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User Experience and the art of web design

When Hub advisor Matt Fawthrop meets businesses to discuss website performance, it’s not long before the conversation turns to user experience...or UX as it’s often known. But UX doesn’t have to be complicated and small changes can lead to big business benefits. Here he explains some of the principles of UX, areas to focus on, and mistakes to avoid.

What is user experience?

UX is a key part of creating a successful website for your business. Of course, the nature of the site will depend on your business, and a site that is informational and looking to explain to visitors what you do, will offer a different user experience to an e-commerce site.

However, the key aim of user experience remains the same – optimising your site to improve the overall experience of your users. This means users will have greater engagement with your site and ultimately improves the chances of them contacting your business or making a purchase.

How to achieve a good user experience?

UX is a huge topic but the key element to achieving a successful user experience is simple - a site’s design and layout should be user-centric and built around their needs.

When you look at your site you need to ask yourself, who the visitors are, why they are visiting and what do they want to know?

You may feel confident that you know the answers to these questions but actually asking your current customers, and doing some market research, can avoid making some damaging assumptions.

Equipped with this information you can then think about how your site’s design will be informed, starting with content.

Content is king

You could have a perfectly designed website but if your content isn’t up to standard then your site simply won’t perform. Some tips to improve things include:

Jargon – this is by far the most common issue with website content. You may perfectly understand what you mean when you use terms specific to your industry but your users might not. By using unnecessarily technical and complex language you won’t come across as an expert, instead the user simply won’t understand the service you’re offering and will be forced to look elsewhere. Get friends and family to read some of the content and ask them if it makes sense.

Unique Selling Points (USPs) – if your USPs are a major reason why someone is likely to use your business, then make sure that they’re visible on your website – it’s amazing how often this isn’t the case.

Imagery – if you don’t have lots of great images, then don’t go for a theme that includes big and striking pictures and graphics. Again, it sounds obvious but it’s easy to get carried away when you first start designing the site.

Accessibility – there are standards for online accessibility constructed by organisations such as the World Wide Web Consortium which are designed to allow the web to be “accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability.” These principles are useful when designing your site as they help to ensure that content is as clear as possible.

Page layout – this really focuses on the “why are they visiting my site?” element which your customer and market research should answer. It is then about making sure that your site delivers relevant content in the most effective way.

Of course every business is different but, for example, if you know that most users who come to your site don’t know much about you or the services you provide, then presenting a user with a Contact Us button straight away is unlikely to yield results. You need to tell users about your services first and why they should use you.

If you want people to make a purchase on your site, then a positive user experience is essential. Think about the sites you buy from and what works well but also what frustrates you, too.

Companies like Amazon, Wiggle and ASOS spend a lot of time and resources optimising their checkout process. Whilst you won’t be able to replicate everything they do, see what elements you can bring in to help support the user experience on your site.


Information Architecture  

There aren’t many things that will make users bounce from your site faster than not being able to see where they can find relevant information.  A website’s menu should be clear and concise, and make it easy for people to navigate around your site.

Information architecture also goes beyond the names of your menu options. You need to consider how your menu is going to work. Will there be sub headings in the menu and how will these display?

This is particularly important when considering mobile devices, as over half of UK online sales are now made on a mobile, so if your site is not optimised for a mobile device you’re imposing a big restriction on your website’s reach and potential through user experience.

If you are going to use a free WordPress theme then make sure you have checked it on a range of mobile devices as well as desktop.

Some things to consider include:

This menu option displays all of the sub-pages as soon as you open the menu. Importantly, there is no differentiation between a sub-heading (sub-page) and a main heading (parent page) meaning the user can’t understand the relationship between the content. This presents several user experience issues.

Here the mobile menu blocks off part of the page title giving an unprofessional look:

If you are using a free WordPress theme then there are some good ones out there but you need to think about how you want your site to operate first. Then, thoroughly test the themes you are interested in. Don’t build your site around a theme, select a theme based on your users’ needs.


Optimisation and measurement

Once you’ve developed the user experience on your website, you need to be able to measure how successful it’s been. The best way to do this is by using data and having Google Analytics on your website, which is free and can be installed on most sites without the need for a developer. By monitoring goals, events and content engagement you can get a great idea of how well users are engaging with your site.

When reviewing this data you will notice that there are some areas which you can be improved. For example, the bounce rate on your home page might be higher than you would expect. If you want to reduce this, a good method for testing is A/B testing.


A/B testing

A/B testing allows you to display two different versions of your website to your users. This means that you may show version A to 50% of your users and version B to the other 50%. An A/B testing tool such as Google Optimize will then collect data on how users interact with each version so you can see which version performs best.

In an A/B test you could change the text or image on your homepage, tweak the product page layout or the product imagery, and see which one of these versions leads to the best engagement with your users. Based on the results, you can then implement the most successful version before testing another potential change. 

Recommended A/B tests include:

  1. Adding Call to Action buttons to the end of a blog
  2. Trying different colour Call to Action buttons, the importance of colour psychology shouldn’t be underestimated
  3. Testing different wording on key Call to Action buttons; for instance, which works best - ‘add to cart’, ‘buy now’, ‘purchase’ or ‘add to basket’?
  4. Adding 360 degree product images
  5. Encouraging social sharing after a purchase
  6. Adding in ‘live chat assistance’
  7. Adding timers or stock limits onto product pages to create urgency
  8. Adding product videos


Next Steps

User experience requires constant optimisation of your site, as user behaviour and your customer base changes over time. By having a user-centric approach, and measuring and analysing data, you should be able to ensure your user experience continually develops in line with your users’ expectations.

If you’d like to learn more about UX or how to make the most of digital and tech across your business, start your application on Enquire and Grow or take a look at our resources pages.


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Matt Fawthrop

Matt Fawthrop, Digital Growth Advisor

Matt has a successful background in e-commerce and digital marketing, specialising in interpreting data to drive digital acquisition and developing platforms that deliver strong user experiences. He’s worked with a variety of high-profile clients including Skoda and British Cycling.