Our world is getting progressively more digital, which means businesses need to be adapting to that landscape in order to compete online. At the heart of your marketing digital strategy is your website. There are many factors to consider when designing or optimizing your website, but one of your top priorities should be creating a site that is user-centric.
Creating a user-centric website is a key component of whether your visitors stay on your site and peruse your content and services or if they leave and visit a competitor’s site instead. As a digital strategy agency, we’ve seen, built, and optimized countless websites and can say firsthand that user experience plays a crucial role in the success of your website.
What is a User-Centric Website?
A user-centric website is one that is designed and built with your user’s preferences and needs in mind. It’s easy for visitors to navigate, enjoyable to read, and delightful to look at. According to HootSuite’s Digital 2020 report, the average internet user is spending 6 hours and 43 minutes a day online. With so much of our interaction, research, and consumerism happening online, having a website with a positive, curated user experience is crucial to ensure that you’re attracting some of that digital attention.
While we often think that we’re designing websites with our users in mind — that’s who’s viewing them, of course! — oftentimes that’s not the case. Websites are built to represent a business, which means there are many voices in the room contributing to the design, content, and development.
Designing and building a user-centric website is a balance between general web development best-practices and actual data about how users are interacting with your site. And creating a well-designed website shouldn’t be the end of the project, either. Your website should be continually and regularly optimized to cater to your user.
What Makes a Website User-Centric?
Creating or optimizing a website for user experience depends, unsurprisingly, on your users. People expect a different experience from a social media site than they do from their bank. There isn’t a one-size-fits all design that checks off the user-centric box, although there are best practices you’ll want to have in place. To tailor your website to your user’s needs and preferences, you’ll need to take a look at user and content data, ensure your website is easy-to-use on all devices, provide valuable content, and make your content, products, and services easy to find for users and search engines.
Mobile accounts for half of all web traffic worldwide. Which means that your website needs to look as good and be as functional on a mobile device as it does on a desktop. Responsive web design has been a buzzword for awhile, but many websites are still hard-to-navigate, have images that don’t resize, and are hard to read on mobile. If we know that half of all web traffic is happening on a cell phone, why isn’t every website optimized for mobile?
Having a fully-responsive website can be challenging in some cases. If your website is outdated it may not have been designed with responsivity in mind, and adding responsiveness to a website that wasn’t designed for it can be clunky. Websites with large amounts of content can also find it challenging to offer readers streamlined navigation (although it can be done — look at HubSpot, who have made a business of providing extensive valuable content to their customers and have an easy-to-use mobile site). The pain points of implementing a fully-responsive website may deter some businesses, but a frustrating user-experience for 50% of your digital visitors is likely sending people away from your website, content, and services.
To create a user-centric website, all the content available — from descriptions of your business and services to blog posts — should have good readability and speak to your target audience. Readability describes how easily understandable a piece of content is. There are a number of components that factor into readability, from design to the structure of the content.
Structurally, there are a few best practices to keep in mind when creating or optimizing content for readability. Lots of long, wordy sentences are hard to read and so are lengthy paragraphs with few line breaks. Readability is particularly important for technical or niche industries, where the content matter might not be common knowledge. Tools like Grammerly, the Yoast WordPress plugin, and SEMrush can help check your content’s readability.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Your website visitors are visiting your site for a reason, whether they’re looking to learn from the valuable content you offer, find an answer to a question, or buy your products. A website designed with your user in mind is one that makes it easy for each user to find exactly what they’re looking for. To do that, you need to cater to one of the most commonly-used methods of finding information in this day and age — the search engine.
Optimizing a website for SEO is a topic that could fill a whole book. (We’re not kidding! We have a blog about improving your SEO campaign, a podcast about balancing user experience and SEO, and an ebook covering SEO mistakes to avoid with a website redesign). Suffice it to say, SEO determines where you rank in search engine results and can be the difference between many users seeing and interacting with your content and very few doing so. Factors that users like in a website — fast loading times, mobile responsiveness, and readability — also contribute positively to SEO.
The design of your website likely aligns with your branding and utilizes your company’s colors, fonts, and logos, which is important for maintaining a cohesive brand identity but can impact your responsiveness and content readability if not styled with accessibility and user experience in mind.
The biggest design snafus that impact user experience are typically images, fonts, and color choices.
- Images: Images should always be responsive and feature alt text. This helps your website responsiveness, SEO, and caters to visitors who use screen-readers.
- Color Choice: While your brand colors may look great in your logo, heavy use of color on a website can cause contrast problems. Contrast refers to how differently two colors appear when next to each other, and is very important for readability and accessibility. You can use a contrast checker to see how easy your website text is to read.
- Fonts: If you’ve ever perused fonts options you know that there are so many fonts out there. While bold fonts can add interest to logos or headers, most of the content on your website should be in an easy-to-read, simple, consistent font.
Using User Data
Along with general user experience best practices, we’ve mentioned using data to optimize your website specifically for your target audience and site visitors. There are a few different ways you can gather that data. A great place to start is with a website audit. An audit looks at all the components of your website, from SEO to user experience to content, and can shine a light on areas for improvement. Here’s how you can conduct your own website audit.
Your Google Analytics data can provide useful information about how users are visiting your site and which web pages are seeing the most traffic. Tools like Hotjar can help you understand user behavior and where your site visitors are clicking. The more you use data to influence your user experience updates, the more likely you are to be making changes that actually improve your users’ experiences.
The typical model for website design and development is a long one. It can take months to have a new or updated site built and ready to launch. And once a website has been created, it is often left relatively untouched for years until it becomes out-of-date and a new website is built to replace it. Not only is this frustrating for organizations to continually be shelling out large up-front costs for a website that takes months to create, it also leads to poor website optimization when strategic planning for your site is only happening every few years. In the same way that your marketing strategy is constantly changing, your digital strategy and website should be updated often, too.
The digital landscape is continuously changing and your website should be changing with it. Growth-driven design transforms the way websites are made and maintained so that your site is continually working for your business and your users as best as possible with regular enhancements based on data-driven digital strategy.
Wow, that was a lot to cover. Digital strategy is a big topic, and it’s one we like to talk about. Whether you’re considering how to optimize your existing website or looking to build a new one, we’d love to help you navigate the ins and outs of building an effective digital footprint for your organization.