User expectations have changed enormously since the internet first achieved mainstream success back in the days of dial-up connections. Back then, it seemed a marvel that anything could work, and matters of good taste fell by the wayside: that’s the only reasonable explanation for why there were so many rainbow-coloured rotating GIFs.
Today, the average internet user is accustomed to a different kind of experience, their standards having been driven by up iterative design improvements and massive increases in the sophistication of hardware and software alike. That makes it harder to compete — you can’t get away with falling short of expectations.
But what goes into a great user experience on the web? What do today’s internet users want and expect, and how can you get your website working optimally? Let’s go through it.
Excellent performance and reliability
You click on a link, then calmly wait for 30 seconds for the page to become functional. Sound unlikely? It certainly is. There’s ample opportunity to find whatever you’re looking for elsewhere on the internet, so if your first-choice site has major performance issues, you can just leave.
Of course, that doesn’t apply merely to speed — it also applies to uptime. When a website goes down, even for a short time, it proves highly frustrating to prospective users. They’re first left wondering if their internet devices are to blame, and then made unsure how long it will be before the site comes back up. It could be a minute, an hour, or a day.
If they’re invested in such a site somehow (they have a user account there, for instance), then they’ll come to question the wisdom of that attachment. Users today require websites to load quickly (whether on desktop or mobile) and be accessible at all times. Prove that your website is reliable (use Google Lighthouse to monitor it) and your brand image will benefit.
Consistent design across web platforms
People don’t just access websites through desktop computers these days. They use PCs, laptops (of all sizes), tablets, and smartphones — what’s more, they expect them all to work together. Imagine that you’re trying to do some online shopping, and you bounce back and forth between the main site on your laptop and the app on your phone: any inconsistency in the design will cause you frustration.
Much of this comes down to the CMS you’re using. If you’re not running an ecommerce site, then a flexible platform like WordPress (suitably updated) will be ideal, but the demand for online sales (particularly at enterprise level) is much stricter. This is where options like WooCommerce (a WordPress plugin) and Shopify enter the equation (here’s a handy comparison to highlight some differences, but they’re both viable).
Beyond having a solid CMS as your foundation, you also need to approach design in the right way. A mobile-first approach is the way to go: you design for the smallest screen, then scale up to fit other sizes. It’s much easier than doing desktop-first, and achieves much stronger results.
A clear navigation and layout
There’s no shortage of digital content around, and the best-performing sites are typically those that offer the most value — but that value needs to be formatted appropriately, or else it will never be found. Imagine that you’ve just arrived at a website and you want to find the content you’re looking for. Can you see how to do that?
You should have options including looking through the main menu, using on-site search, or even reaching out to support for some pointers. And when you find the right page, you should easily be able to follow the layout. It should be clear, straightforward, and attractive, no matter which platform you’re using.
Provide a confusing navigation and a mess of a layout, and you’ll push visitors directly towards your competitors. It may take time to get it right, but the investment is worth it.
Relevant and polished content
Website copy matters — so much so that it’s amazing how commonly people overlook it, assuming for whatever reason that good visuals and solid design principles are enough. Even if you’re looking to take a particular action when you reach a website, you still need contextual confirmation of what you believe to be the case: you need the copy to reinforce that you’re in the right place, and steer you in the right direction.
Think carefully about what your typical visitor might expect to see from your website, and cater the copy accordingly. Do they want to be reassured about security and trustworthiness? Motivated to buy with a compelling pitch? Kept informed with some thought leadership? Give users what they want, and they’ll come back time and time again.
Consistent testing and iterative improvement
The standards of the web aren’t static, so you can’t allow your UX to be. There’s no perfect website that can be placed on a digital plinth, left to flawlessly perform in all circumstances, and a great design today might be wholly unsuitable following a few months of innovation and industry movement. The features we’ve looked at here aren’t set out and ignored — they’re worked on relentlessly as time goes by, updated and polished.
If that sounds intimidating and frustrating, remember that it’s the same for everyone. Your competitors face the same challenge, and are comparably likely to fail to keep up with the pace. If you can find the time, effort and budget to make an ongoing commitment, you can surge ahead with every change, riding the wave while others are driven back.
All of these things (and more) go into a great user experience on the web. As noted, you can’t afford to disappoint with a generic site. If you want traffic, you need to earn it by consistently polishing your website. Keep testing, keep adapting, and you’ll thrive.
This is a guest post from Kayleigh Alexandra at Micro Startups