To constantly improve user experience around your business should be a deliberate choice. Ecommerce or not, what all businesses should aim for is to leave a good and lasting impression on their customers.
And while there are many factors that can make that impression bad, there are just as many factors to make it a great one. But because of the great impact of ecommerce, businesses need to dedicate more time and resources reshaping user experience online especially on website apps.
In this article, we will discuss seven essential ways to improve user experience with your website applications.
Rule 1: Start with user flows before designing pages
If you think design is the first step when creating a website application, think again. Before you focus your attention on the aesthetics, start with the app’s user flow first.
While there is always that tendency to focus early on design and information architecture, we must remember that both of these factors should support our user flows. This is the only way we can guarantee that our website application is truly user-friendly.
Begin with your objectives when designing user flow. Try asking yourself – what are the actions do I want my users to do with my web application? What are their desires or needs that my app can satisfy?
Let’s take the Airbnb website for example.
What are possibly some of the actions they want their users to do with their website app?
- To book homes from hosts in the country they are travelling to
- To connect with local hosts from different countries
- To join Airbnb, enroll their home and become a host themselves
What are the desires or needs Airbnb users want to satisfy with the web application?
- To find a local place they can stay in that has the amenities they like and offers the level of comfort they want
- To find the cheapest rates from a list of good choices
- To look for qualified guests to book their homes (if they are joining Airbnb as hosts)
Match your objectives with needs. This is the portion of your user flow where you guide your users from your entry pages and conversion stages to your desired final action. Remember that this final action should provide both value to you and your users.
For instance, your users want to look for a local place to stay in and your goal is for your users to search through your local home listings. At this point, you can say that both of your goals have met.
Start designing your user flows. Aside from visualizing what your user flows will be, it is equally essential to take consider how your users arrived on your website in the first place. And there are plenty of entry points for your users.
It can be through organic search (your website appeared in the search results when a particular keyword is looked up), PPC ads and other paid advertising efforts, social media, email marketing or even a blog post written about your site. Remember that how your users arrived on your website is a clear indication of what their needs and expectations are.
Always take note of where they are coming from. This is also a good part of your user experience research.
For instance, a user arrives on the Airbnb website via search results asking where he can book a home in Tokyo, Japan . A sample user flow can look something like this:
Search result entry → Landing page → Makes a booking
Let’s have another example. If a user wants to make bookings by arriving directly on your site, a sample user flow can look something like this:
Homepage –> Uses search feature –> Manages results and creates booking
When designing your user flows, make sure these are simple to decipher and follow. And for good measure, guide your users as they explore your web app with information or through live chat. This will fill in the possible gaps they will encounter and it will help facilitate their fast conversion.
Rule 2: Concentrate on just a few essential features
Ever heard of the saying “Less is more”? When you keep your website app’s features to the bare essentials, it also manages to load faster.
While there will come a time that your users will request you to add more functionalities, it is still best to limit your number of features. Your website app may be far from perfect, but nevertheless, it still keeps its promise of being useful and functional. Remember that every new feature you add is a chance for your users to get confused.
If your website application can do only one thing, what would it be? Stick to it and it will still work towards web usability.
Rule 3: Stick to design conventions and patterns
It can be very tempting to be unique and be very creative with your website applications, but when it comes to user experience testing, research reveals it is best to stick to design conventions and patterns.
One reason is that these are what most people are already familiar with. If they know what an icon does or what a particular color means, then they will not have any problems knowing what you want them to do. Another reason is since people know what you are trying to say, they will trust you more than doubt your website application.
Like most interfaces you see and use, some design conventions and patterns you can apply on your own web app are the following:
- the use of red when communicating errors and green when a command is approved
- the use of icons like an envelope or a speech bubble icon for messages, a padlock for opening privacy options, a headshot for accessing and managing one’s account and a paperclip for adding attachments
- the placement also of call-to-actions like “Next”, “Submit” and other forward buttons are always placed on the right while “Cancel” and other back buttons are placed on the left
When you stick to these design conventions and patterns, there is no need for your users to learn and relearn something new every time they use your app. Otherwise, it can lead to poor usability and overall low user satisfaction.
Rule 4: Place all related elements in one place
You know a website application has good user experience when its users know where they can find a particular command or information. This is not borne out of intuition, but rather from proper grouping of related elements on the part of the developer.
Remember to place related commands and controls all in one place. For example, Buffer, a social media management tool, places all tools for account management in one place and tagged it sufficiently under ‘My Account’.
Everything that has to do with accessing one’s account from password and time setting to upgrades and browser extensions, a user can do all that under ‘My Account’.
With proper grouping, all the commands you collected together in one place won’t interfere with your app’s other features.
Rule 5: Promise a smooth and easy navigation
Users who are on your website app have a goal and a mission. If they cannot find the information they need to fulfill their goal and mission, it is very likely they won’t return. When your web app navigation is poor, not a lot of people will look forward to using it. Make a smooth and easy navigation for your users one of your priorities during development.
Label every command and feature you have on your web app. For example, Redmart clearly labels the commands on its header bar. The command for customer assistance is aptly labeled as ‘Need help?’.
The options to view one’s shopping cart, to sign up for an account and to log in are properly labelled as well. Its different categories are labelled too according to the general classification of the products.
Ensure your labels are relatable. When coming up with the taxonomy of your navigation system, ask yourself – is it explicit enough for your users to explore your app? Are the meanings of your labels impossible to confuse with other similar words?
It is very different when a business owner labels their own website without doing some verifications first. Let’s take for example these four labels below.
These four labels sound okay, but wouldn’t it be more relatable and easier to understand if all four were to be replaced with “Home”, “Our Products”, “Our Store Locations” and “Reach Us Here” respectively?
Card sorting and word association are two techniques you can use to check if your labels are the keywords your users will most likely relate to with the navigation you have at hand.
Simplify your labels. It is possible that some labels may be crammed with unnecessary words. When there are more words, it is harder for users to understand them. Try checking your navigation labels and see if there are words you can remove without altering your labels’ meanings.
For instance, the labels “Our Products”, “Our Store Locations” and “Reach us Here” above can be simplified with the following labels below.
Taking out the words “Our” and “Here” definitely did not change the meaning of the navigation labels.
Provide help too. And the more unobtrusive it is, the better for your users during app exploration. A small push into the right direction will help your users navigate your website app smoothly.
For example, Tumblr gives its users the freedom to navigate their application and offers help only when it is needed.
Rule 6: Always give your users feedback
When it comes to web usability, it pays to have some sort of dialogue with your users.
Let’s say you are on your mobile phone and you are sending a text message to a friend. After pressing on “Send”, your phone did not provide you with any feedback. Are you sure you were successful in sending your text message?
Of course the answer is no. In fact, you might find yourself writing your message again and sending it until you receive a confirmation. The same applies when it comes to web usability. Your web app buttons should be able to serve two things – work its function and provide feedback that the work was indeed done.
So that your users won’t wonder what’s happening after they clicked on a CTA button, use a loading bar or a spinning loader to inform them that their command is being processed. If there are forms to be filled out on your web app, use checks to confirm their answers.
When you provide feedback, your users will be well aware of what’s going on. They know what to expect and they know what their next steps will be.
Bonus: In the same way that you give feedback to your users as they explore and use your application, make sure that you incorporate user feedback and comments too as you improve your system. Remember – you can only improve user experience by taking note of reported errors and usability issues. And the most effective way to remove all frictions to usage is to hear it from the users themselves.
Have a user experience feedback system in place.
First, start the system by selecting your respondents. Create a screener with at least three to five questions that will serve as both your questionnaire and survey.
Second, identify some of the characteristics you want your respondents to have. Should they be active users of your app with at least 5 hours spent on your app per week? Or is it fine if they are only using your app less than an hour per week? Qualify your respondents carefully so you get the quality of answers you expect.
Third, write your screener using your preferred survey tool or any online form that you have in mind. Assign your screener to your respondents.
And fourth, follow-up with your preferred respondents, schedule an interview and or start creating the actual user experience feedback survey.
Identify user sentiments, know how many are having issues doing specific tasks and measure how your users are able to understand your app as a whole. These insights will definitely form part of your user experience research.
Rule 7: Make conversion goals easy to fulfill
It shouldn’t be difficult to make conversion decisions on the part of your users. Whether that is to create and manage bookings, publish a blog, add a product to a shopping cart, pay for their orders, or continue searching for a product that suits their preferences, your users must be able to do this with as little to no friction as possible.
Search. When you have an excellent search feature on your website app, your users will find what they need quickly. And they are always a step closer to making a conversion. Make your search feature work beautifully by enabling users to look up anything using keywords, images and even through product scanning.
Products. If you are managing an ecommerce website, a sure way for your users to convert is if it is easy for them to make purchase decisions. Make sure they can add products inside their carts, add items to their wish list, find the store nearest them, modify their checkout items or call you up.
Cross-device. Especially if you happen to have a mobile version of your website app, it is crucial that you users can continue their tasks and transition smoothly within different platforms. When all of your touchpoints are easy to access and use, it is easy for your users to convert.
When your conversion goals are easy to fulfill, you can expect a positive surge in your web usability.
And for the smartest rule when you want to improve user experience, don’t forget to test your website app. While these tips are effective at improving web usability, there’s only so much that these can do for you. Your users are unique from one another and therefore are best studied through user experience testing.
Create your testing objectives. Ensure that these are also measurable. Remember that apps need not be perfect for as long as it fulfills your users’ intended goals and requirements.
Process your objectives and identify how reporting will be facilitated. Define your process for user experience testing.
When making your A/B tests, make sure these will help you know how easy it is (or not) for your users to navigate your app. Are the functions of your app intuitive and obvious to your users? Is the design and arrangement of your app easy to follow?
Start unit testing or applying your A/B tests on small portions of your app and then measure your results. Testing web apps may be an overwhelming task, but always stick to your app’s objectives – it will help you stay focused all throughout.
Seek the help of your co-workers too even after testing is finished. A decision to change some parts of your web app is better arrived at when everyone involved in the backend is included.
When you constantly improve the experience of your website app, you make it easier to figure out, it becomes more intuitive and it’s more efficient to use – a winning situation on your end and also your users.