Creating Exceptional User Experiences

If the first commandment of a website is to create a positive experience for the user, then User Experience is its gospel. User Experience, or UX, is the science of creating websites and applications that help users intuitively navigate through web content, following clearly defined steps and calls to action. Stirring in interesting content, functional design and thoughtful features adds a secondary level of complexity to UX’s foundational goals of clear navigation, well-engineered structure and proper placement of content on web pages. UX seems like common sense, but dig deeper and it unravels into a lengthy exercise of hypotheses, testing, applying past experience and researching current user trends.

Why worry about UX?
Creating a positive user experience on your website is proven to have positive effects on a company’s overall marketing performance. Since users vote with their pocketbooks, improving your users’ experiences will directly affect your finances.

Consider these facts:

  • If users don’t think an application is usable, negative word-of-mouth can result. Conversely, great user experiences lead to positive word of mouth, more site visits and better engagement on the site.
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  • Whether users are tracking customer information, purchasing products or entering personal information, showing a reduction in the time it takes users to complete tasks is a metric executives and users appreciate.
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  • Every application has great features that users just can’t figure out. Increases in task completion rates on tasks around features that were heavily invested in can bring new life to a product without increasing feature bloat. People buy the benefits, not the features and usability is a key benefit.
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  • Reduction in the number of calls to customer support: User experience problems and failed task attempts lead to expensive calls to customer support. Cutting the number of support calls is an easily quantifiable savings for a company.
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  • Increases in conversion rates: Converting more browsers to members and more members to buyers is at the core of UX design. Simple changes in copy, layout and navigation translate into big numbers.

 

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Best Practices in UX
UX is ever-changing. New technologies and approaches influence users and how they interact. By following UX best practices for website design, we can identify the starting points to the whole user-centered design process. Follow them religiously.

Be Findable
Before a user uses your website, he has to find it. Users find sites using search engines, social networks and by just typing a web address into the URL bar. Invest in SEO. Maintain a strong Facebook presence. Buy extra domain names that are misspellings of your own in case someone mistypes your web address on their little smartphone keyboard while speeding down the highway. Help your user find you.

Don’t Overdo It
So your user found you, and is now staring at your home page in awe. Every inch of the home page is crammed with words, pictures, flashing ads and long-tail keywords. After all, you paid for those pixels, darnit. Give your user a break. Properly spaced and organized content will put the user at ease and allow them time to adjust to your site. Use Javascript to hide and display content. Pare down copy and get rid of the fluff. If your site has sound or a video, set the volume to default to mute. And please, please, please…get rid of the flashing banners.

Proper Placement of Content
Think about how you read? Left to right. Now look at a website. What happens? Does your eye hit the center of the page, move up, then to the right? Now scroll down the page. Where is your eye now?

By observing user interactions, you’ll see patterns develop. Placing primary content in places where users tend to look is just smart, leaving secondary content out of the spotlight (yet still accessible). Use click maps and user studies to see where users’ eyes (and cursors) are going. Keep a close eye on the fold, carefully placing content, action buttons and forms above it whenever possible.

Display User Funnels Using Action Words
On your site – and especially on the home page – use action words like “Watch Video”, “Login Now” and “Add to Cart” to help the user take action and move along your planned path. Remember the Law of Threes (when presented with multiple choices, people prefer no more than three options) and don’t clutter the page with secondary calls to action if possible. Be clear. If the user is confused, their natural reaction will be to leave the site frustrated. Carefully highlight the action you most want the user to take. If you must include secondary actions, utilize text links instead of fancy buttons, light colored text, smaller type size and other creative effects to keep attention focused on the primary action.

Navigation Techniques
Your users are looking for information. Lead them to it by using all the arrows in your navigation quiver. Try drop downs, left navigation, mega menus and well-built search features to help users find general content pages as well as secondary pages and blog content. Don’t get too cute with your prose; clearly label navigation categories (this will especially help first-time visitors). Stick with ‘Contact Us’ instead of ‘Give us a Holler’. Chances are the user would eventually figure out what you intended, but for the users that don’t (or have short attention spans), giving up and exiting your site is just too easy to do.

Forms & Conversion
Filling out a contact form can cause a user to cringe. At best, forms are irritating. Make life easier for your users and they’ll reward you with more completed forms, which means more leads and more money.

Use short forms, opting only for the information you absolutely require. Show users a progress bar so they know how many steps are in the process (the fewer the better, so consolidate!) Try techniques like accordion forms, which expand section by section, or wizard forms, which guide users like a step-by-step Q&A session.

One more nugget: just like shopping carts, forms get abandoned at a high rate. And when they do, fight back: use an abandoned form trigger email to remind the user what they are a few seconds away from getting. All they have to do is complete the form. Studies show up to 35% of all abandoned forms are completed later using form abandonment tactics.

Interacting with Content
Users don’t want to read long pages of content. In fact, many users may be viewing your content on a smartphone screen. Think about providing bite-size chunks of content instead of lengthy paragraphs. For copy, use short summary-style paragraphs and call out important points with bullets and infographic-like elements. Use video to deliver complex ideas if possible, as it is effective in engaging the user. When possible, use copy, images and video to serve content in multiple ways on the same page. And always include easy ways to save, email and share content on social networks.

Design for Devices
Users interact with your site with different hardware, so device features and screen dimensions must be taken into account when designing experiences and interfaces. Don’t just focus on the smaller screen. Consider easier navigation (for fingers), fewer graphics to speed up page load, and linking to mobile apps, like your phone’s GPS and social networks. Remember, too, that iPhones, iPads, e-readers (like Kindle) and Android smartphones all display web pages differently and use different commands to navigate through a web page. With mobile devices, it is NOT one size fits all. Design to the device to impress your user.

Check Out Page Load Times
Users’ short attention spans and multi-tasking habits can wreak havoc on your engagement rates, so don’t add to the drama with long page load times. Often indicative of heavy-duty graphics, slow servers, or sloppy code and plug-ins, long page loads can be fixed quickly once they are identified. Use page load timers, like pingdom, to find bottlenecks on your site.

Be a Social Butterfly
Place social network icons in places where users expect them: on a top tier at the head of the each page, or in the footer. When providing users with the option of sharing media and content, place sharing apps – like ShareThis or AddtoAny – where users expect to find them – such as a hover state over the content, or directly above it on the web page.

UX and How It Affects eCommerce
Test product page placement, add-ons like recommended products feeds, and cart checkout processes are all web features that are heavily referenced by UX professionals. Observe your cart processes and ask users for feedback on how the purchasing process can be made easier. Use abandonment emails to drive convenience for the user. Create forms and help areas (ever forgot your password?) that are secure, easy to use, and helpful.

Follow Consistent Styles
Create a style guide for your website. This is a blueprint that defines fonts, text sizes, colors, hover states, links, colors and other attributes that are used throughout your website. This will serve you well whether your site is undergoing a major overhaul or just regular updates. When your site features consistent styles, it teaches the user its patterns and what to look for when skimming a page for information. The best user experiences also account for best practices on other websites, too, since this leads to faster user adoption and engagement on your site. Observe other sites that you feel provide an exceptional user experience, and find ways to adopt those techniques into your own site.

Engage Outside of the Browser
When a user submits a form for more information, send out an automatic response email thanking them for the request. When a user buys a product, email the receipt and coupon toward a discount on their next purchase. User provides their email address, email them some exclusive content. Always look for ways that technology can interact with your user after they leave your site, so they’ll remember to come back. With a little bit of code, your website can be an extension of your customer service team.

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Getting Started with UX
Implementing UX practices on your website is a critical objective for nearly every marketer in the online space. Not sure where to start? Follow the three steps below, or start a conversation with Synapse to get into the nitty-gritty of professional UX assessment.

  1. Assess your site to identify user experience strengths and weaknesses. Follow the guidelines above to identify features and content your site is lacking. Use Analytics to dig into the numbers behind your gut feeling. Metrics like visitor flow, exit pages and site visit time trends can help identify areas of the site that need improvement.
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  3. Overall, if your site has more strengths than weaknesses, team up with a professional interactive marketing firm for recommendations that will improve the user experience for your site. Create a list and tackle these issues one at time, measuring the effects along the way. Not sure where to start? Start a conversation with Synapse.
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  5. If your site has major UX gaps, if you see diminishing site performance, or if you notice declining sales, search ranking and leads, your site may need an overhaul. Sometimes starting fresh is the most effective approach. Synapse offers free UX consultation when you start a conversation with us.

Creating a positive experience for your website’s users is challenging, in part because users are unique and seek experiences that differ from other users. Follow proper UX standards and make a commitment to create positive experiences for your users. It’s not easy work, but achieve this goal and you’ll find more engaged visitors, better awareness for your brand, higher conversion rates, more leads and revenue. Give your user an exceptional experience – apply UX tactics to your site!

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