How long do you have to capture the attention of your website users? Evidence shows that for most people, it will be less than 15 seconds. That is how long you have to convince someone to spend time (and money) on your website. So what can you do to make sure people don’t bail? Well, engaging design and copy aside (though never ignored) there’s plenty of things you can actively do to make sure your website is as user friendly as possible. And I'm not just talking about font colour and size! (Although seriously, stop with the tiny light grey font, OK).
If you’re signed up to Lucent Letters, you’ll know I touched on this topic in a recent issue. I had some good feedback from that little section, so I thought I should expand upon it in a full post! We’ll take a look at user “pet peeves” and simple ways you can ensure your audience has the best experience they can on your website.
- Monitor Broken Links
During a brief bit of market research, I found that the most common user gripe with websites are broken links. There are many ways you can avoid broken links, but planning ahead is a great start. Decide upon your permalink structure early on and stick to it. In WordPress, you can do this by heading to Settings > Permalinks Settings. I have chosen the Post Name structure, which means there are no dates or errant numbers in my URL’s. You may choose a different structure, but try to choose early on. If you do decide to change your structure (or domain), make sure you have a process in place for creating 301 redirects. This plugin is my preferred plugin for creating easy redirects within WordPress.
As well as being aware of your permalink structure, audit your website using a broken link tool. Do this even if you never change your permalinks, as broken links occur without explanation. There are plenty of free ones online, and I’ve found this one to be effective. Whether your website is new or old, I recommend running this sweep every month or two!
- Test Your Forms
Having a contact form on your website is great for user experience. Users can easily write down email addresses incorrectly and lose them. Plus, plenty of people don't like making phone calls! If you don’t have a contact form, I encourage you to think about what your time-poor site visitors may prefer. If you do have a contact form, test it out every couple of months; even if you’re still receiving regular enquiries that way. Make sure it’s straightforward and user friendly. Confirm it captures all the essential information and has a Captcha in place to prevent spam. I recently discovered that the reCaptcha mechanism on my contact form had stopped working! Regular maintenance can help avoid those headache-y, time wasting spam emails. More importantly, it can prevent the embarrassing occasion where a customer is unable to reach you.
- Is it Mobile and Browser Friendly?
This can be an easy one to forget to do - I know when I’m in a hurry I sometimes forget myself. But try to check the optimisation of every page and post before publishing - or at least before promoting! This means opening the page in a variety of browsers (yes, even Internet Explorer)! Also see if you can borrow a friend’s phone with a different operating system to see how it performs. Its 2019 people; there’s no excuse for a website that isn’t optimised!
- Keep Ads Relevant and Non-Intrusive!
I don’t run ads on my websites, but I understand that some people rely on the income from doing so, to varying degrees. If this is part of your monetisation strategy, tailor your settings so the ads are relevant to your audience. This means no casino ads on a children’s clothing website! A common gripe I came across during my market research was ads that intrude upon the flow of the page. For example, if I threw an ad (particularly an auto-play video ad) in the middle of this blog post. This would distract my readers and even drag their attention away from what I’m saying. Why would I want to do that?
- Are Pop-Ups Really Necessary?
Similar to the previous point, user’s don’t enjoy being bombarded with information. Newsletter sign up pop-ups are a notorious user gripe. Yes, in certain situations they work, especially if you’re a retailer offering a discount to new subscribers. But in most cases, I have to ask if a simple banner is not as effective? If you must have a pop-up, please please test it on a variety of mobiles to ensure it’s still easy for users to escape. Don't have it pop-up the very second they arrive on your site; give them a chance to decide if they want to hear more from you. And do not try to hide the “No Thanks” option with super light text!
- Up to Date, Easy to Find and Accurate Information
Regularly review your site for contact information, social links, and opening hours. I recently told a story on Instagram where I was planning to meet a friend for coffee at a particular cafe after the New Years’ break. In Australia, plenty of cafes remain closed well into January to give their staff a break. So, I made sure I went to their website to see if they would be open or not. Luckily for me, in bright red text, right at the top of the home page were the words “we will be reopening 7th January 2019”. I immediately exited the website and thought nothing more on it. When the 7th January (a Monday) rolled around, I hopped in my car and headed to the cafe only to find it closed! I opened Google and to my deep annoyance, discovered this cafe was only open Tuesday - Sunday. If I’d spent more time researching the situation I absolutely could have figured this out. But, the point is that I am busy, and I already had the information I thought I needed. Your website visitor’s aren’t dumb, but they are distracted, and busy. Don’t make them work too hard for the information they need!
- To Open in a New Tab or Not?
OK, this may be one that most people don't think about (this is my personal pet peeve contribution). But I do think you should be establishing a standard for when you do and don’t force links to open in a new tab. This stems from one site I visited where every single link opened a new tab; even the menu item links in the top main menu. I didn’t spend long on this website but I’ve never forgotten about it, it annoyed me so much. As a rule of thumb, I will open links in a new tab if it’s an external link; you don’t want people to leave your site altogether! If it’s an in-text link in the middle of a page I will also open it in a new tab, in case they aren't finished reading. If it’s a call-to-action link or button, or a menu item I will not open this in a new tab. If I’ve linked to a blog post at the bottom of a different blog post, I will not open that in a new tab. They’re already at the end of that post anyway, so there’s no point trying to keep them there.
And that brings us to:
- Effective Interlinking Strategy
A key strategy for keeping user’s attention is ensuring your pages link together in a logical way. This might be “old school” but I like to keep a spreadsheet on my Google Drive for each website I manage. This spreadsheet will include a line for every page on the website, including Title, Topic and URL. This is an active document that I add to every time I publish a new post. Not only does this help keep track of my posts, but it assists in creating a logical interlinking structure. I can see at a glance what posts relate to what, so I can easily send users around my website. Each post has a number and if I link from one post to another, I note it down on my spreadsheet. So, for example I’m working on post 15, and I know that post relates to post 2, 4 and 12. On my spreadsheet I’ll add a line for post 15 as above, and another column where I note that I’ve linked it to 2, 4 and 12. I’ll then review if I need to link post 2, 4 and 12 back to post 15, or if they already have enough relevant interlinks. This can help keep interested readers on my blog by repeatedly presenting them with information relevant to them.
Let me know if you have any other pet peeves on websites that I haven't covered here! And don't stress if you've found you need to make some changes; we've all made bad UX decisions at some point in our lives. Besides, I'm here to help!