What it is &
Why It’s Essential for Your Website!
Simply, UX stands for User Experience.
If you're not familiar with it, that's understandable. It's a term used primarily in Web Design & product development.
You might wonder what it has to do with you... After all, you're (probably) not a web designer.
But it's a crucial concept — even if you're 'only' DIYing your own website!
While your website represents YOU to your readers, if it isn't easy to understand, read, navigate, & search, your visitors will quickly lose interest or get frustrated and move on...likely to a competitor who does understand the importance & principles of UX.
Let's look at a common definition of UX:
how a user interacts with and experiences a product, system or service. It includes a person's perceptions of utility, ease of use, and efficiency.
There are two crucial details in the above definition:
- "How a user interacts & experiences..." and
- "a person's perceptions of utility, ease of use and efficiency"
The essential point here — in both cases — is #1: the user (ie, your reader or audience), and #2: their perceptions (not yours!).
In short, it's how your readers (collectively) perceive how easy it is to actually use your website — to obtain the most benefit from the content you're working hard to create!
Your most innovative & ingenious solutions in the world won't help anyone if they can't find it or if they have to "jump through hoops" to access it!
This may sound like a daunting task, but there are really just five areas of your website that make the most difference to enhancing UX...
Let's dive in!
5 Areas That Make a Real Difference for Great Reader UX
Remember the "KISS" principle
By keeping this as your #1 guiding principle, you'll be light-years ahead in both reader satisfaction and rapid implementation for you!
Key areas to consider for simplifying:
Let's take a look at each one of these, and see which actions you can take right now to make an immediate difference in UX.
- Your visual design should be clean & uncluttered
- Your copy should be direct & clear
- Avoid visual "eye candy" & distracting effects
The easiest & quickest changes / additions you can take right now to enhance reader UX!
When designing for simplicity, clarity of message is your #1 goal. This means everything from layout to the words you use to describe you and your service should be precise.
"Cute & clever" have no place here, as what's 'cute' or 'clever' depends on the reader! They are very subjective...and often filtered through the lens of "cultural norms" or other unknowns.
•Adopt the colors of your brand, if it's already established (say with your company logo.)
•If it's an established brand with a "complex" multi-colored logo, select one or two of those colors to serve as accents (which you can use for buttons or links).
•Remember that colors communicate as well as text, so choose colors that support your overall niche/industry & service or business.
•Keep the rest black or very dark text on a white background.
•Avoid "going rogue" using a dark background with light text, as extensive research shows this contributes to severe eye strain!
•Simple & easy to read...but this doesn't mean 'boring.' Take a look at 2 or 3 of your favorite text-rich websites: what makes them easy to read?
•Do you prefer reading blocks of text in "Serif" (think Georgia or Times Roman) or 'Sans Serif (Verdana or Roboto)?
•This IS largely personal preference, so pick one for your body text and stick with it.
•Choose an 'alternate' for your headings, to make them stand out for readers. This makes it easier to scan your articles.
•This may surprise you...and have you concerned...
•If you have an older domain name (this is your "dot com"), it may no longer reflect your specific niche or industry, or it may just be l-o-n-g and cumbersome. If this applies to you, it's easy to create a short & memorable domain name & simply point it to your current website (still keeping your current url... (Contact your domain registrar to see how this is done.)
•If you're just starting out, you have the advantage of selecting a domain name that is short & easy to remember/say (think podcasting or referencing in interviews or press releases).
Clarity Still Rules!
Each page on your website must be clear and direct. This applies not only to your HOME page, but the other pages as well. Most people instantly think of their HOME page when thinking of their website, but your visitors will more often enter your website by following a search link, which is a great thing! That means you're getting found for your content in the search engines! It's for this reason that clarity is so important to every page (including "posts" or your articles, videos, audio clips, etc.)
Key Things to Address:
- What You DO: your niche, industry; service (ie coaching, designer, writer)
- Whom You Serve: your "Ideal Audience" (think in terms of your preferred client)
- Top Benefits to Your Ideal Reader: What's in it for them?
- Whom You do NOT Serve: this may seem counter-intuitive, but you simply cannot be everything to everyone! Here's why:
- You don't want to waste anyone's time if they're not a great fit for your services/solutions. Consider: a recipe website that only serves Vegans or Keto diets isn't appropriate unless you're in that demographic... A gym that focuses on increasing stamina and flexibility for seniors is not for the 20 -- 40-something crowd.)
- BTW, price is a tricky "filter" to address, but if you are only aiming for reaching a premium-price audience, it is imperative to tactfully indicate this! Take a cue from premium brands like Apple: they have already established their price points, and it's pretty much common knowledge. Ditto for brands like Tesla, Rolls-Royce, and Emirates Airways... If you're just starting out and don't have an established "financial" demographic, you can always use words like "boutique" or "luxury" to communicate it's "high-end." On the other end of the scale, you can use terms like "economy" or "fits any budget" to indicate your NOT premium priced.
- Always plan for your first-time visitor! This means:
The structure of your website requires planning!
First let's define "structure."
Website structure is both "logical" and "physical" so it's a little tricky wrapping your head around this concept if you've never considered this before.
Logical vs. Physical Structure
These are the sub-topics you discuss across your entire website. For example, in this website, I have four main categories: WordPress, Content & Writing, Marketing & SEO, and Mindset.
You can see each one of these important categories or sub-topics in every page or post on my website. That's because I intentionally designed my website header to include these topics in my Main Menu. That's an essential part of great UX! It tells the reader instantly exactly what this website will cover. And, it gives them quick access to whichever topic suits their needs at any time... That's the logic portion of the design, where the actual Menu contents can be considered "physical" structure.
Planning this structure is key...and will likely takes some time until you are satisfied with it. Patience is the key! Some examples can get you thinking in terms of sub-dividing your over all topic.
First of all, consider your "topic" as your industry or niche; if you were writing an outline, it would be the Title. Your sub-topics for website structure would be the top-level outline items (the I, II, III & IV...)
Some examples can get you thinking in terms of sub-dividing your over all topic:
- Action & Sports
- Family Portraits
- Nature photography
- Tutorials: how to improve your skills
- Tools and Equipment Resources
Of course, this list depends entirely on the skills and interests of the specific photographer.
2. Landscape Architect:
- Desert-scape (water-saving); coastal expert; high-altitude/low-oxygen regions
- Drought-tolerant plants
- Seasonal planting tips
- 4-season climates (hot to freezing)
- Tools & Resources List for the DIYer
- Product Reviews
Hopefully, these two examples give you some ideas. A couple of things to keep in mind...
(1) Rarely does a website only present a single topic that cannot be divided into sub-topics. (2) However, sometimes "expert bias" may sneak in and blind you to the obvious topics you could discuss. What you're aiming for here is a high-level breakdown of "categories" to include.
If you're doing this for the first time, you may be wondering "how many" sub-topics to include... There is no "right" answer here. And there isn't a "wrong" either! It really depends on your personal interests and expertise, and where your "ideal reader" needs the most help (what are their most common obstacles?). However, as I've stressed, clarity is important so you should start off "small," aiming for the top 3-5 categories. You may find one of the categories you've thought would be highly popular just isn't resonating with your audience. In which case, over time, you can focus on the others instead. And your audience can help you understand if you omitted an important category which you can then address as you learn about their needs
Here some ways to get started:
- Brainstorm potential topics with whiteboard and sticky notes...or a pad of paper and markers...or your favorite MindMap software. Note that these are potential sub-topics, so don't filter anything out at this point.
- List the most common "beginner questions" or obstacles. These could be something as basic as defining terms or confusion over industry terminology...or a solution to a common problem. For this step, it's useful to think in terms of "buckets" where you can group like content. You're not going for specific articles at this point (although a lot of ideas for article or tutorials can definitely start to appear in this phase. Keep track of them somewhere so you can get back to them; you'll definitely need them later. I use Evernote [aff link] for this, in a dedicated IDEAS notebook; it's great because you can "tag" by key words so you can find it later!)
- NOTE: Problems call for solutions, and by focusing on these topics you instantly communicate to your readers that you know what you're doing. They can also easily become your main Menu topics! From these topics, the next step is to generate sufficient seeds for many helpful articles or videos on your website
- If you currently have clients, assess where their problems originated. Sometimes case studies can be excellent teaching tools, both for you in determining structure and later for helping others with similar problems.
- Check out other websites! These can be competitors (same industry or niche) or they can be completely unrelated. What you're looking for here is understanding the principles of arriving at realistic and useful sub-topics.
- You can also conduct a poll or survey on social platforms, asking your demographic exactly where they need the most help. People love to help others, so you'll likely get LOTS of great feedback. Just make sure it's a sufficient sample size and the appropriate demographic (don't ask experts if you're audience is beginners!)
Depth of Organization
This is one of those "abstract" concepts — similar to the 'logical' vs. 'physical' discussion above... By "depth" I'm specifically talking about the more "physical" structure of your website. In these terms there are two helpful common concepts that should help:
- Flat & broad structure
- Deep & narrow structure
They are differentiated by a couple of opposing characteristics. A flat structure has those sub-topics at the top with very few sub-sub-topics... The topics (those buckets) are broad enough the contain a lot of related content. This results in your content — the real gem for your readers — being only 1-2 clicks away! DO THIS!
In contrast, a "deep" structure has myriad nested levels of sub-topics, resulting in your readers needing to wade their way through a complex site structure before finding anything useful. It also violates one of our cardinal UX rules: simplicity! [Avoid this!]
Two Hidden Benefits:
A reader-focused UX also has a couple of hidden benefits:
- Main Menu: Having the flat structure I described above also makes your navigation (Main Menu) pretty much design itself. Take another look at the Menu items on this and every page of this website. The topics I cover are clearly indicated across the site. No complex or time-consuming planning effort required! Plus, the topic (buckets) are brood enough to accommodate a wide variety of articles and tutorials, fulfilling both the "logical" and physical demands of a great UX.
- SEO benefits: Search Engine Optimization is itself an entire industry, and far outside the scope of this article on UX... BUT, investing in well-crafted website organization not only helps your reader stay on your website (a known Google ranking factor), it also significantly aids search engines understanding the content of your site! That in turn will — over time — improve your Google rankings! Briefly, this is how that works:
- Search algorithms "read" your text (note: not graphics and not videos). Language is complex and many words have multiple meanings, especially when considering the multi-cultural nature of our 21st-century world!
- Next...those algorithms make a "best guess" (with the advances in AI, the guesses are fairly accurate but not perfect).
- To further help correct any inaccurate initial interpretations, those algorithms then "read" the menu items (your 1st-level organization), and any subsequent text on each of your main "category pages" to get a more accurate interpretation of what your website industry and niche is all about.
- The more specific and carefully-crafted your actual organizational terms (ie, your categories) & your website copy on your main category pages and in your articles, the more accurate search results can deliver to online searchers!
- To see this in action, check out my SILO ("category") pages... They go into detail about why the topics are included on my website, the relationship & relevancy of each category to my overall website topic, and why they are important for my audience.
UX Planning Benefits
It's well worth your time to invest in planning website organization.
Planning techniques can include:
- A simple written outline in Evernote or Google docs; a mind map, graphically experimenting with several variations; sticky notes on a wall or whiteboard; pad & paper...
- I suggest you use a digital method, as in the early stages of this planning, you will likely need to be moving things around to see the most logical approach.
- Always keep in mind your reader perspective and knowledge level of the overall topic. (This is closely tied to our next subject: voice)
- Your investment in this depth of detail will aid the algorithms in clearly distinguishing your topic and categories from others, and help deliver accurate search results to your ideal audience.
Who are you speaking to?
I hinted at this above in your site structure planning and this extends right into your writing voice on every page and piece of content on your website!
If you're new to writing for other or to teach or inform, this idea of "voice" could also be new to you...
As I favor, let's start with a definition:
distinctive features of a written work; word choice, tone, personality of the writer...
An author uses sentence patterns not only to make a point or tell a story, but to do it in a characteristic way...
- I find it fascinating that the "official definition" is so complex, needlessly IMO!
Your voice should be authentically who you are, while also respecting the skill and understanding level of your readers. If your readers are largely "beginners," complex and confusing industry "jargon" will only serve to intimidate them and send them away, frustrated and seeking help elsewhere! Likewise, you don't want to "talk down" to your readers if they are more advanced in their knowledge of your topics.
If you've never considered this before, here are some ways to evaluate and assess your own voice:
- Examine your "niche": you should be...
- solving a reader problem or common obstacle
- one that keeps them up at night
- and one they are struggling with to the point of despair (they must be willing to pay for a solution...either with their time, money or both!)
- Consider your ideal demographic?
- Seasoned veteran
- Professional (science, PhD, author, artist)
- Service provider
If you have clearly defined multiple audiences...
For example, a health consultant might serve both patients and health care professionals; a financial consultant might serve both private investors and investing companies; a business consultant might serve both end consumers (B2C) and other businesses (B2B).
It's clear that these two audience groups would be interested and need different perspectives and different content. This isn't simply a case of "audience overlap" into two sub-topics, but very differing content for very different problems.
A simple approach to this is to include those as two separate categories on your Main Navigation: ie, "Professionals" or "Service Providers" for one audience and "Patients" or Private Investors" etc. for the other segment of your audience.
The exact terms you use should naturally be dictated by your specific industry or niche. In this case, you'll need to add this extra layer of planning your site structure, but that should be a minor additional time investment. It's very simple to then create "drop-down" or "sub-menus" under those top-level headings in WordPress.
By clearly defining your audience, your writing voice should become clear.
One word of caution: it's common for topic experts to try to cram "everything they know" into every article or PDF or tutorial they write. (This is also sometimes referred to by the ungracious term "knowledge vomit" but it gets the point across that this is to be avoided. This will only confuse readers and lead to overwhelm. Again, clarity & simplicity is key in your writing.)
If you're concerned about this, get someone — who is representative of your reader skill level — to read some of your content. Have them tell you honestly if you are hitting the mark and clearly communicating in a helpful way to your audience. It's better to determine ahead of publishing "over-their-head" content than wondering why you're not getting any traffic!
Changing Skill Levels
Keep in mind that people are dynamic and constantly changing...especially online audiences! As you educate your own readers, their skill levels will undoubtedly change, so you'll need to write for varying skill levels as your audience changes and grows. The remedy for this is simple: always have at least a few content pieces for "other" skill levels among your readers. If you serve "beginners" add a few pieces for intermediate and advance readers as well...
Ready to Invest in Creating a Great UX?
By following these simple rules for UX, you'll have extremely satisfied readers, who will stay on your website longer, and help your SEO in the process.
What other UX obstacles have you encountered on websites that drove you nuts? I'd love to hear about them. Leave them in the comments below.
If you have any questions about creating a great User Experience, please let me know in the comments!