5 User-focused Principles You Need to Apply On your Website
Businesses that aim to grow and expand need a website. Some industries like food can generally do just fine with having a minimal online presence, like using only social media. However businesses in more competitive markets really need a professional website. This not only helps their brand be legitimised, but it ensures they remain competitive, and most importantly, be of value to their users.
What’s the recipe for a successful website?
Well, think of it like baking a cake. You need a plan, you need to prepare your ingredients, you need to let it sit in the oven, and you need to taste it before you serve. It’s easier said than done but hopefully, these principles will help you develop a well-thought-out website that is a pleasure to consume for your users, and like any high calorific content cake, will help you grow and expand.
Solve User Problems
Start by asking “what can I offer my users?” This helps ground your purpose in building a website. You want to have a website built around solving the problems of your target users. Its important to try and maintain this ‘user’ perspective throughout the website development process.
Defining the solutions you want to offer users will define the purpose of anything you want on your website. It will be your ever present and guiding “why”.
Adding page? Define “why”. Wanting functionalities? Again, define “why.”
Every answer to your question should always be primarily for the benefit of your users.
Branding & Content
If you’ve defined what you want to offer your users, you can move on with your branding. This applies to new brands and defined brands alike. Defining your brand will also define how you want users to interact with your brand. It also helps you define how to proceed with your website.
Is your branding information-centric, akin to an online magazine? Are you a retail business trying to break through an online market? Is your brand heavy on user input like a forum?
Brands that need their own unique platform for publication can go with a blog site whereas retailers may find ecommerce functionality necessary for easier user transactions.
Other brands may need a server database for storing user input. Others need bigger server storage if their brand is reliant on rich media.
You want to ask “what does my brand want to achieve?” and plan from there.
What type of website you’ll need depends on what your branding wants to offer users. Think of it as defining your “flavor”. Definitive branding helps give your website a cohesive “taste”.
If you’re new to branding, you can start by creating your own brand DNA. If you already have a brand but it seems to lack a tone, a voice, and other defining characteristics, you need to work on a strong brand personality.
Hand in hand with branding, you want to also build it with your message and content in mind. What you want to say, and how you want to say it can also define how your website can be developed.
Do you want to feature projects? Then opt for layouts with big images. Are you looking to educate and inform? Then consider emphasizing text or integrating video content.
Mix and match your content in the website but keep the layout clean. This article from GoDaddy suggests adding an image for every 350 words that a user needs to scroll through to break monotony.
Simplicity & Consistency
For the uninitiated and the excited, building a website might feel like the opportunity to put “all the things” on their website. One idea can lead to another, and pretty soon you can find yourself looking at a very cluttered homepage.
Steve Krug’s First Law of Usability is “don’t make users think”. Intuitive, familiar, and focused web design takes the guesswork out of user experience. In web design, keeping it simple simply goes a long way.
You’re more likely to choose a cake you know the taste of, like chocolate. Left field ideas do have a market but users are less likely to help themselves to a pesto cake than a chocolate one. The same goes for web design.
Simple designs accomplish a couple of things for users. It helps them easily know and understand what you’re offering. This gives them the agency to decide right away if your brand & offering are what they’re looking for. Reasonable and simple designs are also easy to understand so it’s advisable to stick to conventional designs.
With simplicity comes consistency. Your branding & branded messaging play important roles in this. You want a consistent message throughout your website. You also want users to know they’re still on the same website as they navigate through its pages.
A consistent website layout helps users, especially returning ones, be more familiar with your website and its functions. The two aspects work hand in hand—simple designs help to easily inform, and consistent messaging and design provide familiarity. Together, they can potentially build customer loyalty.
If you haven’t noticed already, every talking point on this article always has a callback to your users. There’s no reason why users shouldn’t be front and center. After all, who else is going to be having a slice of your website?
Users have patterns and behaviours and you want to plan your website to accommodate those.
First of all, keep in mind that users don’t read; they scan. They try to go through content without looking at the details. A well observed prevalence of this behavior is the F-shaped pattern of consuming content.
In the F-shaped pattern of reading, users are most patient to browse the first horizontal area of their eye line. The user’s interest diminishes the farther the user goes down the page.
Plan your content in waves. At the point of diminishing appreciation of your content, a heading may keep the users going. Photos also work in breaking the monotony of big bodies of text.
Aside from breaking visual monotony, we can also use visual hierarchy.
It’s easy to get absorbed into the idea that everything in your website is important. Designing every element of your website with the same emphasis makes it cluttered. This can fatigue your users quickly.
Visual hierarchy helps lead users to perform actions or consume content based on their visual importance. Think of it as a priority list of what users should see first, and then next, and so on.
Your visual hierarchy is best determined by what your users need, not necessarily what you want to prioritize. You can use this initial hierarchy and work through it:
- Show what you’re offering or what you’re about
- Give details on your core offering
- Show your other offerings in a nuggets of information
- Let users know of additional functions on your website
While it isn’t a perfect hierarchy, it’s a springboard you can refine to suit your users better.
Now that your users are better acquainted with your website, you want them to explore without hassle. This is where navigation comes on.
You want users to be able to navigate your other pages from wherever they are on your website or pages. Some best practices used to include always having a sticky burger menu (typically three horizontal stripes). While that works for subpages, modern UX designers have dropped using burger menus from homepages altogether.
In lieu of burger menus, modern websites have dropdown menus that have text labels. This simultaneously helps users understand the website at a glance. Labeled menus also inform users of where to click relative to their intent.
Every aspect of optimising for user convenience leads up to cognitive load reduction.
Like previously mentioned, you don’t want users to think. You want them to see, understand and do what feels “natural” to them. Cognitive load reduction means we want users to understand but not overthink. Maximise the content, elements, and layout of your website to keep users informed. However, you should hold back on giving too much visual information that can make users overthink or bore them.
With each step of trying to refine your website, you hopefully arrive at getting customer loyalty. Different from brand loyalty, customer loyalty is the sum of enjoyable experiences customers associate with your brand. Customer loyalty is the likelihood of a user to return because of an enjoyable experience.
They’re staying because they’re happy, not because it’s branded.
On the other hand, brand loyalty is the affinity of customers to relate to a brand. While the difference between the two merits a different discussion on its own, we want to claim it: customer loyalty beats brand loyalty. A good website experience across the board is one of the many building blocks of a good customer loyalty campaign.
Users always want to have their cake and eat it too. Make it so it’s easy for them to do it.
Speed & Functionality
The best assumption we can make about the average internet user is that they have no time to waste. You know this. We know this. We are, after all, users by default.
You want crisp visuals and readably blown up texts on your website. What you don’t want is your website loading one second too late. Slow loading can be because of how huge your assets are or poor load management.
Users won’t wait for you to bake a cake; their piece has to be ready when they want it.
Post-development, you want to test your website’s load speeds and input delays. By industry’s standards, your pages should load in less than 3 seconds.
You also want input delay to be at 100millisecond or less. More than 100milliseconds, users might think that their click didn’t count or your website is having errors.
If you’re building a website that performs a lot of functions, always test these functions yourself. By the time you hear a user voice their concern that your login, or checkout, or form submission portal isn’t working, you might have already lost a hundred other users that didn’t complain.
Testing your website’s functions will proactively help you diagnose and act on potential problems. It also helps you get a better perspective on how the user experience is. You can change some elements, positioning, colors, or texts to improve user experience based on your own experience.
Creating a website isn’t rocket science but it isn’t a piece of cake either. It’s not easy but it’s doable.
If there’s anything we can compare it to, it’s like baking a cake! It’s not an exact science, there are a lot of ingredients & steps, and you might even fail the first time you try it.
At the end of the day, when the oven rings, when the icing sets, and after you put the cherry on top, the only thing you want is for your guests to be delighted by it. If you get your recipe right, users will be hungry for more.