What do your visitors want from your website?
The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, including the nature of your business, the type of person who typically visits your site and what they hope to accomplish while they’re there. However, there are certain basic needs and expectations that transcend these specific circumstances and are universal to all visitors.
Over the past few months, I’ve conducted an informal survey of clients, coworkers, friends, family and others that I’ve encountered, asking them this one simple question:
“What do you want when you visit a website?”
While there were many different responses to this question, there were five that I heard again and again. Each person I spoke with mentioned at least one of these five, and many cited more than one.
Let’s take a look at these five critical elements that visitors want from your website:
Without a doubt, the most common answer I heard was that people want websites to be easy to use, and this makes perfect sense. After all, it’s 2014. We’re all well versed in using the Web to conduct the business of our day-to-day lives. There’s no reason your website should require a learning curve just to get from point A to point B. Yet, far too many sites are guilty of presenting visitors with an experience that’s confusing, frustrating and completely unsatisfying.
The definitive guidebook of usability, Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, asserts that web applications must explain themselves. When a visitor looks at a web page, the next step should be obvious and intuitive. With the world of options available at their fingertips, visitors have next to no patience when it comes to dealing with sites where there are any sort of obstacles standing in their way. If they can’t figure out where to go and what to do next in as little as three seconds, it could well be a deal breaker that causes them to abandon your site – and by proxy your business – altogether.
Navigation menus that are difficult to use, important content that is buried deep in your site and nearly impossible to find or a design schema that does not provide visitors good visual cues and clear calls-to-action to direct their experience are all pitfalls that must be avoided if you want to ensure that your site meets the acceptable threshold for ease-of-use.
Just as nearly everyone I talked with said they want a site that’s easy to use, many also said that they want information to be easy to find. The key to achieving this is by creating a concise, logical navigation structure. If your site encompasses a large repository of information and content, it’s a good idea to include a search tool that lets your visitors to use keywords to drill down to the information they’re seeking right away rather than hunting and clicking through the site page by page.
There is a long-held myth of website design that claims all content on a site must be able to be reached in no more than two clicks. While that might sound great in theory, in reality, the task of developing an effective navigational structure is rarely that straightforward.
For example, if you had a website with a hundred pages of content, you could theoretically have direct links to each one of those 100 pages right on your home page in order to allow visitors to access all of your content in only one click. Awesome, right? No – not awesome at all. While that massive menu of links might offer one-click access to your site’s entire content catalog, it will also be a confusing, gargantuan mess that provides visitors with little in the way of clear direction.
Remember, visitors to your site are making instinctive decisions in as little as three seconds. They do not want to sift through a laundry list of dozens of links in order to find the one that’s relevant to them. Rather, they want to make easy, logical choices that get them to where they want to go without a lot of guesswork and back-button clicking.
Another popular answer I heard in the course of my survey was fast load time. A webpage that takes too long to fully load is major source of frustration for visitors. After all, if they want to make a decision in as little as three seconds, and your site takes seven seconds to load, chances are good that they’re going to choose to navigate away from your site before they ever even see it. Seven seconds may not seem like a long time, but in the instant-gratification-driven world of the Internet, it’s practically an eternity.
If your site is slow to load for visitors who have a fast Internet connection, you’re really going to be in trouble with users who don’t have the benefit of a lightning-speed connection, including those on mobile devices who might be in a location where network coverage is slow or spotty.
Ensuring that your site loads quickly is crucial to providing an optimal experience for all visitors, regardless of their device or quality of connection. After all, no one has ever complained that a site loaded too fast for them!
Advertising is a necessary evil for many websites. If your business model depends at least in part on revenue generated by ads on your site, then removing those ads simply because visitors don’t care for them is probably not a realistic option. Still, the fact that ads offer little more than an annoyance to most visitors is something that you should be aware of.
When considering ads for your website, you must take into account not only the needs of your business but also the needs of your customers. Ads that make your site more difficult to use should be avoided at all cost, especially intrusive ads that take over the screen or obstruct areas of your content with over-the-top, in-your-face animation or video. These “take-over” ads are impossible for website visitors to ignore; they have to interact with them on some level, even if it’s just to hit the “close” icon, in order to achieve their purpose in coming to your site. Of course, the inability to disregard these ads is why advertisers love this format, but if you use them on your site, you’re running the risk that your customers and prospects will quickly tire of the hassle of dealing with them and seek out a competitor who will offer them a more user-friendly browsing experience.
Ads may be a fact of life for your website, but the types of ads you allow is well within your control. Listen to your customers, and make sure you choose advertising display options that do not compromise the overall quality of their user experience.
One of the worst experiences a user can have online is when they have invested time in a site, gone through the necessary steps to complete a transaction – whether it’s to make a purchase, sign up for a membership, complete a request form, etc. – only to have the site crash and burn during the final steps of that transaction. This is a soul-crushing experience and one of the best ways to drive customers away for good!
Make sure that your website is working as expected at all times. If you’ve recently incorporated new features into your site, thoroughly test not only those new features but also all other existing subsystems within the site to ensure that no problems have been introduced along with the new code that has been added to the site.
Even if you’ve not recently added any new features or functionality, you should schedule routine testing to make sure the site is operating as expected and does not crash just as your visitors are about to cross the finish line and complete a successful transaction.
The five elements covered in this article are ones that I heard again and again during my experiment. Of course, I heard many other answers as well, including “works well on my phone,” “good prices,” “information in Spanish” and “easy-to-find contact information.”
One of the most interesting discoveries to come out of my survey process was the answers that I didn’t hear. Not one person said that they wanted a site that “looked good” or had a “nice design.”
Nor did I hear any comments that people wanted features like “live chat” or “contact forms.” Does this mean that visitors do not want an attractively designed site or access to helpful features? Of course not – it means that those things should already be a part of a good site by default.
Great design is unobtrusive; it provides elegant yet simple visual cues that make the site easy to use and make information easy to find – two of the most commonly mentioned things that people want from a site. So, while the participants in my informal survey may not have cited beautiful design explicitly, they were, in fact, asking for it by proxy.
Great design and helpful features are not only important; they are expected.
It should come as no surprise that visitors want a site that is easy to use, loads quickly and works seamlessly. All of these should be par for the course for any site, which makes it all the more surprising to see so many sites that fail in even these most basic areas.
When evaluating the effectiveness of your site, start with these fundamentals. If your site fails the test in any one of these areas, then no amount of flashy features or advanced technology can compensate for the poor experience you’ve provided for your users. First and foremost, master the basics that visitors demand and then work up from there!Jeremy Girard