Imagine you're out for a drive when all of a sudden your car starts giving you some kind of trouble. Deciding to play it safe, you pull up outside a car repair place and venture inside. Carefully threading your way between the haphazardly parked cars and various engine parts strewn about the grease-stained floor, you're so distracted that you only notice the dog in the nick of time.
He is desperately straining at his chain, trying to score a bite of your flesh, which he presumes—perhaps correctly—will be the most delicious thing he ever tasted. When you finally locate the lone mechanic on duty, he looks up seemingly annoyed by the interruption.
Slowly he straightens up and turns to face you, thrusting out his belly while wiping his grimy hands on his even more grimy shirt. “Yeah, waddaya want?” he inquires in the politest tone he can muster. After a short round of negotiating, you make a deal, he fixes your car, and you go on your way.
A few months later, you're again faced with the same problem. Your car is apparently having a mid-life crisis. This time you visit a different car repair center. When you step through the door here, the first thing you notice is the reception counter, with a well-groomed receptionist ready to welcome you. “Hello, how can I help you?”
When you look inside the workshop, it is immaculate and organized. Not a thing seems out of place and there isn't a drop of oil on the floor. The mechanics seem happy as they go about their work repairing the cars. When they notice you standing there looking in, they greet you with sincere friendliness.
The two different repair places both do an excellent job of repairing your car and both charge you a reasonable fee, but which of them are you more likely to want to come back to do business with in the future?
This is an excellent example of UX applied to the real world, and it is equally important in the online world as well. In fact, it's probably even more important. Good UX is crucial to ensuring the visitors to your website are comfortable doing business with you. Give them a bad experience, and they'll only come back to you if they've exhausted all other options.
Creating a good user experience leads to increased sales, better customer loyalty, and greater chance of earning traffic through direct word-of-mouth recommendations. Of all the factors that go into the creation of your website, the UX factor is the number one thing you should give priority to.
Here is what it takes to ensure the UX you deliver to users will put you in contention to be a leader in your field:
1. A simple UI wins every time
There's a reason why Google is the leading search engine for the majority of web users. This is so much the case that the brand is synonymous with the action of performing a search. People no longer say “search for X”, they now say “Google X”. They won't tell you to Bing it, or Lycos it. And they certainly won't tell you to Duckduckgo it.
Despite increasing levels of concern about Google's reach and the privacy issues that go with it, none of the competitors have any realistic chance of unseating Google from the throne. Google is the undisputed King of the Browsers whether we like it or not. In part, Google's success can be attributed to it speed an accuracy, but there's one other thing that really clinched the deal right from the start.
Google entered the search engine arena at a time when it was dominated by Yahoo and, to a lesser extent, Altavista. Both of these worked quite well as search engines, but they had very cluttered interfaces that were loaded with distracting news stories and advertisements. Then suddenly out of nowhere, Google appeared on the scene with it's shockingly spartan interface, sporting nothing more than a logo, a search box, and a submit button. They've since added an extra button, for those who are feeling lucky.
It turned out that users greatly preferred a search engine that was purpose-built and simple to use. Who would have guessed? The lesson we can take from Google's tremendous success is we should strive for simplicity and not introduce anything that will get in the way of what the user is trying to achieve, even if we it's something we think they will like.
When you go to Yahoo to do a search, you surrender some of your bandwitdh to supporting those news stories and advertisements. Once upon a time those ads even included animations, which many mobile users felt quite rightly was a “theft” of their precious data limit. When you go to search on Google, all you get is search unless you want to see something else.
2. Give choices
The more freedom you give to users by not trying to lock them into doing things your way, the more they will like you. There are scores of hotel booking services on the web, but what helped Agoda to become the market leader is that they were the first to offer a flexible range of payment options, including credit card, PayPal, and even over-the-counter cash payments.
They also provided a huge array of currencies in which customers could make their payment. They gave customers the freedom to control how the listings would be displayed, according to the requirements of the user.
Add to all this a decent reward system, peer reviews (which aren't really as helpful as they should be, but enhance that feeling of choice and freedom), and excellent customer support, and you have all the ingredients for a winning service.
It comes down simply to freedom, flexibility, giving choices – all the things that say you put the needs of the user ahead of the needs of the corporation.
3.Implement the Three-Click-Rule
There is an unofficial UX rule which states that any task a user wants to accomplish should be able to be achieved within three clicks. This is the Three-Click-Rule. You should implement it as best you can, because there are far too many sites which make it extremely difficult to accomplish anything. When you make it easy, you will stand out and be noticed, and users will quickly make your site a favorite.
4. Provide full disclosure
This goes hand-in-hand with the Three-Click-Rule, because when you hide or obfuscate anything, you make it impossible for the user to accomplish what they want to accomplish within three clicks. So if a user wants to know the price of your widgets but you don't display that information on your website because you're crazy, you will lose a lot of sales.
The used car salesman instinct in you says the users will email you or call you for information, but the reality is they'll go to find a site that does display prices (possibly even higher prices than yours) and that site will get the sale. The same goes for any other kind of information. Users shouldn't have to contact you to find out things, because the information should already be there.
5. Don't be annoying
All over the web now there are sites that have started implementing this really annoying habit of begging for an email address before displaying content. They usually don't force the user to supply it, but it's still very annoying. Subscribing should be an action the user initiates by choice, not because you've got in their way and begged them like a charity collector.
Other annoying behaviors include popping up modals with special offers without being asked, playing videos without being asked, opening pop-up windows without being asked… actually doing anything without being asked is not being helpful, it's being rude. So don't do it. It doesn't benefit you at all.
6. Be consistent
Make sure your website always functions the way users have come to expect. The biggest gripe from users of Facebook and Twitter is when those sites suddenly implement changes to an interface that people had already become familiar with. While the changes are usually introduced with the best of intentions, they should happen gradually and with plenty of warning. You should ideally offer users an opportunity to test out a beta version of your upgrade before implementing it on a system-wide basis. This will avoid the inevitable backlash and negative criticism that follows changes as surely as night follows day.
So there you have the recipe for establishing a great user experience, and if you follow these steps without fail, you should experience a better reputation for your website and potentially stronger sales figures as a result.
header image courtesy of Jonathan Kurten