As anybody who runs a website for their business will tell you - getting relevant traffic is hard.
But do you know what’s even more difficult than this? Engaging your visitors sufficiently to make them take action.
All the traffic in the world is pointless if you do not provide a good user experience. This means ensuring you respond to visitor needs with the right content, at the right times. In the web industry this is referred to as UX (user experience) design and in this article we will look at three areas to consider when trying to improve the UX of your website.
These areas are:
- UX design principles
- Software for UX designers
- UX testing
UX design principles
Design trends come and go but good, solid practices tend to stand the test of time. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail about UX design best practices, but instead, we’ll touch on two methodologies.
First is the agile development approach. This methodology takes on many different forms, but from a UX perspective, it is about adopting a mindset which means your website is constantly a work in progress. It means that you are responsive to feedback, willing to test your ideas and put readers at the heart of what you do. It means you constantly question your website structure and content and seek to continuously improve.
Secondly is the KISS principle, an approach rooted in the idea of simplification (it literally stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid). The thinking behind this leads one to cut thrugh the noise and confusion and seek the simplest possible solution to a problem.
These two principles combined are at the heart of the UX designer’s toolkit. A good UX designer is not afraid of iteration and always seeks simplicity. In the next section, we’ll take a look at what software you can use to best inform your UX decisions.
Software for UX designers
The word “designer” in this context is a bit of a red herring. Design often implies the creation of visual assets but we’re talking about using more than aesthetics. UX designers - even the ones who actually produce visual materials - are more concerned with how people interact with their work. In this section, we’ll look at some software which can be used to understand and improve your website’s UX.
Hotjar is a tool that enables website owners to collect feedback from their visitors through a rating widget, polls and surveys. But its most powerful feature can be found in its screen recording functionality.
Hotjar records anonymous user sessions, helping you to pick up on UX issues
The screen recording is anonymous and any sensitive data entered into forms is obscured, but what Hotjar lets UX designers do is see exactly how people are using their website. In some instances, you notice the visitor’s mouse pointer following lines to text, which indicates they are reading the content. In other instances you see visitors leave the page almost instantly. This is incredibly useful information for UX designers and has helped us in the following ways:
- We noticed a visitor exit the inquiry form because too many of the fields were required, so we changed this to make only the absolute necessary fields required
- We discovered a broken mail to link that the user repeatedly clicked on to no avail (this was particularly heartbreaking!)
- A mobile user tried to visit the page they were already on, because our mobile menu did not highlight the current page, so we jumped in a fixed this quickly.
For small websites Hotjar is free and provides a limited number of screen recordings, but just a few dozen recordings can uncover plenty of UX issues that you can fix quickly.
Much like Hotjar, Beacon records visitor activity. Unlike Hotjar Beacon presents visitor actions in a chronological list, giving details of what happened on each page. For example, if a visitor completed a form, downloaded a file or made a purchase, this whole journey is captured in Beacon.
Where Beacon comes into its own is in the way it measures traffic from specific sources. Marketers create unique “Beacon Links” to specific pages and analyze visitor behavior from each source. How is this valuable for UX designers? It provides context. For example, a marketer could create dozens of links for a single campaign, and these could be used in separate emails, social posts or paid ads. UX designers can then see which source yielded the most engaged traffic, and make adjustments for sources that underperform.
Beacon shows visitor actions from individual short URLs
MindNode is an iOS tool intended to help you “visualize your ideas”. It is particularly useful in the UX planning stage because it helps to formalize ideas in a coherent way. For us, it is the next step after pen and paper, and the first piece of software we use to design and communicate website structure with clients.
MindNode lets you rapidly build out content structure and flow for your web design projects
The tool is essentially a site-mapping piece of software with added sophistication. You can easily link blocks together, colour-code items and work collaboratively.
Alas, all the software in the world can only tell you so much about what is happening. To truly get a deep insight into how people are using your website, you need to work with them. This can be daunting, and depending on how you implement it, expensive. But there are cost-effective approaches, too. Let’s outline three ways you can perform UX testing at your organization.
If you want a mostly hands-off solution to gathering feedback from prospective customers, then a service like
Running user testing workshops at your office location can be beneficial because you have more control over who is involved in the testing and it can cost significantly less then using an online service. Provide a test script for participants, take no more than 20 minutes of their time and give a store gift card as thanks. This approach requires more time and as you can imagine, it is more hands-on, but the outcome can be highly valuable for UX designers and marketers as they uncover the strengths and weaknesses of their website. Steve Krug’s book Rocket Surgery Made Easy helps with getting this set up and running.
Early testing can help to determine crucial user journeys and uncover issues in business logic
Enlist the help of a testing agency
This option is a halfway house between the first two - get a local agency to recruit participants and conduct UX testing on your behalf. This is likely the most costly of all options due to the use of specialist equipment (i.e. eye tracking hardware), trained staff and the level of insights that can come from a session. Hiring a UX testing agency is probably the privilege of larger organisations, but insights can make the difference between an effective website and one that doesn’t quite cut it.
Engage your visitors through well-planned UX
At the top of this article we talked about how important it is to engage visitors on your website. Without some stimulation or incentives, visitors will drop off shortly after they leave, and if you’re spending money on getting traffic, it can be costly to not convert some of it. But by bringing into action the principles of iterative development and regular testing, you can develop a website full of content that your readers will love.
Matt Saunders is the founder and owner of Charity Box, a web design agency for UK charities. Matt works with his clients to provide websites for charities that energise supporters, increase donations and support charity staff.