In this day and age, it is becoming less common for businesses to not have websites. In fact, if you run a business and don’t have a website, you’re already left out and missing a lot of business opportunities! Mobile usage has increased so much over the years and it has become the norm for people to automatically go to a company’s website first to read more information about them and the products/services they offer, prior to engaging with them. I could give you a list of sources with actual statistics to prove this but you only need to look around you to see and know that this is very apparent. Chances are you’ve also adopted the same habit.

Having a website means that your business has a digital presence that can be accessed from anywhere, and also means that it’s a powerful tool which you can use to help your business and your customers. Not only should a website reflect your company’s brand but it needs to be user-friendly! User-friendly can mean many things to many people.

Here are my top five attributes I look at in the very order that when I visit a new website for the first time:

1. Loading Time

‘Does your website load fairly quick or take forever to load?’

Your website loading speed is a big one. Obviously your user’s Internet connection speed depends on where they are, if they’re at home on ADSL (God forbid if anyone is still on dial-up) or if they’re accessing your website on their phone in a rural area, but generally, if your website takes more than 8-10 seconds to load on a normal connection speed, this may pose to be a big issue to your business. People have become used to quick access, so if your website takes a long time to load for your customer, it is likely that they’d get frustrated and move on to a different website such as your competitor.

A handy website to test to see how quickly your site loads is Pingdom. Simply paste in your website URL and start the test.

Things that could make your website slow include:

  • Large images – especially if you have a lot of them on one page. It’s important to keep your website images as low in size as possible. My general rule of thumb would be to try to keep your medium-large images under 200kb per image. Use an image compressor tool like Tinyjpg, which compresses your image size but also retains the image’s quality online.
  • Embedded videos – if you have a video embedded directly to your website, it will take a while to load as the user essentially has to download it first, forcing them to wait till the video has been downloaded completely before they can view the rest of the page. It is better to stream your video with platforms like Youtube or Vimeo, and that way the user can choose to watch the video later without them having to wait for the whole page to load.
  • Slow server – your website could be absolutely fine and low in file size, but where your website is hosted also plays a big factor. Sometimes a cheap hosting deal actually means that you’re sharing the server space with lots of other people (shared server). When there’s lots of traffic going to the server, it could affect the speed of your site and worse case scenario, bring your site down. My advice would be to invest in a decent hosting plan from a reputable company. Always check what their plans offer and if you don’t understand what it means, call their customer support for clarification. A good hosting plan doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay top dollars for it, but a good plan is one with dedicated servers and prioritises speed. I will talk more about this in a future post.
  • Clutter – if you’re using a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress, there could be a lot of clutter on your site that’s not visible to your users, such as unused images, documents, plugins and messy code. Just like your house, it’s important to clear the clutter for your website regularly. I recommend reviewing your website every 3 months and removing whatever you don’t use or need. Speak to a qualified developer who can help to tidy up your website’s code as well.

2. Responsive Design

‘Does your website look good on mobile phones and tablets too?’

This is officially the most important aspect of all websites. The reason being, as I had stated above earlier, is with more people using their mobile phones, it’s more likely a user will access your site on their phones first before a computer, especially when they’re out and about. Users want information there and then, so if your website doesn’t work well on mobile, it could affect your business. So if you’re getting a new website developed, make sure that the designer and developer have accounted for responsive design. When testing your site, make sure you’re looking at it on both your phone and computer.

You can use this awesome Google tool – Mobile-Friendly test – which can help you see how your site looks like too.

Things that could help your website work well on mobile are things like:

  • Functional mobile menu – Make sure your mobile menu works! Keep it simple and make it clear and obvious to the users on how to navigate your website on their phones.
  • Sticky headers, or back-to-top icons – if you have a lot of content on your site that requires lots of scrolling, it’s important to include a way for the user to go back to the navigation easily without having to swipe with their thumb a lot.
  • Resizing – A good mobile site is where your content is resized proportionately to the size of the device screen. If you’re testing your site on your mobile device, you should be able to visually see what is proportionate and what isn’t. Balance is key.
  • Accordions or toggles – again, if you have a lot of content, you can always contain your content into accordions or toggles, which is a nice interactive way for the client to view more content without them having to scroll too much
  • Big buttons – I love buttons, I really do. If the buttons on your site are too small, it’s going to make it hard for the user to navigate. A general rule of thumb, is to size your buttons to your thumb size (no pun intended!). If a button is big enough for your thumb size to press on, it will reduce the likelihood for the user to press on the wrong item in your menu or content. Bigger buttons also make it more obvious to the user that the button is there, and is there for them to click on to go to your call-to-action.

3. Navigation

‘Is it easy to navigate around the information and find what you’re looking for?’

It’s important to keep your navigation simple and straightforward. Nothing is more frustrating when you have to go around in circles trying to find something! Keep your main menu concise: list the most important pages that describe your business and what it offers to your customers, including how they can get in touch with you. If you have a lot of content on your website, consider a secondary navigation that is also easy to use, particularly on mobile.

Other things that you could do:

  • Search function – great for large websites and online stores. This helps the user to key in what they’re looking for quickly instead of browsing endlessly through your site. The latter isn’t always a bad thing though, as the user will get to know your site better, however providing a quick option for the user to get what they want quickly will make them happier and more likely to engage with you.
  • Sticky headers – as mentioned in the previous point about responsive design, this is great if you have a lot of content on one page. This allows the user to easily access the main menu without having to scroll all the way back up.

4. Clarity

‘Is your content clear and are your call-to-actions obvious?’

Everybody stresses about how important content is, but is the content that’s featured on your website quality content? Having a lot of text on a page might help with your SEO ranking and having lots of images might make your website look less boring, but too much content can work against you and sometimes, less really is more.

Here are a few tips:

  • Use of columns – not everything needs to be full-width! Your website isn’t a thesis. Break up the layout of your pages by thinking in columns, including a sidebar also works and allows you to add different types of content in.
  • Accordions/toggles – If you have a lot of content that you absolutely must have, think about breaking them up into smaller chunks. Accordions or toggles provide sneak previews to the information that you have, allowing the user to expand if they want to read more. The interactivity also makes it engaging for the user.
  • Image galleries – this is great way to showcase a number of images in a nice way that doesn’t clutter up the entire screen.
  • Distinguished backgrounds- you can break up your content by having distinguished backgrounds in your content block, which can either be a solid colour, a subtle pattern or a background image. This is a visual way to tell the user the structure and flow of your site, which helps to keep them engaged.
  • Talk to a content specialist – if you’re ever in doubt and not sure how to improve on your content, talk to a content specialist. They’re experts in making the content work for you, and can help you work out a better way for your content to be presented.

Depending on the nature of your business and the key purpose of your website, your call-to-actions are going to vary. Do you want people to be able to book appointments with you? Do you want customers to buy a product from your online store in 5 steps? Or do you perhaps want your customer to give you their email address so that they can receive newsletters about upcoming promotions? These are all different types of call-to-actions that engages with the user, and it’s vital that they’re placed appropriately, are obvious and do what they are supposed to do.

Here are a few tips:

  • Buttons – your button needs to look like a button and stand out. If a button is camouflaged with the background, it doesn’t really speak ‘CLICK ME’ even if you literally put that on the button.
  • Distinguished backgrounds – as above. Distinguished backgrounds visually encourages the user to pay attention to that content block, which is a great way to make your call-to-action more eye-catching.
  • Keep it simple and relevant – for instance, if you need your customer’s details, keep it to a minimum. If you really only need their name and email, only ask them for that.

5. Visuals and aesthetics

‘Is the overall design balanced, clean and genuine?’

I’m a big fan of balanced, clean and simple. Kind of like how people have ‘types’ when they’re in the dating game. Personally I find a good website is one that is straightforward with no frills. This plays a big part with making the user journey smooth and efficient when exploring your site, in which I strongly believe counts for a user-friendly website. I’m also a massive non-admirer of generic stock images. Using generic images might be irrelevant to your content and your business, comes across as impersonal and can affect the user’s experience. Think about all the other people in the world that has the same image!

Here are a few tips:

  • Structure – a good website has good structure and good structure requires balance. Remember that you don’t have to put everything on your site to tell your customers who you are. Like a fancy degustation course, you want to give them a little bit of everything in bite-size morsels so that they can get a decent feel for your business.
  • Hire a professional photographer – the best way to incorporate relevant images on your site is to hire a professional photographer (unless you’re confident that your photography skills are ace). Images featured on a website that are directly of your business shows your users who you really are and what your business is really about. Users will connect with you quicker because they have a better sense of your business through your images. This is the quickest way to building that initial rapport with your customers.
  • Be true to your brand – be honest to your customers and be true to your brand. An ex-employer once taught me “People buy from people they like”. Being honest through your website has a big effect on your customers (as well as shoos the time-wasters away). Remember, your website represents you and your brand and in most cases is a first impression to your customers.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article, and that you now have a better understanding and awareness about what makes a website user-friendly. The list on what makes a website user-friendly can go on and on, but these 5 main things should be plentiful for now. There will be more to come! :)

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I provide consultation on UX for existing websites or platforms.

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