To put it bluntly, a website that is difficult to navigate, will ultimately cost you customers. At best, users will lose interest and abandon. At worst, it may damage your credibility, causing them to never return. Either way, your bottom line will suffer as a result.
But how do you know what is happening on your website?
Here, we show you how to assess the usability of your site and identify whether, and where, people are getting lost. Then we look at how you can use that data to refine your website structure and navigation, allowing you to give users what they want, and boost conversions.
Assess your website
To uncover whether your website is effectively converting visitors, or sending them to your competition, you need to examine how they interact with it. There are several methods available to assess your website’s usability, each with varying levels of cost and complexity. Let’s take a look at some of them:
Site search data
A good place to start, is examining the data from your website search feature. If your search function is highly used, this can be indicative that your navigation is not clear and people can’t easily find what they are looking for. This is particularly relevant for e-commerce sites.
Google Analytics can be a treasure trove of information and is a great free tool.
Looking at ‘Behaviour Flow’ can highlight visitors moving through your site via a path you wouldn’t expect. This could indicate that your navigation is misleading, or that users are struggling to find what they are looking for.
‘Exit pages’ shows you the percentage of visitors leaving from a particular page. Whether a high exit rate is a cause for concern, depends on the particular page. For example, you would expect your ‘checkout complete’ page to have a high exit rate, as this means that people have simply achieved what they came for and left. However, if you are losing visitors on your product or services pages, this could indicate a potential problem and would warrant further investigation to find out why.
While Google Analytics can tell you a lot about what people are doing on your site, it can’t give you the complete picture, so is best used with other methods of user research.
Hotjar is an analytics and feedback tool that allows you to measure and observe user behaviour on your site, in order to improve its performance and experience.
Heatmaps; a visual representation of users’ clicks, tap and scrolling behaviour, can help you to understand what users do on your site, and what they want.
Visitor recordings can show you individual users’ mouse movements, clicks and taps and is great for quickly highlighting usability issues.
Don’t be afraid to ask users what they want directly. You can find out where they are struggling or what is standing in the way of a conversion. An easy way to do this is via the use of chat and bots, for example with a platform like Drift. Hotjar also offers a polls and surveys feature.
A cognitive walkthrough involves defining a set of tasks that you would expect a user to complete on your website, then having an evaluator work through them from the perspective of the user.
The focus is to gain a better understanding of your website’s learnability for new users, and identify any usability issues.
This method can be quick and cost effective, but be sure to make your evaluator someone who is not already familiar with your system and company jargon, as they may miss issues that a user would experience.
One of the most involved methods of testing your website for usability, is to conduct a heuristic evaluation. Usability experts will compare your site to a set of predetermined heuristics, or best practice rules of thumb, and highlight any issues in relation to user experience.
It is recommended to use at least three experts to maximise the effectiveness of the review. This can mean that it is beyond the in-house capabilities of many companies and outside assistance may be beneficial.
Once you have completed the process of assessing your website, you should know the areas that are causing problems for your users, and be more in touch with what they want.
Use this information to plan the necessary changes to your site. Your analysis should allow you to make your solutions laser accurate and bespoke to the needs of your users.
Whilst the specific solutions may be different for each website, there are some overriding principles that will help you create an effective structure and navigation. Bear these in mind as you work through any changes:
Keep it simple. Everything on your site should lead users logically through the journey you want them to take. Keep navigation menus as simple as possible and limit the number of options to avoid indecision or confusion.
Minimise distractions. The more pages you include in the user’s journey through your sales funnel, the more likely you are to see a drop off. Remove pages that do not add value.
Meet user expectations. Most websites adopt a similar layout, for example placing the main navigation at the top of the page. Users know this and expect to find it there. Keep your navigation familiar and intuitive.
Provide a good search function. While some users like to browse their way through a website, some prefer to search for what they want and be taken straight there. Make sure that your search feature is easily accessible throughout the site and that it produces relevant results.
Make use of colour. Use the visual design of your website to create emphasis on the important elements of your webpage, such as your main navigation and your call to action. Also use white space to create a simple layout, and avoid overloading the user.
The role of information architecture
Refining information architecture is the key to improving user experience, and increasing the likelihood of converting users into customers.
The goal of information architecture in web design, is to structure and organise the information on your website in a clear and logical way. This means that users should always understand where they are currently within your site, and where to find the information they want.
When making any changes to the way users navigate through your website, keep in mind existing users who will already have developed habits and intuition based on its current design. If existing users are important from a business standpoint, take steps to ensure that they are not lost in the refined structure.
Give thought to your content as you make changes. Structure and content cannot live independently, so adapting your content to the refined structure may be important. The reverse is also true; structure should reflect the actual content.
There is little doubt that user experience directly affects conversions. Having a website that is poorly structured or difficult to navigate will frustrate users and ultimately cost you customers.
It is therefore critical to assess the usability of your site, and develop a strong understanding of what your users want.
Use the findings of your assessment to guide the design of your website, keeping it simple, intuitive, and easy to use. When making any changes, ensure that content matches the structure, and vice-versa.