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6 essential tips to improve your website user experience

By Laura Damkoehler, Director of Product Design at BusinessBlocks

User experience design thinking can be applied to almost everything. Consider the user experience at a restaurant. When you walk in the door, how easy it is for you to know who to talk to? How do you find a seat? How quickly are you attended to? How do you make a meaningful order?

A recent survey by The Manifest found that more than 90 percent of small business owners plan to invest in website upgrades and maintenance in 2018. Their top three priorities include publishing more quality content (22 percent), improving website security (17 percent) and enhancing user experience (16 percent).

For any kind of business, a website is the most powerful tool of communication. Thirty-eight percent of people say they will stop engaging with a website if the content and layout is unattractive, according to Adobe’s State of Content: Expectations on the Rise report. You’re using it as a vehicle to build your reputation for the business and gain a competitive edge in your industry, and that’s why it’s essential to create a website that maximizes user experience.

When it comes to websites in particular, user experience has evolved into a whole discipline dedicated to creating an easy and pleasurable experience for consumers to better engage with the product online. Here are 6 essential tips to ensure you’re heading in the right direction.

1) Educate, communicate and encourage on the home page.

The home page is often described as a front door, the entryway where customers get their first impression of your online storefront. The homepage gets more views than any other page on a website, and it's often the single best place you have for generating interest in your business and your product. Even customers who visit the site through a landing page or other content pages will seek out and treat the homepage as the ultimate source of what your business is all about.

In order to engage and convert customers, the homepage must educate customers about your business, clearly communicate your value and offerings and encourage visitors to take the next step, such as navigating to a new page or signing up for the newsletter.

Don’t make the customer interpret what’s going on. Build a page that people already know how to interpret, so they can focus entirely on understanding the message - who you are, what you do and why they should choose you over a competitor.

Canary Marketing's site is a great example because it exhibits all of the right elements of clear messaging, strong calls to action, great branding and easy navigation.

2) Keep the top navigation bar standard and simple.

Similar to the home page, the top navigation should use a format that increases usability and guides customers to your resources and products. It’s important to keep it standard and simple because too many options could confuse people. We recommend the total number of page links should not be greater than five.

There are two ways to approach this - you can either go with an entirely flat top navigation scheme (i.e., Moz), where each link takes customers to a landing page, or with a mega dropdown (i.e., Hootsuite), where secondary navigation options are displayed upon clicking the top navigation links.

3) Go big with the footer.

Think of it as a one-stop shop to help visitors find everything they need in one place. The footer should also support your business’ communication goals, including helping customers connect with your brand, reinforcing credibility and building trust and giving additional opportunities for customers to engage with you. Zendesk is a great example if you're a larger organization that needs a more comprehensive footer.

4) Tell a compelling story in the About Us section.

Successful company pages tell a good story about who they are and why they exist, providing a deeper look into the business. This page can also have an impact on customers when they’re trying to make a purchasing decision. Make sure you’re also showcasing your talented team and highlight your business’ mission statement and values.

Honeybook gives users a good feel for who they are and what their company is all about without having an outrageously amount of content.

5) Strive for consistency across all pages.

Web conventions allow websites to feel familiar, making it easier for the everyday user to navigate from page to page. For instance, logos are typically placed at the upper left hand of the page, and a consistent use of that space lets users know where they are.

Another common convention is visual hierarchy. Visual hierarchy creates a familiar structure for users, letting them know what to read first, which information is the most important and what comes next. Moreover, use colors, font sizes and layouts consistently throughout your site. If you’re changing up the layout on one page, will it disrupt the user experience?

6) Adopt an iterative approach.

Design iteration brings powerful results. If you’re using a website builder service, a lot of templates are designed to consider the best possible user experience. But as you’re modifying the template to meet your needs, it’s important to get feedback and continue to iterate on the design that meets your customers’ needs and expectations.

It might seem silly or trivial to take extra time to review your design with friends, family and customers, but this feedback is extremely important. Encourage the person who’s giving you feedback to be as honest as possible and be receptive to their comments.

Lastly, remember that if your customers can’t find something on your website, they can always figure out a way to close out of it.