which is visible to viewers first — and is therefore where the most important content should be placed. When web design first took off, this term was transferred to the web, referring to the area that is initially viewed onscreen without scrolling down. There are several problems with the use of this term in web design today.

  • There is no set screen size. The Internet is now viewed on a wide variety of devices that have different sizes and shapes, including different sizes of desktop monitors, mobile phones, tablets, and even big screen TVs. More devices are being created every day, so it’s time to abandon the idea of a common screen size.
  • Given the correct prompts, most people have no problem with scrolling. Rather than trying to fit all the important content in one small area, present it in an organized fashion with incentives to move down the page — it’s been proven that people will scroll and won’t complain about having to do so. Trying to fit everything “above the fold” can only make content more cluttered and harder to find. Studies have shown that scrolling is pretty much a default behavior to web users by this point.
  • Clicking interrupts flow while scrolling does not. When the user clicks a link, the content of the pages will disappear, there will be a possible wait time, and then new content will appear. This takes away from the seamlessness of a user experience. Of course there are times when a new page is necessary. But having to click a link interrupts the flow of information — so when possible, it’s better to allow the user to simply scroll down.

What about alternate devices?

The usage of mobile phones and tablet computers is exploding. A MarginMedia poll found that 48% of respondents believe that when a business website has not been optimized for mobile content delivery, it is “an indication of the business simply not caring.” What’s more, a 2012 study of mobile users found significant percentages of respondents had difficulty interacting with a mobile web page, even with actions as basic as navigating the site. In short, mobile is an increasingly important part of the online UX.

The old way of thinking was to make a separate, smaller site for mobile devices with only the necessary information. The problem, of course, is that we as designers then have to make assumptions about what information is most important. Most of us have experienced the frustration of visiting a mobile site with the sole purpose of finding a piece of information that was nowhere to be found.

Today people want the full web experience they could have on a desktop computer, but available anywhere or any device. One of the best solutions to this problem is responsive design, a type of web design that enables the full website to adapt to any screen size.

Steps to making a website more mobile-friendly

It’s best to have a fully-responsive website, but if that’s impractical there are basic steps that a business can take to make any website more mobile-friendly. These include:

  • Make links bigger, and not too close to other links. Have you ever tried to click a link that is not big enough or too close to another link on a mobile phone? It’s frustrating to click the wrong link and be taken to a different page, especially when you’re already on a slower connection due to using a mobile network as opposed to a wifi connection. Businesses can minimize this problem by making links bigger, and positioning them apart from other links.
  • Shorten forms. Long forms are difficult to fill out on mobile devices — the shorter a form can be, the better for mobile users.
  • Increased font sizes. Increasing the font size can make your website easier to read on mobile.

Non-Technological Areas of UX

A great technological UX doesn’t mean much if it’s not backed up by good customer service. If you receive information from a potential customer via your website form or e-mail, you must respond promptly. You should also respond promptly to comments and interactions on social media. The personal connection is key.

Conclusion

A user’s perception of your whole brand is shaped by their interaction with your website. Paying close attention to your online UX is a vitally important part of your marketing.

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