7 tips to optimise your website UX
The digital world is forever evolving, with new frameworks, new devices, and ever-changing user expectations. What may have been considered good practice one year, can the next year send you whizzing down the Google search result rankings and desperately searching for answers. One of the areas of website development that has changed a lot in recent years is ‘User Experience’. UX, if you don’t know, is all about how your users view and interact with your website, from the nature of the content, to the tools you make available to help them navigate the site.
A few weeks ago I attended a fantastic series of eCommerce workshops to brush up on the latest UX best practices. And by eCommerce, we’re talking about all and any of the conventions used for selling stuff online – not just clothes and microwaves, but tickets, subscriptions and memberships too. Twelve hours of Zoom calls and some 4,000 slides later, I’m here to share some of the key takeaways with you (along with a couple of my own thrown in)…
Translate everything into a different language
This is an age-old technique – translate all of the copy and interface components into a different language, preferably a language with a different alphabet (e.g. Arabic or Japanese), and see whether you can correctly identify what the messaging and component labels are. Users should be able to recognise what’s what at a glance. If you’re having to think twice about what a line of text or button might be, ask yourself why, and what you might change to make things clearer.
Here’s an example – the John Lewis website… in Arabic:
Can you identify the ‘add to basket’ button on this somewhat overpriced non-stick 12-cup silicone yorkshire pudding mould baking sheet (yes, this is a baking sheet designed for yorkshire puddings). What do you think all the other components say? Can you spot the delivery information? What do you think the text below the buttons is?
Here’s the real deal so you can see how well you did:
Explain why you need the data
Users are becoming more conscious of the possible implications of sharing their data online, and as such, are increasingly keen to understand how the data they share will be used. A user checking out online, confronted with a required field for their phone number but without an explanation for why the organisation requires it, are likely to do one of two things: provide their phone number but change the last few digits so that they can’t be contacted (this is the favoured way of dummifying data), or abandon the checkout flow altogether. Both of these things are less than ideal, but the solution is simple: first, make sure you actually need to collect this data (and if you don’t, stop asking for it); second, explain to the user why you need it and how you will use it. A simple ‘we’ll only use this to contact you if there’s a problem with your order’ goes a long way.
Analyse your conversion rate by time
Conversion rates tend to be pretty abstract. Generally, they’re useful to measure how successful the changes you make to your website are, rather than as an absolute measurement of quality. It’s useful to understand that conversion rates often change depending on the time of day, and this can tell you quite a bit about your users that may be useful in terms of how and when you market to them. The reason being that abandonment rates are often tied to particular days of the week and times of the day. Why? Because users are simple human beings, and are therefore more likely to be tired in the evenings (and thus less likely to follow through longer checkout processes, particularly those that might involve communicating with others), have very little time in the middle of the day (because they’re more likely to be at work), but a lot more time at the weekends.
For an average eCommerce site (and of course this can vary between industries), the best conversion rates can be found on Friday mornings (11am), Monday evenings (8pm), and Sunday evenings (8pm). Trends in the arts and culture sector can of course vary quite a bit due to the schedule of on-sales throughout the year, but Sunday evenings show consistently higher conversion rates across organisations, as users get round to actually booking those tickets before the start of the working week.
Users are less likely to use tabs on mobile
Most of us are familiar with the concept of having too many tabs open (how is there not a word for this?!). It’s our most popular method of setting something to one side for later. But of course, on mobile opening that extra tab is a bit harder.
Opening multiple tabs is also a common user method for comparing options before purchasing – whether it’s comparing clothes products, or the availability of different performances for an event. When trying to switch between options, a bad mobile experience would be to force the user to dive into a particular option, and then step back again to select an alternative. A better solution would be to give them a means of moving to an alternative option without having to go back.
Users often browse on a mobile, buy on a desktop
A common eCommerce trend for higher-value purchases (which is also a common trend among arts and culture organisations) is to have a higher proportion of mobile users visiting your website when compared to desktop, but a higher proportion of desktop users actually buying stuff. This isn’t necessarily because your checkout is particularly cumbersome on a mobile, but may instead be because of a user’s pre-conceived notion (based on experience) that it’s easier to check out on a desktop computer than on a phone. Of course it’s important to optimise the checkout experience as much as possible for mobiles, but with many higher-value purchases (or ‘considered’ purchases), it’s worth thinking about how to enable the user to more easily pick-up a session started on a phone on their desktop computer, e.g. by sharing a link with themselves.
Users spell things wrong
This may seem obvious, but is often overlooked. It’s particularly true when it comes to the more obscure event titles. Some search functions have a certain level of fuzziness built in – this is where the search function has been built to pull in results that don’t identically match the query the user has submitted. This is great for catching minor spelling mistakes, or for looking at the individual words in a query rather than just the query as a whole. However, if your search queries aren’t natively fuzzy enough, if possible it’s worth trying to index some of the most common wrongly-spelt versions of the names you can think of.
Validate your assumptions
Every website’s audience is different, and so sometimes the only way of validating your assumptions about what does or doesn’t work well is to test the usability of a particular website feature with users. But even if it’s only to inform what’s worth testing, it’s a good idea to check out the research and case studies that are available online for the particular use case you’re exploring.
There’s a wealth of useful stuff out there, some perhaps more reliable than others, but here’s a good starting list:
Baymard Institute (baymard.com)
Some incredibly in-depth reviews of eCommerce design and best practices, with really detailed analysis of hundreds of American eCommerce sites. Note though, that best practice in the States may vary to those in Europe depending on regulations and common practice.
Nielsen Norman Group (nngroup.com/articles)
A really useful reference for some of those hotly discussed best practice debates. As with any resource, it’s worth noting the date the article was published, as best practices can change drastically over time and older articles may no longer be so relevant. As with everything, try and find a couple of references, and never take the position of an article on an issue as gospel truth.
Laws of UX (lawsofux.com)
A great resource for a more scientific understanding of UX, exploring some of the laws and concepts that should underpin good design thinking.
Smashing Magazine (smashingmagazine.com/articles)
CSS Tricks (css-tricks.com/archives)
Detailed overviews of the latest styling trends, but also lots of really insightful UX reviews of common practices to avoid or aspire to.
Mozilla Developer Documentation (developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web)
Great for checking the latest coding best practices, e.g. for accessible HTML attributes.
W3 Accessibility Guidelines (www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag)
This is the place to go for the accessibility guidelines. A few things to note – not every country enforces accessibility at the same level, and the minimum requirements can vary between governments. As always, you should strive for the highest level of accessibility, always – but that doesn’t mean the W3 guidelines aren’t flawed. Some of them, for example, are based on algorithms that cannot always accurately represent what is and isn’t the most accessible solution for users, e.g. colour contrast. Sometimes the only solution is to ask your users what works best for them.
User Experience Design will continue to evolve as technology develops and user expectations change. A lot can change in the digital world in a relatively short space of time, and so it’s important to continue to review the experience of the users interacting with your website, and to keep an eye on what your trend-setting competitors are doing. Good User Experience is all about fulfilling (or exceeding) user expectations. Understanding these expectations and ensuring that your website is able to meet them is an essential (and often much-overlooked) part of maintaining a successful eCommerce site.