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Usability & User Experience Design

02.23.12 // Kurtis
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Usability in web design is a largely underrated aspect of a site build.  More importantly, usability is often omitted from the initial search engine optimization strategy and takes a back seat in the site’s overall online marketing strategy.  Usually design (looks), proper backend development (CMS) and the site’s “SEO friendliness” (basic SEO standards) are highlighted as the most important “backbone” components of the new site.  Although those website aspects are highly important, usability should be on the forefront of the site’s build and overall goals.  In order to create a successful website and online marketing strategy, websites need to apply more attention to usability and the user experience.

Designing a website with usability in mind helps alleviate unnecessary problems from the get-go and creates a more user-friendly experience.  The general idea behind usability, in context to web design, development and architecture, is to create a simplified user experience, neatly present content and highlight major points of interest or action items.

When a visitor lands on a webpage they immediately want to find relevant information in regards to their search query, referring webpage, clicked advertisement, etc.  If that information fulfills the visitors’ needs, they next want to complete an action (buy a product, contact the business, sign up for a newsletter, etc.).  If there are any major disturbances during this process the user may become frustrated and either leave that page or the entire conversion funnel altogether.  This is where usability can help add value, retain site visitors and increase goal conversions.

Content and site structure are essential not only to the look of the site, but to the presentation of content.  Content layout, categorization and placement throughout the page should be thoughtfully designed to highlight specific sections of content and catch the eye of the site visitor.  Headers should be prominent.  Font size and color should flow with the site’s theme and be visually appealing.  Sidebars and navigation should fit symmetrically within the site’s body.  And, most importantly, calls-to-action should stand out among the rest of the site’s content!

A call-to-action is a specific piece of information, a link, a phone number, etc. that is used to complete a goal or further funnel a visitor to the appropriate page or section of a website.  These sections are usually prominently placed on the top of a page using a contrasting color scheme to catch the attention of the visitor.  They should stick out amongst the rest of the content as it provides the next “jumping-off” point in the conversion funnel.  It helps answer visitors’ questions, point them in the right direction and complete a goal.

The process is relatively simple – think like a site visitor and make the process easy for them!  Most websites use a template(s) to style each deep page (sub-pages) on the site.  This means that once a template is optimized to address usability concerns, the changes are applied across the entire site in one swoop.  This makes the initial changes, and future testing, easier to accomplish.

Another major aspect of improving the user experience is to improve the conversion funnel by simplifying the process.  Less = more here.  It’s been widely proven that minimizing the steps needed to complete a goal increases conversion rates and visitor retention.  No one wants to jump through hoops or view unnecessary content.  They want to land on a site, find relevant content, locate the next (action) steps and complete the process (goal).

So, how can you improve upon this process?  Make sure to:

  • Decrease the number of form fields to the bare minimum
  • Don’t force users to log in or sign up for access unless it is absolutely necessary
  • Provide related information on one page rather than multiple pages
  • Trim any unnecessary steps in the overall process
  • Check your analytics to track results

These simple steps will help eliminate excess and streamline the entire process.  Using common sense, web analytics statistics and ongoing tests will help solidify a sound usability strategy.  You’ll begin to see what works and what needs further improvement.  Remember, improving usability and the overall user experience is an ongoing process.  Keep at it!

The goal of your website is to make it easy for people to find your content!  No one wants to waste time on unnecessary information or steps within their user experience.  They want to quickly and accurately find information then complete their goal.  Your job is to simplify the process for them.  It’ll produce better results.

To succeed you’ll need to think like a site visitor/customer and design your website accordingly.  Once that is done you should focus your attention to testing new layouts and ideas on a regular basis.  Higher conversion rates and visitor retention are a powerful reward for minor adjustments to the site’s overall layout and user experience.

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