Insight September 29, 2016

User Experience Matters: 4 Keys to Better Engagement


By Brandon Davis, Senior Copywriter

Technology is constantly evolving. Every day, we’re seeing new apps, new widgets, new innovations. We’re even evolving past the need for headphone jacks. Who knew?

But there’s one thing that isn’t changing with technology: if it doesn’t work, we won’t use it. In web design, that’s called user experience (or UX). And it’s fundamental for any website.

Think about UX like this:

You’re trapped in a room. No food, no water, no way to communicate. (I won’t ask how you got here.) The room has two exits. Which do you choose?

This ornate, beautiful door? It has the smell of fresh cookies wafting out from beneath it.

Or this old, rickety door? You don’t want to know what that smell is.

Made your choice? Great. Here’s the thing…the door of wonders is locked. There’s no getting through it. The other door isn’t. Now, which do you choose?

At this point, there really isn’t a choice. And if you’re not focusing on user experience, that’s the frustration that every site visitor is going to face. Because no matter how much you focus on design or content or that really awesome differentiator that puts you ahead of your competition — your site has to be functional.

So how do you unlock that great door for your users? These four keys are a great place to start:

1. Identify the end goal
So many businesses start with the idea that they want their website to be better. But “better” isn’t actionable. It’s too abstract. Before focusing on the quality of your website (even the trendiest designs will be obsolete in a few years), think about the purpose of your website.

Do you want to generate emails? Sell more of a particular product? This is where finding a strategic partner can come in handy.

2. Follow strategy — not ego
When you’re personally invested in your site (and you should be), it’s going to be tempting to give customers the content you want to see. Once you’ve identified the end goal, start evaluating your content:

  • How are you physically driving customers to your main goal (buttons, menu navigation, etc.)?
  • What’s the ideal path from the first screen your users see to the desired action?
  • Can they accomplish the goal from any page on the site?
  • Is your homepage content addressing a need that will compel users to take the next step toward your goal?
  • Are you prioritizing products/services over information about you?

These are just a few places to start. You want your design and content to be intuitive, to speak to your audience’s needs. That follows directly from the actions you’ve identified for them — and those elements aren’t necessarily those that you would find most important as the content owner.

3. Make it easy
So you’ve picked a goal. You’ve identified great, actionable page content. Now, you need to make it as easy as possible for users to self-identify their needs and take the action. Here are a few ideas to make it easier:

  • Don’t be afraid of clicks. Too many site owners are overly concerned about how much people will click. But what they should be worried about is choice. At a psychological level, people prefer simple choices. While posting 18 choices on a page may reduce your clicks, it doesn’t define a clear path for your audience. Instead, try offering four distinct choices and allowing users to further self-identify on the next page.
  • If content is good, use itYes, even if it’s long. It’s true that users prefer simple, visual content. But more importantly, they prefer content they care about. At some point, people are searching for in-depth content. Infographics and other quick references are great — but if long-form information is truly valuable, people will read it.
  • Don’t base navigation on your structure. Your nav bar isn’t a place to translate your internal labeling system. If the language and organization of the nav isn’t intuitive, it’s going to kill your user experience.

You might have noticed that most of this advice centers around making the site user-focused and not creator-focused. Here’s the thing: you’re smart. You’re more than capable of research, of strategy. But at the end of the day, you simply can’t be trusted to make the final call on your own UX.

That’s no dig at you—it comes with being too close to the content. Testing is incredibly important in any web project, because it gives you a better perspective on what’s working and what isn’t. Not just for the functional, 404-avoiding basics of your site, but for its effectiveness and ease of use.

Even if you can’t afford a focus group, you can reach out to some of your current clients or customers. Have them take a spin around the site. Did they find it easy to use? Was it compelling to them? Even that small sample audience can have a tremendous impact on your decisions.