Today’s online audiences have notably different design preferences than they did ten years ago, and best practices for User Experience have changed to meet the demand. These days, the most successful sites model themselves after what drives traffic and converts users into customers - and if your site hasn’t had a facelift in a while, it’s probably time to think about upgrading to better reach today’s audiences.
Here’s a look at what’s working in website design now, and which changes might be best to improve your site’s user experience for the better.
1. Mobile Responsive Isn’t Just The Way Of The Future - It’s Right Now
Ignoring the explosion of mobile users online today simply isn’t an option any more - more than half of all users are searching and browsing from mobile devices, and Google has even started to punish sites who aren’t formatted to fit a mobile screen. The time to get mobile-friendly and mobile-responsive is long past due, and if your site has yet to embrace mobile you’ve got a good bit of catching up to do.
If you’re starting a site from scratch, it’s actually best practice to think mobile-first through the course of your design. While desktop users do continue to make up a large segment of the population online, mobile is where the trend is heading, and it’s best to get ahead of the game rather than constantly trying to play catch-up.
2. Don’t Underestimate The Power Of Illustrations
We’ve all heard that content with images tends to perform better than content without, and that the power of high-quality, custom imagery can have an effect on your site’s ability to convert browsers into buyers. But sometimes even the best, most high-quality photo simply isn’t the right fit - and in these cases, a custom illustration may be even more effective.
Custom illustrations - even minimalist ones - can be hugely powerful at not only communicating information, but also at driving home the attitude and charisma of your unique brand. The HBO series True Detective utilized illustrations as part of a fun, interactive game for users, providing a powerful incentive to stay and engage with the site once you've visited - even if you’ve never seen the show. Others, like freelance-assistant software maker Solo, utilize more stripped-down illustrations that still impart a ton of information - and a distinctive brand look - with a few simple colors.
By utilizing custom illustrations on your site, your brand can show its chops in both creative aspects and in technical applications - and it’s all wrapped in a fun, colorful, and visually-arresting package.
3. Accessibility Is A Must
If you own a small business, chances are your physical storefront is already built to be accessible for those with disabilities - so why not your digital storefront? These days, more and more physically disabled people have access to accessibility technology, making things like shopping and browsing online easier than they’ve ever been. Missing out on this market can represent a huge missed opportunity, and offering an accessible website can seriously boost your business’s reputation as all-accepting and also as technically-savvy and customer-focused.
Common accessibility practices like using color to indicate fields in an error state may work well for most users, but it’s important to direct your aim toward a diverse set of users - meaning there may need to be some redundancies in place to make sure all users get the message. Also, diligence with basic infrastructure like meta tags, alt text, titles can all offer huge benefits to blind users by reading out otherwise hover-bound descriptions of images and more.
Most of the steps you can take to make your site more accessible will likely go unnoticed by the majority of your users - but those that do notice will probably greatly appreciate the effort, and maybe even spread the word.
4. Content Silos Are Your Friends
The age of the “flat” website is coming to a close. Users now demand a richer, more engaging user experience, and changing standards for search ranking are pushing more sites to try and diversify, “fatten up,” and approach site architecture a bit differently.
Content “silos” are really no more than an efficient, segmented approach to site navigation. This architecture strategy divides your content by broad subject matter, creating separate (but internally linking) sections within your site. This can help improve your search ranking for specific keywords, improve site navigation for users, and generally keep your site flowing smoothly as you transition from page to page.
Implementing silos into your site is a relatively simple way to improve your site’s UX, but generally requires some coordination and planning to make a reality. The best practice is to create clear delineations between content and to start creating for those sections - the natural divisions should help the system fall into place.
5. Make Sure Your CTAs Are Effective
An effective Call-To-Action - or CTA - is a tantalizing invitation to action that users simply can’t ignore. But as simple as it may seem to put up a colorful button with a “Click Here” slapped in the center, the science behind an effective CTA is actually a bit more complex. When it comes to actually driving users to click where you want them too, there are best practices to follow - and adhering to them can make a huge difference.
In reality, an effective CTA is one that both catches the eye and quickly communicates a sense of urgency. Examples of effective CTS copy tend to include a time-sensitive imperative, like “Sign Up Now,” “Act Fast,” “Get Started,” and more, while the button itself tends to utilize bright colors (blue and orange are popular) and high contrast from the rest of the page.
CTAs are one of those tricky aspects of improving user experience that requires both smart technical knowhow and a creative eye for effective design. Your success in doing so, however, will likely become apparent fairly quickly - meaning your site is finally doing what it’s meant to do and driving some kind of action from your users.
6. Negative Space Can Be A Big Relief
It may seem natural to want to fill space on your site with images, colors, graphics, and information - or, even, to make everything fit on one screen without scrolling. But, in reality, this often comes off as too cluttered, and a bit aggressive on the eyes; it’s more effective to include a healthy balance of whitespace so the user’s eyes have a minute to rest and digest.
A healthy use of negative space also tends to jive well with mobile-first design, as a single-column layout generally allows for negative space on either side of the central content. Users are also highly accustomed to scrolling, and so it’s likely a better choice to pair larger images and text with a long or infinite scroll on your pages. This encourages a more natural user experience without overloading visitors with information all at once.
Deciding where and when to use negative space - and how much to include in your site - may be a job best left to a creative-minded designer with experience building for both desktop and mobile devices.
7. Ask Your Users What They Want - And Then Do It
There’s a lot you can learn from analysis - what pages get the best traffic, how effective your CTAs may be, and even where exactly on your site users tend to abandon their progress. This is highly useful information, and it’s supported by data that can help admins make smart design and usability decisions. But when it comes to enacting solid, reputable changes to your site that will actually make an impact on your UX, sometimes the best thing to do is to ask your users for suggestions directly - and then to actually implement those changes.
In many cases, users will actually give feedback when asked for it - and for site admins, this can be a useful shortcut to figuring out exactly where users are getting tripped up and what changes would be most immediately beneficial for your site. There’s a lot of power in making decisions based on audience input, and doing so can help build trust while simultaneously improving how effective your site can actually be.
We Can Help Make Your UX Shine
The value of effective UX can’t accurately be expressed with facts and figures alone - but the results will certainly be reflected in your site’s analytics once implemented. Improved user experience speaks volumes for the trustworthiness and value of your brand to your audience, and show you’re actively working to make connecting with your product, service, or organization as easy as possible for those trying to engage with your organization.
If you’re looking for guidance on how to move forward improving your site’s UX, or you’re looking for an experienced agency to take it on for you, Altos is here and ready to help. We have extensive experience creating and updating websites for a wide variety of clients, and our talented and creative Development Team can turn your aging site into a brand new, engaging, and exciting online experience that’s ready to take on the future. Give us a call or shoot us a message to touch base on your site - and let’s get your online storefront on the path to effective, user-focused design.
- Conor Snell
- Social Media & Content Strategist