In the recent years, user-friendliness or usability has become a crucial factor in determining the success of a website. With the competition getting more intense by the minute, your prospects will quickly move on to another site if they don’t find your website easy to use.
Your website’s conversion rate can increase by 200% to 400% with a well-designed interface, while you can get a $100 return for every dollar that your company invests in your website’s user experience. That shouldn’t come as a surprise as nearly 95% of users believe positive user experience is the most critical factor they’re looking for in a website. In other words, the only way to survive the competition is to make your website more user-friendly.
Here are five factors that constitute the characteristics of a user-friendly website:
1. Mobile Responsive Design
A responsive website automatically changes to fit the device you are reading it on such as a mobile, tablet or a laptop. As the entire site adapts according to the screen size, users don’t have to waste their time pinching or zooming. That’s why 62% of companies that designed a website specifically for mobile witnessed a significant increase in sales.
Besides, with more than half of website traffic coming from mobile phones in 2018, you are likely to miss out on half of your prospects if your website isn’t responsive. So, how do you go about it?
A. Content Layout Optimization
The most important thing you need to consider is the potential content layout. As people using mobile phones have considerably less screen space, you have to make sure the content not only fits in, but is also readable. Although most phones automatically zoom out, this feature can be a little frustrating for users if they are looking for a specific piece of information on your website.
So, you will need to move a few things around such as images and text and also cut back on the size of the menu, especially if your website has several subcategories. For example, the Smashing magazine website has a two-column layout with a full menu on laptop or desktop.
However, it mutates into a single-column layout with a hidden menu on both, tablet and mobile. The website menu on desktop version also comes with labels and icons, making it easier for the older generations (that are more likely to use desktop or laptop) to understand.
2. Easy Navigation
Smooth navigation plays a critical role in keeping prospects on your website longer. Users are impatient. They are not going to wait forever if they don’t find what they want. As a result, poor navigation can directly affect your conversion rate, and therefore, your profits. So, users should be able to access and navigate your website seamlessly across devices.
A. Less Is More
When it comes to website navigation, usually less is more. So, minimize the number of navigation links as much as possible. You don’t want to overwhelm users with too many choices. Offering a lot of links can adversely affect your SEO as well because web crawlers find it difficult to decipher such content.
So, make sure to add links to appropriate keywords and phrases. Fix any broken links as soon as possible. If you have replaced an old web page with a new one, make sure to create a suitable redirect link.
B. Too Much Creativity Can Be Detrimental
Avoid playing with your creativity too much. It is often better to stick with the standard navigation architecture. In the hope of standing out from the crowd, people often make excessive use of animation or graphics and end up having the exact opposite effect on users.
It is, however, desirable to incorporate the latest navigation trends in your website. For example, 2017 saw a substantial rise in sticky nav-bars, mega menus, and responsive sub-nav menus, among others. Using any one of these features in your website is probably a good idea.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s website is perhaps the best combination of easy navigation and stunning graphics. The simple, yet elegant main menu provides links to all essentials including exhibitions, projects, featured artwork, ticketing details, visiting hours, and membership.
You don’t have to scroll down the homepage to see all these links. Instead of text and images, they have used videos that make you feel as if you are standing in the museum.
They have also kept the intuitive navigational framework intact throughout the site. Whether you are checking out the artwork or the projects, you will never feel lost. The website communicates the complexity of art and paintings in a relatively simple way, just the way common folks would want to experience it.
3. Fast Loading Website
Everyone knows that website speed matters. But, just how fast your website needs to be is a matter of debate. According to a recent study published by Google, one second is the ideal webpage loading time. However, if it takes up to three seconds to load your website, you are still doing okay as the bounce rate is no more than 32%. But, if the load time increases further, say up to five seconds, the bounce rate will be 90%, while a ten second delay leads to 123% increase.
Google has been giving preferential treatment to fast loading websites for some time now. It was limited to only personal computers though. But, with the increasing web traffic on mobile phones, Google has decided to page speed a ranking factor for mobile searches starting July 2018. So, site loading speed needs to be as high as possible.
A. Identify the Load Time for Each Element
The first thing you need to do is find out how much time it takes to load different parts of each webpage on your website. Although you can use speed analyzer tools such as WebPageTest or Pingdom, they aren’t enough.
To see how fast each element on your site loads, you can right-click the page you want to analyze, click “Inspect,” and then click the “Network” tab. You can do this on any browser. For example, the load time for various elements on webpage http://www.instantshift.com/category/web-design/ in the Firefox browser is depicted below. This analysis will provide you with the data to identify slow loading element on each web page.
B. Reduce the Number of HTTP Requests
It will also show you how many HTTP requests your site makes. Reducing the number of HTTP requests is a great way to improve its speed. Identify and eliminate unnecessary images, texts or graphics, if any.
4. Balanced Use of Visuals and Text
Both, text and visuals are critical factors of a website. However, your site can’t attract more web traffic without striking the right balance between these two elements. In other words, the graphics shouldn’t overpower the text and vice versa.
A. We Remember Visuals Easily
The human brain, however, tends to remember visuals better and longer. In fact, people can recall 65% of the visuals almost three days later compared to 10% of text content in the same period. Your content can generate up to 94% more views if you add compelling visual elements and graphics in it.
Plus, viral visual content (videos, GIFs, and images) can generate more inbound links. Besides, an increasing number of people are accessing the web from their mobiles, especially the young generation. Using more visuals makes sense because watching a video is so much easier compared to reading a long paragraph on mobile.
B. Visuals Come with a Cost
There is a catch though. More high-definition videos, graphics, and images mean your website will load slower. As mentioned in the previous point, slower loading websites lead to higher bounce rates. Search engines also find it difficult to recognize visuals compared to text. One way to overcome this problem is to add appropriate “Alt Text” to the images.
When using “Alt Text,” focus on not only on keyword targeting, but also user intent. For example, take a look at the following image. It could mean a variety of things. You can perceive this image as a sign of happiness or motivation or even a sense of achievement.
So, if your website deals with something such as personal or professional success, mentioning “ways to achieve your goal” in your “Alt text” is way better than simply saying “a girl jumping at the sunset point.”
On the other hand, a website on depression and counselling should use something along the lines of “overcoming depression with inherent happiness.” However, avoid going overboard with the description. It shouldn’t look unnatural as search engines don’t like keyword stuffing. Use relevant and meaningful description.
C. Asymmetrical Visuals-Text Balance Also Works
Visual and text balance shouldn’t necessarily be symmetrical though. You can arrange these two elements asymmetrically, especially if you intend to give a more informal, modern or relaxed look to your web design.
Dropbox’s homepage is an example of an asymmetric layout of text and visuals. It brings the user’s attention to the focal points immediately. But, neither the visuals nor the text seems to outdo one another.
Seedlip, a company selling distilled non-alcoholic spirits, makes ample use of whitespace as well as bold fonts and simple text wherever possible. It’s the right balance of text and visual that is meant to serve well to their target audience.
5. Correct Error Handling
Despite taking all the precautions, things can still go wrong, resulting in website errors. While you can’t avoid these unpropitious errors altogether, you can surely embrace them with grace. Your potential customers already feel irritated after encountering an erroneous web page. Why rub salt in their wound with a humdrum (or downright annoying) error message? Sadly, this aspect of web designing largely remains overlooked.
A. Be Polite
Even though your users have typed a wrong username or URL address, avoid blaming them at all costs. On the contrary, error messages need to be as user-friendly as possible. Always use polite language while pointing out an error. For example, instead of using a standard message such as “The email address you entered is wrong,” Mail Chimp uses the following error handling description.
B. Use Lighthearted Humor
Piccsy takes error handling to a whole new level with the help of lighthearted humor. If you encounter “404 – page not found” error on their website, this is what you will see.
Here is another example from the famous dating site, eHarmony. It’s a cheeky message, but it sure can make you laugh and cause you to linger on the website a little longer.
However, avoid using humor in every situation. Your users won’t appreciate it if your site shows a funny message after entering a wrong credit card number. Instead, use words that sound appropriate when employed in a conversation. Make sure to include a humble, but clear error message on the error page. Add a direct link to the home page or an appropriate webpage as well. Don’t make users work for it.
Over to You
With the rapid proliferation of mobile internet and social media, setting up a user-friendly website has become essential than ever. If you’re ahead of the curve in the UX department, you will enjoy the benefits of increased web traffic and user engagement. Hopefully, understanding the underlying characteristics of these five crucial factors will help you build a super user-friendly website. For best results, make sure to implement as many of the above tips as possible. If you still have doubts or love to share any ideas, tell us about them in the comments below.