Your website is annoyingly important. It’s the public facing part of your brand, and pretty much the only aspect of your public image over which you have total control. The content on your website has a big effect on your sales, even if you’re not an online business, and even if you can remember a time when businesses didn’t all have websites.
Below is some advice from top experts on how to create an incredible website for businesses who want to improve both their user interface and their user experience. The people in this article have learned how to do it right by making a bunch of mistakes along the way. Hopefully, you won’t do the same.
Always look for the simplest way possible to present information
One of the issues that many companies run into is actually explaining what their product is and how it works. Startups will often opt for more, rather than less because they fear that if they don’t include lots of information, they won’t be adequately differentiating themselves from the competition.
The problem with this approach, however, is that users have a short attention span. According to some estimate, websites have about seven seconds to convey all the relevant information to the user before the user clicks away.
Chris Kirby of the Voices.com website says that it’s a much better idea to find simple and elegant ways to present information. Although customers like to consume long pieces of content when they’re reading for leisure or want to learn about something, they’re not so willing to invest time in working out how a product works.
Kirby says, therefore, that companies need to get creative with they way in which they present information. He says that the best principles for design existed well before the web. Businesses should refer to Edward Tufte’s classic ideas, he says, and once they understand them, they’ll have a user experience and user interface that has a lasting impact. Information can be presented using simple bullet points, flow diagrams, and even infographics.
View your own site as if you were an outsider
A lot of startup websites are built out from the perspective of the people working at the company, says John Zahorsky of Eden Autism group. Businesses will often use the very same language used in internal business circles to market to their customers. But the problem with this employee-centric style is that it often becomes very hard to communicate what your company does and how it can help.
Basing a website around industry buzzwords immediately shuts out the very people you’re trying to attract. Zahorsky advises that businesses take a different approach. They need to focus on the data that customers want and then provide navigation tools that make finding those data as easy as possible. Swap out terminology that customers won’t know in advance for simple, plain English, even if it doesn’t convey all the information about your product that you’d like to get across.
Listen to the experts, and if necessary, hire one
Web design, like so many things in the digital universe, is a marriage between high technology and art. And like creating a video game, or an app, or even a film, it’s an incredibly detailed and complicated process. For that reason, Darwin Romero of Applaudo Studies says that it’s often a great idea to hire design experts, like Avex Designs, who can create professional user experiences.
Romero says the companies in businesses unrelated to tech or web design can often ignore updating their sites and in the process, wind up never seeing thousands, if not millions, of new dollars in revenue. His advice is to follow expert advice. Experts, he says, have ample experience in creating smart user interfaces that help get customers to where they want to go.
They’ll also have a vast repository of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to things like calls to action, landing pages and menu styles, meaning that your business doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Identify your usability problems
Redesigning a website is all well and good, but it’s also something that is time-consuming and expensive. It’s a good idea, therefore, to investigate which aspects of the site are okay as they are, and which have so-called “usability problems.”
Pete Kistler of Brand Yourself, says that entrepreneurs, owners, and managers need to go through a process of questioning what works and what doesn’t. They need to ask what’s confusing, what isn’t entirely clear and what doesn’t help with navigation.
They then need to implement usability tests. Kistler recommends grabbing a bunch of random people – customers even – and then sitting them down in front of your website and watching them.
They’ll soon provide feedback on what they liked and what they didn’t. And you’ll get a sense of what is easy to find, what isn’t and how the service can be improved. It’s a good idea to give the usability testers a common goal, like “find a product you like” and then track them to see what difficulties they encounter.
Change things, but slowly
If your website is from the 1990s, then the whole thing probably needs an overhaul. But if you’ve got a more recent website – say one that was built after 2010 – then it’s probably a good idea to make incremental changes. Why? Well, as Dmitry Koltunov from a business that develops hospitality platforms, points out, making many changes at once means that it’s hard to track what does work and what doesn’t.
All too often, businesses will decide that they need a radical new web design. They’ll change a bunch of things in the process, and when they get more traffic to their site, they’ll say “oh, look, it must have been the redesigned website.” But the problem with this approach is that you never find out what actually made the difference. Was it the inclusion of more white space? Was it the better menu system? Was it the quicker loading time?
Koltunov says that a much better approach is to make one change at a time, track the effects and measure results. The reason for this is that not all changes you make will be beneficial. Some changes won’t have a positive effect and may actually harm conversions or traffic. Tracking the performance of small changes means that you can avoid implementing design ideas that hurt your business overall.
Try not to overwhelm the user
One thing that users want is for websites to be as concise as possible. Granted, if you offer a complicated B2B product, this might be difficult, but if you’re a trader or a merchant, it’s a good idea to state that fact, right at the top of the home page. Remember, your site doesn’t have to be complicated to get the message across.
All it has to do is present information in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the user. The problem you solve should be eminently clear from the moment that people visit your website and each page on the site should have one focus. Categorizing things like this makes it much easier for people to navigate your site and understand what it is that you have to offer.
Put yourself in the user’s shoes
Bishnu Nayak from FixStream says that it is important, whenever you can, to put yourself in your users’ shoes. This means that when you do make changes, it’s a good idea to communicate those changes clearly and concisely to your customers. People who visit your site will be used to a particular layout, and so when you make changes, point them out.
Often websites will have such a dramatic redesign as to make them unrecognizable. Even though they might be more responsive and easier to navigate, the lack of familiarity can alienate some users. You don’t want all that time and effort you’ve put into creating a brand to all go to waste, just because your website presentation has changed.
Nayak says it’s a better idea to make changes slowly and to tell end users about any changes you’re going to make before deploying them.
Don’t save the pennies, but waste the pounds
Startups and small businesses are always on the lookout for new ways to save money. But often they can take their money-saving habits too far. Nicholas Thompson from Grit points out that companies will often avoid bringing in experts to build the face of their business because they don’t want to part with thousands of dollars in consulting fees. They see it as an unnecessary expense or a luxury they can’t afford.
But, he says, businesses shouldn’t forget that their website is the face of their company. Even small changes to it can result in thousands, if not millions of new revenue dollars flowing into the firm. He says that it proves that when a redesign is done right, it can boost business. A poorly done redesign, on the other hand, can leave you missing out on much-needed revenue.