A Guide to User Experience Optimization: How to Keep & Convert Your Traffic
What’s more important, getting more people to your website or keeping / converting them once they get there?
The correct answer is both. And fortunately you can tackle both challenges at the same time by focusing your efforts on one primary objective…user experience optimization.
In this article, I will explain what user experience really means, why it has become one of the top success metrics and how you can optimize your website’s user experience to bring and convert more visitors.
What Does User Experience (UX) Actually Mean?
User experience (UX) is the way your visitors and customers navigate through your website (or mobile app). Companies that fail to provide a positive experience will have frustrated customers who are reluctant to come back; however, few businesses devote the time and energy they should to making the website better for new and returning customers. This can have monumental ripple effects on your SEO and sales that you’re not even seeing.
How much is your business planning to spend to improve website usability this year?
The team at Usertesting.com surveyed 7,725 professionals about their UX goals and found that…
Most companies spent between $1,001 to $5,500 in 2015. This is a significant increase from 2014 when the largest segment was $1 to $500. This survey is conducted annually and proves that companies are moving toward a larger UX budget in order to make the customer experience better.
Fortunately, this investment tends to pay off, and it’s directly correlated to increases in metrics such as traffic, conversion rate, and sales. By ensuring you have the right budget for improving user experience, you’re setting yourself up for financial success this year. Here’s what you need to know about increasing your website’s usability to capitalize on each and every visitor.
The Business Impact on Good UX
Most business owners are cautious about investing in something that doesn’t provide direct revenue. Fortunately, it’s possible to calculate the exact business impact on improving your user experience — or continuing to neglect it.
Load Speed Affects Site Traffic
Every second counts when it comes to load time on your website.
According to KISSmetrics,
47 percent of customers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less, and 40 percent abandon a website if it takes more than three seconds to load. Furthermore, a one-second delay decreases customer satisfaction by 16 percent, increasing the likelihood that they won’t return and will tell their friends about the bad experience.
Can you afford to lose 40 percent of traffic to your website?
If not, then website optimization needs to continuously be a primary concern to ensure your site speed is as quick as possible. If your brand falls behind the competition, customers will notice and move on to a brand that provides a positive experience.
Good UX Boosts Conversion Rates and Revenue
Loading times don’t just have an effect on site traffic; they also directly relate to conversion rates.
According to Compass,
Conversions fall by 12 percent for every extra second it takes your page to load. Furthermore, increasing your page loading speed by two to four seconds can increase your revenue by 3.2 percent — a statistic that has particularly paid off for eCommerce sites with average carts below $50.
Good UX means your customers are going to spend more time looking at items on your site and less time waiting for information to load, making them more likely to add or inquire about additional items.
A Streamlined Checkout Process Reduces Cart Abandonment
Regardless of your business or industry, the first step of the checkout process typically has the largest drop-off rate.
Some companies lose more than 60 percent of their customers in just this first step.
This is why eCommerce giants such as Amazon and Groupon are constantly trying to streamline the process. If you can keep just 5 percent more people in this step, the rest of your conversion funnel will benefit.
Improving UX is all about giving your customer fewer options to say no when they’re buying. If your site is slow and poorly made, the customer will take the time to reconsider their purchase. This means investing in a modern process is your best bet for increasing revenue by retaining traffic and reducing abandonment rates.
UX Factors That Affect SEO
Of course, your user experience doesn’t just affect your customers when they reach your website; it also affects how often they find you. User experience is closely tied to SEO, which means you could see an overall dip in people reaching your website in the first place if you let your website become slow, clunky, and difficult to use.
Moz calls the concept of UX SEO the “no one likes to link to a crummy site” phenomenon.
Essentially, search engines are able to look at certain metrics to determine usability factors and overall satisfaction with the website. When these factors are considerably worse than the competition, your site is going to struggle to rank well. This means all of your content, keyword, and linking efforts will go to waste since Google won’t want to highlight a poor website — and customers won’t want to stick around there either.
Organic Sharing and Distribution
The best SEO is free SEO that your customers do for you. Rand Fishkin explains that UX determines the likelihood that customers will share your content and boost your exposure.
By increasing your engagement from one share per 1,000 views to one share per 200 views, your content sharing will increase five-fold.
The sheer increase in traffic (to say nothing of the revenue it generates) will have a long-term positive impact on organic search.
More Sharing Leads to More Linking
As you increase the exposure of your brand, the odds that people link to your website as a positive reference, cool brand, or reputable source also increases. This is the SEO language that most people are familiar with.
Linking also follows the “no one likes to link to a crummy site” phenomenon as mentioned above, since brands are staking their reputation by linking to your pages. In the modern world of “fake news,” media sites and brands that are trying to maintain their integrity are skittish when it comes to linking to an unknown brand. If you want them to trust your website, you need to make sure it looks reputable.
Google Continuously Emphasizes Problem Solving
When you look at the trends in organic search, there’s a common thread between some of the hottest tactics for optimization:
- Local search lets customers know where they can go for products or services.
- Google’s Quick Answers Box provides answers immediately and directs customers to the best site for an explanation.
- Digital assistants and voice search, such as Google Home and Alexa, are becoming more popular and a significant traffic driver for companies.
All three of these trends focus on the search engine quickly reading your site and highlighting actionable steps the customer can take to buy that day or get the information they need that second. Without an optimized website, Google and Alexa will find other websites they can get information from. Meanwhile, your local rankings will flounder.
Essentially, good UX doesn’t just mean your customers enjoy their experience; it means search engines can get the information they need and make reputable suggestions for users. When both your customers and Google approve of your site’s experience, your traffic will increase along with your conversion rates.
Important UX Metrics and How to Read Them
Analytics tools can either seem like an overwhelming fountain of information for those who use them or a confusing and rather useless way to determine how the business is doing.
It makes sense to track site traffic and revenue, but do you really need to look at how many pages customers are visiting?
Actually, yes. There are a few metrics in Google Analytics that business owners should look at if they want to determine usability flaws.
MeasuringU calls completion rates the “fundamental usability metric” or “the gateway metric,” as it answers the question:
Did the customer complete the expected task?
This yes or no metric is essentially a conversion rate, but it assumes the customer wanted to complete the task and couldn’t because of the website.
After completion, business owners should look at the recorded errors to see what went wrong. Errors record any potential mistake a user might encounter when they’re trying to fill out a task. The perfect example of this is password creation. Too often, customers will create a password with lowercase letters and numbers (birthday1234) only to be told by the site that they need a capitalized letter and special character as well (Birthday123#).
While this seems like a small task, this can frustrate customers who need to create accounts to make a purchase — and remember, the majority of customers bounce on the first step. Recording errors can help you make small fixes that will increase customer satisfaction and conversion.
The bounce rate tracks the percent of visitors who abandon your website after only viewing one page. They had no desire to further learn about your brand or view more products.
It’s frustrating to see all of your traffic-driving efforts result in a 60 percent bounce rate, since it means over half of marketing your efforts are going to waste. By lowering this number, you’re increasing the quality of traffic to your page and stretching your marketing dollars.
Time on Site and Pages Viewed
These two metrics highlight the desirability of your website to customers who land there. This tracks the behavior of customers who chose not to bounce to see how they react to your website before converting. Most companies — especially lead generation websites and blogs — want a high number of pages viewed and a high time on site. Even eCommerce websites want a high number of pages viewed, as it often means customers are looking at product pages before buying.
When looking at this data, filter site visitors by those who converted and those who didn’t. The converting customers will give you an idea of what your ideal time on site and page views should look like so you can see what kind of drop off in the sales funnel occurs in between customers who bounce and customers who convert. (These statistics highlight the middle-ground customers who leave.)
Once you have the metrics to track, you’ll want to set up comparisons to accurately measure them. Some companies compare data year over year, while others look at three- and six-month trends to see if any of their metrics are taking unexpected plunges.
How to Optimize UX for Visitors
When your metrics show that your website needs improvement, either through a low conversion rate or a high number of errors, the next step is to try to improve your website’s usability. This article has touched on some high-level ways to make your website better, but the following steps can be used as a guide to evaluate what needs to be changed and how changes should be prioritized.
Increase Load Speed
There’s no excuse for having a slow loading website.
KeyCDN has created a list of 16 tools just so you can evaluate your website’s speed and look for problems within it.
How do you boost website speed?
Depending on your brand, you have a few options.
- Clear out bulky plugins, cookies, apps, and widgets that are slowing the load time. If these add-ons trigger first, they could be preventing your audience from viewing your content. Try to conduct a “code purge” every six months to remove obsolete additions.
- Tease content for faster loading times. Look at websites such as Mashable that load the first few paragraphs and ask the customer to click to continue reading the rest. Not only does this help the website load faster, but it also allows them to track what percent of visitors clicked to read more and which ones bounced.
- Optimize your images, code, and video use to make sure it’s not slowing your pages down. While your images might make your page look amazing, no one is going to see them if they take forever to load. Make sure you reduce the bulk for a better load time.
Set Up Clear Calls to Action
Regardless of your business model, from eCommerce to lead generation to brick and mortar, you need to highlight strong calls to action to move customers closer to your end goals.
- For eCommerce sites, this involves making it easier to select, add, and view items in the cart.
- For lead generation pages, this means driving customers to complete interest forms by placing them strategically on the page.
- For brick and mortar businesses, this means showcasing your address and phone number (that Google can also quickly pull for local results) along with other calls to action such as making an appointment or ordering online.
If you’re worried your calls to action aren’t prominent enough, look to your metrics. If people jump from one page to the next in an effort to find what they’re looking for, you might not be guiding them correctly into the funnel. You can also try A/B testing software to see how customers respond to changes in your web design.
Streamline the Checkout or Conversion Process
When your site visitors decide to fill out an interest form or buy a product, they’ve already conceded that they want the product or service.
Cart abandonment rates tend to hover around 65 percent for most companies.
What happens between the customer deciding they want the product and the customer buying it depends on user experience.
- Limit required fields to the absolute minimum (no one wants to tell a lead generation form what their salary is).
- Utilize auto-fill tools. If the customer can fill out the entire form in just a few clicks, they’re more likely to move onto the next page.
- Test one-page checkout processes. Instead of loading a new page for the shipping address and credit card information, test serving all of those fields at once. This way, they won’t have to bounce through multiple pages when they buy.
Keep Your Content Scannable
Unless you run a hyper-niche website where your audience is interested in unbroken long-form content, try to design your pages in a way that engages the reader.
- Break up content with subheads, images, and block quotes so they can get the gist and skip unnecessary parts.
- A/B test your content across multiple pages or create one long page that loads as the audience scrolls. You’re looking to see who completes the article and fills out interest forms after reading.
- Include sharing icons where visitors can highlight parts or products and share them with friends on social media.
- Place the most important information at the front, so the audience knows right away what the purpose of the content is and what they’ll learn from it.
Improving the user experience for customers isn’t a difficult task. You should always look for ways to make your website better (look to Amazon and Mashable for best practices) and then back your theories about what makes a website good through A/B testing and metric tracking. If you’re always trying to improve, you’ll never fall behind.
Understanding Your Mobile Optimization Options
So far, this article has focused on user experience primarily on desktop pages. While most of the advice can be applied to both platforms — customers get equally as frustrated by slow mobile websites as desktop pages — there are some best practices when you’re working with your mobile website. When optimizing for mobile, you don’t have to be experienced in design or development; you just have to know what to look for to make customers (and search engines) happy.
The Era of Pinch and Zoom Is Over
When smartphones first came out, customers might have accepted websites that required them to continuously pinch to read the content, but now, they expect better. You can’t simply take your current website and expect it to load naturally on a mobile website. To prevent this, you typically have two options:
- Mobile-Dedicated websites (or m.sites) follow a separate URL than desktop websites. These sites are great options for brands that want to get a mobile site live immediately and want to limit the content available to achieve faster loading times. However, be careful what you cut, as customers could get frustrated by their limited options.
- Responsive websites have become the norm with WordPress themes, as they automatically create mobile-friendly content for the user. This is an ideal option for brands that don’t want to manage two websites and want the same content both on desktop and mobile websites. However, there may be an overhaul to change the site from its previous layout to this one.
Considering a Mobile-First Approach
Look at your sources of web traffic.
What percent of visitors come from mobile versus desktop websites?
What is the difference in conversion rates between the two?
Some websites find that their customers prefer to browse on mobile and buy on desktop sites, making the two important until customers adapt to mobile purchases. However, other websites are already living in the mobile revolution where more customers visit, browse, and buy online. If this is the case, consider retooling your website with a mobile-first approach.
Mobile-first approaches counter the previous best practices of designing for desktop and then adjusting for mobile. Instead, designers approach the website with the mobile user in mind, knowing that the demographic of mobile consumers is only going to increase over the next decade. If you’re going through a website remodel, consider this design method to bring UX to the forefront of the design conversation.
UX Is an Ongoing Process
A business owner is never done when it comes to improving the user experience of a website, and your 10 percent of the budget needs to carry over year after year. This is because website best practices are constantly changing, especially as some become obsolete. What was modern and exciting just four years ago is outdated with the rise of smartphones and social media platforms. (Remember when everyone thought tablets were going to revolutionize search? Now they’re equated to mobile in many reports.)
Customers continue to change how they search, which means Google sets the standards for how websites should function. Even if you consider your website “fully optimized” this year, it could be clunky and outdated 12 months from now. A usability expert’s work is never done; you can only hope to keep improving and making your website visitors happy.
Ready for a professional opinion on how good or bad the user experience is on your website?