Effective websites are usable websites. The ease of use and efficiency with which your website communicates with readers will make or break your online venture. If your web content is inaccessible, hard to read, or difficult to navigate, your visitors will quickly bounce.
Seventy-nine percent of mobile users, for example, will search for another site if the first one they visit is not optimized for mobile.
What you communicate is important. So is the way in which you do so. Here are 7 ways to improve your online content’s usability.
1. When it comes to choices, sometimes less is more
While it may be tempting to provide your customers with a plethora of choices, sometimes less is more. Too many choices can overwhelm, confuse and turn readers away. A good rule of thumb is to provide 5 +/- 2 options at most. People tend to feel much more comfortable and confident with their decision when presented with fewer choices. For example:
- Only feature a select number of pieces in your newsletters and blog homepage at a time
- Limit your primary navigation bar to no more than seven links where possible
- Limit the number of social media sharing buttons in your content
- Avoid providing too many purchasing options for your customers
- Limit too many visual options. Numerous tests indicate that static imagery outperform sliders with respect to conversion rates.
2. Make Your Content Skimmable
Readers are on a webpage for a reason. They’re looking for something. If they don’t immediately get a sense that they will find what they’re looking for due to your use of giant blocks of text, they will likely bounce. So, ensure that your content is skimmable to improve the user experience so they can more easily hone in on what they want to know.
In an eye-tracking study done by Nielson Norman Group, users have a reading pattern that is similar to the shape of an F. They tend to read headings and then skim the first few words of each paragraph. Another study claims that most users only read about 20% of the words on a webpage.
To ensure users are getting the most out of your content, make sure it’s easily skimmable/scannable with:
- Big headings
- One idea per paragraph
- Concise bullet points
- No walls of text
- Lots of white space
3. Ensure your Audience Can Find You
Having excellent content is one thing. But if your prospects can’t find your site in the first place, or the content that’s relevant to them if they do, then they can’t read or get value from it, and neither can you. Make sure your content is findable by optimizing your website in full, from site speed to navigation, from your URL structuring, to your sitemaps, and more. You can further improve your visibility investing wisely in paid acquisition.
An oldie but a goodie reads as follows; ‘F’ comes before ‘U’ in the alphabet, and online. If they can’t Find you, they won’t Use you. I’d like to amend that only slightly and suggest that findability is rather a key component of the bigger idea of usability in our increasingly digital world.
4. Produce High-Quality Content
A lot of time and effort goes into creating high-quality content. Therefore, it is important to remember to COPE – create once, publish everywhere to maximize your reach. You’ll find that each of these components of usability best practice supports one or more of the others. In this case, high quality, original content supports findabliity (including accessibility), and skimmability as already discussed fulfills two of the top ten best practices for creating meaningful content; the other eight are as follows:
- Speaking to your users pain point and needs
- Speaking about benefits first, features later
- Using the jargon and language common to your target market to better identify with them
- Create hierarchically relevant navigation with clear anchor text
- Be intentional with the content that you create, if it doesn’t serve a purpose other than fluffing your word count, cut it out
- Be current. Be factual. Be transparent
- Be consistent. Following style guides, both for language and design, helps people understand and learn what you are trying to communicate
- Do your homework, content should drive site design, nit the other way around, and content should be created to meet your users core needs and objectives
5. Design for Emotion
People are emotional. And they love a good story. Naturally, storytelling is a highly effective way to engage with your readers, to better connect with them, to appeal to their emotions, to engender loyalty.
Growth in the number of brands embracing emotional storytelling has spiked recently as more of the big players are recognizing the importance of associating their brand with positive emotions. Storytelling is key to this shift. People relate to life stories, much more so than promotional or feature-stuffed content. When it comes to a video advertisement, which people have a choice to view, or skip, they would rather be told a story they can relate to than have products pushed at them. This is a great example from the giant that is Google.
Consider this Google Chrome advertisement from 2009:
Smart, no doubt. Informative? For sure! But… a little dry perhaps? Not exactly a fuzzy moment … Now what about this one, “Dear Sophie”, created a few years later…
This one was tear jerker, in a good way. It became a viral sensation and has nearly 11 million view to date, that’s almost 10x more than its predecessor. Who said emotions were a bad thing?
The biggest way to appeal to emotions is visually. We are emotional creatures. We are also visual creatures. Check it out…
In a nutshell, use emotive, connotative images to engage, compel and funnel to and through your cart.
6. Create a MVE: Minimum Viable Experience
Users want to find information quickly. In addition to optimizing your content, part of full optimization includes design, and you do this by reducing noise and clutter. Take out anything that doesn’t serve a purpose. If it doesn’t help the user to get to where they’re going the quickest possible way, get rid of it. This is especially important for mobile users. Slow loading pages, interstitials and pop-up ads will distract and frustrate users. If you think ‘mobile-first’ you’re well on the way to achieving an effective MVE for your users.
Make it as easy as possible for your site visitors to follow and share your content by providing easily accessible social media buttons. Doing this will not only increase your visibility, but it would also improve the user experience. If the content is relevant to your readers, it will likely be relevant to their social circles. A study done by the New York Times revealed the following as motivations for why consumers are sharing online content:
- To bring value and entertainment to others
- To define themselves and others
- To nourish relationships
- To be relevant and involved
- To spread information on causes or brands
Make quotes, images, reviews, descriptions – everything that might be shared – make it incrementally sharable so that your users can engage with your brand, get feedback on their choices, and reaffirm their decisions with their peer networks – it all adds up to user confidence and satisfaction – all part of the usability universe.
Quality Content is Meant to Be Seen
A significant amount of time and resources go into producing great content, but without an audience, that effort is wasted. It is therefore essential that your user e2e experience is optimized, seamless and contiguous. Following these tips will help you make the most of your amazing content.