By Mark Harrison
Think about what you want when you search for products and services online. How do you find a site? Why do you favour some sites over others? What influences you to make a purchase?
Now, with these questions in mind, ask yourself if your web presence offers the user experience you expect from others.
Comprising all aspects of a person’s interactions with your system, user experience (UX) is a product development term coined by Apple in the early 1990s. It basically means that you have to keep your users in mind throughout the creation of your site, from designing landing pages right down to writing your call to action.
Evolving alongside industry trends, the relatively new art of designing for UX is especially important for eCommerce sites, which aim to convert users into online customers while they’re browsing.
But overall, the online market is competitive enough without a poor UX giving visitors an excuse to click elsewhere. All the same, this emerging field is often overlooked, which means you have a valuable opportunity to get ahead of your competitors by considering it now.
To explain how developing your UX will benefit your online conversion rate, we will answer four key questions:
- What makes a good UX?
- How can you test your current UX?
- Why do you need a UX strategy?
- How does effective UX development boost conversions?
On a basic level, just remember that your site’s user experience affects each user’s interaction with your site, thereby influencing their opinion of your organisation. With this in mind, it’s important to understand how and why your users actually use your site.
As a relatively new field, UX design is often difficult to define. Good UX design is similar to good web design, but it is distinct in that it’s about understanding and anticipating how users will interact with the finished result.
This is achieved by observing users through testing, research, or simply collecting analytics. In most cases, you’ll have far more visitors than successful conversions, so in part, it’s more about analysing users who don’t buy anything, from those who only glance at your site to those who abandon items they’ve added to their online basket before purchasing.
The instant that these users become frustrated with your site is when your UX has failed in some regard. Given the difficulty of encouraging casual browsers all the way through a buyer’s journey, you can’t afford to have any friction as a result of a design flaw.
Analysing how these users actually use your site is the essence of UX design. It’s about identifying and improving any functions or features that confuse, frustrate, or otherwise deter users.
The key to good UX design is that you shouldn’t notice it if it’s done well. Above all, it is distinct from web design insofar as it makes good web design great.
Who Controls UX?
Short answer – you do. You do the research, act upon it, and continually refine your UX strategy in order to improve your conversion rate.
To go into more detail, seeing as how you may have heard of other companies having specific UX job titles, there are certain specific duties involved with developing your UX. For instance, cognitive psychologist Donald Norman was Apple’s first “User Experience Architect”.
But again, this is a relatively new field, so if you’re wary of splashing out on specialised personnel, here are some of the key roles entailed in monitoring and designing your user experience.
- UX Designer: Creates workable wireframes, visual designs, prototypes, and general templates, based on user research.
- UX Researcher: Responsible for observing users and extrapolating data from moderated and remote user research.
- UX Strategy: Identifies problems and creates plans to solve them by putting themselves in the position of a site user.
- UX Writer: Responsible for creating copy based on all aspects of the UX strategy, from research questions to website error messaging.
- UX Developer: Carries out qualitative checks and testing on different aspects of the UX strategy, focusing on the end benefit for the user.
This doesn’t mean you have to go and recruit for five brand-new roles. First and foremost, UX development is a team effort. The process doesn’t pass from one station to the next like a production line, but rather evolves through shared ideas, research, and understanding.
UX development is not only a collaborative, ongoing project for you and your team but also a process that’s continually informed by researching what your audience actually wants from your site.
What Users Want
Fundamentally, users want two things from your site – usefulness and usability. In terms of being useful, you have to consider all the usual issues of meeting the promise you make to your customers with your SEO and page content.
For example, if they find you while searching for a site to browse and buy fishing supplies online, make sure your site sells fishing supplies.
On the other hand, usability is more of a broad umbrella, covering a variety of different factors. Your site may be useful, but is it usable? Does it function as the customer expects, as well as how you intended?
Speaking in general terms, here are some common adjectives that people use to describe a good UX:
Your site content may match all of these criteria and be very useful, but in order to be effective, the site itself has to be as usable as it can be. Improving function and eliminating friction is the primary exercise in developing your UX.
Where some companies falter with their online UX is in hitting some of the essential qualities that users expect, but not all of them. In an age of constant connectivity and communication, there are basic touchstones that you need to meet.
Is Your Site Optimised for All Devices?
With handheld devices such as smartphones or tablets becoming so common, it’s no longer excusable to overlook mobile compatibility when building and designing your UX. Too many sites are designed for desktops only, ranging from discombobulated to borderline unusable on smaller screens.
From the ground up, your site should be optimised for all devices, which includes designing mobile sites for touch, rather than click. Consider taking advantage of features designed for touchscreen users on mobile versions of your site, including steppers, sliders and fast-tap functionality, as opposed to drop-down menus and text inputs on your desktop-friendly version.
This extends to copy too – writers should have some understanding of how the content they create will be displayed, allowing them to tailor it for scannability in the available space. Your users want what you’re offering on the device they’re currently using, so it’s your responsibility to ensure a consistently high-quality UX no matter how they find you.
Is Your Site Loading Quickly Enough?
Ideally, every page on your site should load in 3 seconds or less. Slow and sluggish load times are a major cause of frustration for users who are accustomed to instant accessibility.
Slow pages create a huge drain on your UX and your potential conversion rate, with users clicking off, or “bouncing”, before your page is fully loaded. In turn, search engine algorithms will interpret a high bounce rate as an indication that your page is unhelpful, which will diminish your SERP rankings and reduce your visibility.
Use free online load time checkers to monitor your page load times and identify any high-maintenance features that may be slowing your site down. Just remember that the quicker your site loads, the more useful and usable it will be to your potential customers.
Is Your Site Relevant and Accurate?
As mentioned, your site can be designed as useful to any user who gets what they need from it, but to ensure it is also usable, you must take care not to make them look for it. Your copy should prioritise relevant information early on, including keywords and any geo-tags.
Similar to the load time issue, you should make sure you’re giving your users the information they want as quickly as possible while also engaging them to continue reading. It’s not about keyword bombing your copy to the point of incoherence but providing value early and often.
Moreover, it’s important to make sure all your copy is accurate at all times. From price lists to product descriptions, your site must be kept up-to-date if and when any information changes. You may not intend to mislead your users, but oversights may still cause frustration down the line.
Is Your Site Easy to Read?
In addition to prioritising information related to your page keywords, structure is crucial to your UX. Content must be laid out simply, both on the page and across the navigation bar, in order to maximise the accessibility of your site.
Your page structure should flow logically. Even online, the way we use websites is informed by the way we read stories in print, turning from one page to the next, reading your story. On the page itself, content should progress from the most relevant information first to the closing call-to-action.
Testing Your UX
Before you understand how to improve your user experience, you have to understand how your users view the system you have created. Whether moderated or unmoderated, UX testing is an instrumental part of development, with several methods available.
Moderated vs Unmoderated Testing
When testing your UX, you have to decide between moderated and unmoderated tests. In moderated tests, you will sit with the user and guide them through the process, whereas unmoderated tests involve asking for feedback based on participants’ remote experience of your system.
Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Although moderated testing is time-consuming and expensive, it allows you to meet your users face to face. Interacting directly with your target audience will allow you to gain a greater understanding of their feedback.
On the other hand, remote testing is faster, cheaper, and simpler, allowing you to collect data from a much wider range of participants. However, your data will likely be more limited by the specificity of written, predetermined questions, as opposed to a one-to-one interview.
Every system is different, so it’s up to you to decide whether you’re looking for sample size or specific feedback, but here are some specific testing methods that are useful in both contexts.
Surveys and Polls
The simplest way to find out what your users think is to ask them. But as mentioned, you need to be careful when devising survey questions in order to avoid limiting your responses. If you are looking for answers to specific questions, you could poll your visitors, perhaps offering an incentive for participation in order to increase sample size.
A five-second test is designed to measure first impressions of your system. Show your site to someone who has never seen it before. After just five seconds, see how they answer the following questions:
- What Is This Site for?
- Who Is the Company?
- What Benefit Do Their Products and Services Provide to You?
These are key motivators for users and customers of all kinds and with a strong UX, five seconds should be all they need to glean what you’re offering.
Card Sorting and Tree Testing
Use card sorting and tree testing methods to check that your pages are structured logically and effectively. Card sorting enables your users to organise the content you want to put on your site, whereas tree testing involves testing usability on your site.
Write each page title or subject on a card and ask each participant to sort them into groups that make sense for them. So, if you have a clothing site, these subjects may include “socks”, “hats”, “tights”, and “swimming trunks”
In closed card testing, you may also provide pre-determined categories in which to sort and order these pages, such as “men’s clothing” and “women’s clothing”. This is a very user-focused method of testing that’s useful for helping you design a page structure.
On the other hand, tree testing is system-focused, asking participants to search for information. Show your participants your site’s tree structure, organised into topics and sub-topics, and ask them where they would go to carry out tasks.
This enables you to test accessibility and ease of use while getting diverse results from different tasks. If you’re testing an existing system, it’s a highly valuable method of testing findability as well as usability.
Why You Need a UX Strategy
Thorough research and testing will grant you a very clear qualitative and quantitative understanding of your current user experience. This will enable you to develop a UX strategy that improves this experience, benefiting both your users and your conversion rate.
Even though it’s not a hard science, UX testing provides precious insight into rapidly changing consumer behaviour. In the online age, people are looking to interact primarily with usable and responsive sites, which shows the obvious benefit of user-centred design.
The surest way to get ahead of competitors is to research what users want from your site and channel this data into creating more identifiable customer touchpoints.
In getting to know your users, you should also learn what problems need to be solved and develop a clear vision of where you want to be.
Paying close attention to your UX data and any budgetary constraints, you need to prioritise how your next steps and improve your system as you go. Additionally, you need to have regular measurements in place to monitor your progress.
Be honest with yourself and others in your organisation about your successes and shortcomings and refine your strategy based on your findings. Altogether, your evolving UX strategy will add to your existing capabilities and transform you into a more user-focused brand.
On top of everything else, user experience is linked closely to customer experience. Strong, user-centred design not only makes it easier for customers to get what they need but also increases the amount of time they spend on your site, thereby boosting conversions.
Seamless User Journeys
By tailoring your site to your users, you will decrease your bounce rate and increase conversions. UX development enables you to identify obstacles to your customer’s journey, such as confusing navigation or slow loading pages, and make your site easier to navigate.
The more you know about your target audience, the better you will be at creating content specifically for them. If you provide valuable content and show your users that you are able to meet their needs, you will hasten their journey to the checkout.
UX research will also help you to troubleshoot any aspects of your site that are faulty or frustrating. If, for instance, customers have issues filling in a confusing form or registering a payment method, you have the opportunity to fix these issues to avoid losing conversions.
All your online customers have used your website before, which shows the close link between the user experience and the customer experience. As well as helping you generate new customers, a great UX will lead to greater customer retention, as users come back to buy from you again.
5 Top Takeaways
- UX is all about the benefit to the user, meaning your entire team, from copywriters to designers, should be aware of what they are building and who they are building it for.
- Remember that a good UX is built on storytelling and it’s important to order your site in a logical way, for the most natural progression through the buyer’s journey.
- Mobile compatibility is a must, and you’ll attract far more customers and users if your site loads quickly and accurately on any device.
- Prioritise what you want your users to get out of their experience – don’t rush into pitching for registration or payments before users get the measure of you.
- Refine, revise, and develop your strategy over time, in co-operation with both users and other members of your organisation.
Conclusion – Usefulness and Usability
Your user experience is what will make your site stand out from those of your competitors. Considering usefulness and usability in equal measure, developing your site to be more user-friendly can only lead to more conversions.
It’s absolutely a continuous project, but you have to begin somewhere. Ask your users, your colleagues, and yourself what people are getting out of your current site and start with a clear idea of the outcomes you want to achieve.
Choose a method of testing that aligns with your resources and experience in order to determine the answers you’re seeking, and aim to have an ongoing qualitative and quantitative understanding of your UX.
Design, iterate, and repeat, and make sure that the way your audience experiences your site is always the best it can possibly be.