We get asked that question a lot, and you may be surprised to learn the number one thing you can do to improve your user experience is to focus first on content.
20 Years ago, when I was a web designer for another interactive agency, we were all learning our craft on the fly. We’d sign a new client, hold a creative kickoff meeting with the client, and request a copy of their logo. From there, we dove right in. We’d furiously build their new website on our development server and store them there until they were ready to be released into the wild. Things were going great.
Users are constantly asking themselves, is this page useful, or do I need to look elsewhere to find what I’m looking for?
But within a few short months, something comical began to take shape. We had website after website completely built out (“done” in our world). Only one problem. They were all completely empty, patiently waiting for content. We were furiously building graveyard sites, where the content was an afterthought.
Fast forward to 2016; our industry has matured quite a bit from those early days. Our technology is better as is our ability to build effective digital platforms to engage our client’s customers.
If your website has lost its luster, and it’s time to up your UX game, begin with the content. Here are some questions to ask yourself when coming up with content for your site.
Why should I spend one more second on your website?
You’ve heard this before, and you know it to be true. People just don’t stay on websites for too long. Attention spans are too short. We need information and we need it now! If you dig a little deeper you can see what’s going on.
According to research by the Nielsen Norman Group, site visitors make the decision to stay or go away from your page within the first 10 seconds of hitting the page. Users are always asking themselves, is this page useful, or do I need to look elsewhere to find what I’m looking for?
Here’s the good news- if they make it past the 10-second mark, your visitors are much more likely to spend a good amount of time on your page. They’ve made the determination that there is a good chance the content they are looking for is on your site.
The three major factors that determine whether or not your user will stay on your site or leave are:
- Usefulness – Does this site have what I need? What is this page about, anyway? We talked about the importance of being useful in my last blog post, The Value of UX.
- Credibility – Do I trust the content on this page? Is this a reliable source?
- Usability – How easy is this site to use?
What is the purpose of this page?
Always try and put yourself in your customer’s shoes- what are they trying to accomplish on this page? What do you hope they will do? Having these questions always at the forefront of your thought process helps you decide what’s valuable information, and what is not.
Is the page a transitional page? Transitional pages, like your homepage, or section landing page, are pages that are designed to route users quickly and efficiently to where they need to go. These pages should have less content than your main content pages, and they should be written as non-technical as possible. The idea here is to make it as easy as possible for the user to find the content that fits the problem they want to solve. You will see in your analytics that people are spending a lot less time on these transitional pages compared to your content pages, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Writing at grade level
It may surprise you to learn that according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, only 44% of our population reads at a high school reading level, and 43% are at a low or very low reading level.
With that in mind, aim to have the content on your site written at a 6-8th-grade reading level. Transitional pages should be written at a lower grade level than your content pages. Writing content at too high of a reading level causes your users to have to work harder to find what they’re looking for.
Improve your readability by using simple versus complex words, and try to use familiar words in short sentences.
Some tools to help guide you:
You knew I’d eventually get to design and colors, right? After all, I’m a designer at heart.
On the average web page, users have time to read, at most, 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.
Source: Nielsen Norman Group
Users generally try to find the content they are looking for by scanning, versus systematically reading through your content, as we often imagine. We can make it easier on them by how we format our text.
- Chunk the content. Break apart large passages with headings, subheadings, break-out quotes, links, etc. Use a sufficient amount of whitespace.
- Consistent layout. Use familiar design patterns from page to page on your site, and use design elements such as color and boldness to make your headlines and categories pop.
- Single Column on mobile. For content pages on smart phones, keep your content wells to a single column. (More about the importance of mobile in my blog post, Meeting Users Where They Are.)
Tell your story with visuals
Web content and social media posts often get more engagement from users if the content includes visuals. Is there a way to tell your story with short video clips, an animated gif, charts, or pictures?
Visuals work especially well if you have a product or service that can be shown in everyday life. It’ll make the topic more relatable.
On your website, short video segments can be an excellent way to increase engagement, and connect with your visitors on a conversational level.
Wrapping it up
We’ve touched on a lot of guidelines today, but to summarize:
- Have a clear idea of what your users are looking for, and help them solve their problems by writing directly to their problem.
- Write your content so that it’s easy to read and on an appropriate grade level.
- Chunk your content into sections using headlines, and a familiar layout.
- Try to tell your story with visuals.