Every day we access several new or familiar sites and encounter some different experiences. Sometimes, you may have pleasant and average ones, but if you are unfortunate, you get downright terrible experience.
What is it that makes one experience better than another?
A site doesn’t have to be the pinnacle of fantastic design; it doesn’t have to have more information than Wikipedia; all it needs (and not to understate how difficult this is) is a good user experience.
Now to develop a straightforward and simple user experience is something that can take a considerable amount of work – if not, then companies like Apple would have a lot more competition – but there are lots of little things you can do to try and help out your users, and something that doesn’t have to take up a lot of time or money on your end.
People often say it’s the little things that count – the same is true of user experience on the web; each little change or optimization you make really can have a big impact on your users.
Here are a few things you can do to make the experience that much better for your users:
1. More "Sign Up" Options
Let me sign up with whatever method I see fit: Email Address, Username, Open ID, Twitter or Facebook login, etc. You want users on your site.
You want to make the signup process as easy as possible. The easier it is, the more users that will sign up.
It’s that simple.
2. More "Sign In" Options
Let me sign in however I want. I don’t care if you make me use both a username and email address when signing up, but you should still let me sign in with both of them.
3. Avoid Limiting Password Length
Don’t ever limit these fields for pointless reasons. I was signing up to a site recently and came across the following error: “Your password must be between 6 and 8 characters”.
Ok, maybe less than six means the password isn’t secure enough, but I can’t have a password longer than eight characters? Really?
4. Sending Confirmation Email
Do you need an email confirmation? Yes, some sites probably should confirm your email address, but there are a ton that doesn’t need to, and yet still ask me to confirm. At least if you are going to ask me to verify my address, let me play around with your web app/site/whatever first and see the value in it.
Of course, you could send me an email to confirm my signup, so we all know I entered the right email address.
5. CAPTCHA Field
Do you need a CAPTCHA?
A CAPTCHA is an often incomprehensible text you find in many signs up forms and a range of other strange locations. I’ve discovered airlines that want me to enter a CAPTCHA when checking their pricing.
Someone tried to explain it to me as a method to stop their competitors checking their airfares, but is it worth stopping people from being able to check themselves, or sign up to your site?
If you do need a CAPTCHA, ensure that it’s one that people can read, or try coming up with some interesting questions of your own – a China oriented site, I frequently use a range of questions such as ‘What is the capital city of China.’ If someone has made it this far in your signup process, you don’t want to prevent them from signing up now.
6. Sign Up & Sign In: Same Page
Make it as simple as possible: On the signup page, let me choose login. On the log in page, let me choose signup. On the home page, make both of these options visible.
The quicker and easier I can accomplish something, the more likely I am to do it.
7. Avoid Redundant Questions
Don’t ask for unnecessary details: Do you need my address? Do you need my postcode (which we barely even use in New Zealand)? Why are you asking me all these questions? I want to sign up! Keep it to the bare minimum, please.
8. Be Sociable
Try and make it social: You should like publicity – it’s good for you, and it’s helpful for me to be able to share it with my friends. Just about every man and his dog are on Facebook these days, and a pretty good number are on Twitter as well.
Are there more relevant options for your site too? Add these as well. A few buttons here and there isn’t going to hurt you, and the more others can get the word, the better it is for you.
9. Fail Gracefully
More or less every website has bugs, every web site will fall over at one time or another, and your users will always find a way to break something you didn’t think of in advance.
You might not be able to predict all of the different ways that things will go wrong, but you can make it so that when things do go wrong, people will be able to find the information they are looking for.
Make helpful 404 pages that link to relevant information and have a search bar. Make it easy for me to reset or get a reminder if I forget my password. At least if you are going to fail (which is more or less inevitable), try and fail well.
10. Logical User Interface
Think about how your users are going to interact with your site.
What information is essential? What information are they looking for? How do other sites of the same genre lay out the information?
Do some usability and A/B testing to see what information you can find. Tweak and optimize your site. A little experimentation will go a long way and lead to much better user experience.
Testing your website throughout the design process, creating personas, and constant feedback is your friend.
11. Know Your Users
You (should) know your users – their interests, their style, things they are interested in… Use this information to your advantage: a design for them, make the layout for them, think about wording that they will understand. Knowledge is power, after all.
12. Think About Goals
What are you trying to achieve with your site? How can your website help you accomplish your goals?
Make a list and see how your site compares. Ask your users and see how your site compares. Does your site meet these goals? If not, how can you make changes to meet your own and users’ expectations?
13. Good content
This is very obvious, but the amount of sites with terrible content, terrible style, atrocious spelling and grammar, and generally just poorly written content is astounding.
At the very least, try and run a spelling and grammar check over it, and if you can ask a friend, workmate or relative to have a read through it for you. It’s surprisingly easy to miss mistakes in your writing.
There are plenty of forums you can find on the internet to get inspiration for writing, get your writing critiqued, and get great tips. Make the most of it.
14. Keep It Fresh
There’s nothing worse than coming to a site and finding years old content wallowing on the blog. Even making small updates keeps things fresh.
Feed into your website from your Twitter feed. Link to news or content relevant to your site. Do something, and your users (and Google) will love you for it.
15. Make It Fun
Think about how you can develop more of a community around your site and how you can make your site or app part of your users’ daily internet flow.
If the experience is more enjoyable, people will keep coming back and recommend it to friends as well.
There are lots of ways to do this, but I think the way StackExchange gives badges, reputation, and extra functionality, the more you use and contribute to the site is a great motivator. Would something like that work for you? It certainly makes users want to return.
16. Use Social Proof
Do you have hundreds or thousands of followers on Twitter or your Facebook fan page? Make the most of them, and show the numbers on your site.
Even if you’ve only got a few followers, showing them on your website can help to build trust, help to market your site, and also helps integrate your site into your users’ everyday flow.
17. Make It – Not Suck
Ok, this can be somewhat subjective, but at least try and make it not offensive to the eyes and other senses.
Think about how you can make it easily readable, easy for people to scan information. Try and make the most relevant content to stand out. Try and make sure you have all the information that will help people decide to use your site.
Again, it doesn’t have to be the pinnacle of design, but making it not suck takes it a long way towards being a more functional website.
18. Usability Test
I can’t stress this enough, and it really doesn’t matter what stage of the process (from an idea in your head to a website that’s been live for years) your website is at, it’s always a good time to get out and do some testing.
Even if your testing shows you have a perfect website, you still can’t rest on your laurels – the way people are using the internet is continually changing – look at the increased use of touch screens and mobile that’s currently going on – and if testing shows up some issues, do something about them and get them fixed as soon as you can.
Keep testing on a regular (monthly to a quarterly basis for existing sites that are working well) to ensure everything keeps running smoothly.
19. Use Feedback
When you get feedback from your users, keep track of it, use it, make the most of it. If someone has gone to the effort of giving you feedback, they are interested enough in your site to care.
You don’t necessarily have to take every suggestion your users offer. Still, if you get lots of comments about certain aspects of your site, it’s time to consider doing something about it.
20. Do It – Now!
The worst thing you can do after reading all this is not to do anything about it. After you’ve finished reading this, pick just a couple of points to try and get yourself started.
If every day you choose one or two ideas to try out, it could take only a few minutes of your time, but lead to a massive return for your site. Make your website better, one step at a time.
Great! Now What?
Each of these steps in and of itself is a relatively quick, simple thing to get up and started. Each one can make a big difference to the experience your site has to offer.
The better the background of your website, the more people will use it, the more they will recommend it to their friends, the more they will invest in it in terms of both time and money.
Take on a couple of steps at a time, and keep tweaking your site. Keep usability testing as you continue to make changes in your website to ensure you are providing the best experience you possibly can.
A more useful web does start with you. As more designers and developers start focusing on usability and user experience, it will lead to a better internet experience for all of us. Now isn’t that a grand goal to work towards?