When was the last time you took a really hard look at your website? Your website is the face of your company or association. It is often the very first impression someone will have of your organization. But once it is built and launched, aside from occasional updates, it is often forgotten about.
If your site was built or last redesigned more than a couple years ago, it’s a great idea to take another look at it and appraise whether your website is visually pleasing, easy to navigate, and whether the average user experience is positive. Let’s discuss some of the biggest user satisfaction features and issues to keep in mind.
Does your website work well on a cell phone?
A common problem on many websites is that they are designed to look good and work well on a computer screen, but appearance on mobile phones is an afterthought. At one time, it was common to design a site for desktop or laptop, and then have a pared-down version of the site available for mobile browsing.
This is a mistake. By 2016, more web browsing occurred on phones than on computers, and the gap has only continued to widen. Users expect to have full functionality and be able to browse a site just as easily on their phone as on their laptop. Current recommended design practices for modern websites are to design for mobile first.
Modern responsive designs should adjust to a variety of screen sizes and allow for seamless use between all devices. Be sure to test your site on a variety of different devices and operating systems to ensure that it looks and works great on all.
Is your website accessible?
Accessibility is a frequently-overlooked aspect of website design. Having an accessible website means that it can be easily read, understood and navigated by anyone, regardless of whether they have a hearing impairment, vision issues, motor issues and so on.
People who suffer from blindness or low vision may have a screen reader that process websites by translating text to audio. Some people may not be able to use a mouse or a touchpad, so they will scroll through webpages using the “tab” button. Some sites are better designed to accommodate these different browsing styles than others.
There are a number of design considerations to keep in mind when creating an accessible website. Be sure to include alt tags on all images so that screen readers can decipher what the images are for users who can’t see them. Check what your site looks like in grayscale to simulate what difficulties someone with color-blindness might encounter. If you have audio or video files, have you added captions for those with hearing problems?
If you have an existing website, there are free tools like WebAccessibility.com which will give you a report of some of the accessibility issues on your site. Keep in mind that it’s almost impossible to get a 100% perfect score on any of these tools, but it will give you some ideas for fixes and tweaks you could make. One of the side benefits of designing for accessibility is that it usually makes your site more user-friendly for all, regardless of abilities.
Have you had your site tested for usability?
If you ever have the chance to watch someone completely unfamiliar with your organization browse around your website, it can be an eye-opening experience. They may be confused by terminology that you take for granted, they may not notice links and menu items that you thought were obvious, they may interact with your site in ways you simply didn’t anticipate.
If you are trying to sell products, drive subscriptions and encourage donations that aren’t materializing, it can be very instructive to do some user testing and record visitors as they navigate and react to your site. If you don’t have the time or inclination to create your own quality control experiment, you can hire a company like UserTesting.com who will set up tests, record users as they perform specified tasks on your site and give their feedback.
More user-friendly design tips to keep in mind:
Cut the clutter. Overly busy sites are confusing and overwhelming for users. Create some space and don’t cram too much onto the page.
Don’t make text too small. Some designers love the look of small, delicate type, but for anyone with less-than-perfect eyesight, it can be a real challenge.
No animated gifs! These are distracting. Not to mention that they make your site look super dated and amateurish.
Avoid busy wallpaper. This is in the same category as the animated gifs. Having a large photo or obnoxious pattern behind the entire page almost always looks dated and distracts from the overall content.
Check your navigation. Make sure that you have a complete menu available on every page. The user should at the very least always be able to navigate back to the homepage from anywhere on the site.
Have a working search bar. Some people like to browse using the menu, others immediately head to the search bar to type in whatever they are looking for. Make sure you have a search bar that is easily found and in working order.
Check your SEO. Search engine optimization is something you should take into consideration any time you update your website, but this is a whole topic of its own. Visit Search Engine Optimization for Small Organizations.
Stick with the standards. Certain terms and icons have become industry standards, like the three horizontal lines signifying a menu, terms like “checkout,” “account settings,” “FAQ,” and so on. If there is a term or symbol that most of the internet uses, it’s generally best to use it as well. Some organizations want to get cute and name their Contact page something like “Mail Room” or “Give Us a Shout Out,” or whatever. You’re better off to be clear than clever. Most users just want to find what they are looking for and don’t want to have to think about it.
In fact, the entire concept of useability can be boiled down into one phrase – “Don’t make me think!” Ideally your site should be set up to be easily used and understood by the widest number of people possible. Keep that mantra in mind and always opt for what will be easiest for the end user, and your design choices become easier.