Your website is the gateway to your business. Think of it as your online storefront. For many of us, our websites are the only gateway to our businesses because we don’t have physical shops or other public spaces. The great thing about websites is that unlike many social media platforms, it is readily available to anyone – your visitors don’t need to have an account just to log in and see it.
Whether you use your website as a kind of online calling card, or your website is a full-fledged website with loads of customized functionality, we need to remember that for a lot of our customers it is the first interaction they will have with you.
Because that first interaction is their introduction to you and your brand, we need to consider your user, and how they will find what they need out of your website. Forget what your business needs from your website – trust me, your ideal customer doesn’t care what you or your business needs from your website. And really, why should they? Your website needs to do what your visitor wants it to do, and help them find what they want. What they want is the solution to their own problem. Not yours.
Your gateway needs to provide a good user experience or UX. Without a good UX, why would they choose to work with you? And if your UX doesn’t account for as many user preferences or abilities as possible, you’re cutting off huge swaths of the population without even realizing it.
I have a fine arts background and began designing websites back in 2010 as a purely visual user myself. That means I thought the most important thing about web design was, essentially, to offer a certain visual appeal. Pretty superficial stuff, although I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking pretty isn’t enough to make even a “decent” website. It certainly isn’t enough to get attention from the search engines. When responsive web design became the standard several years ago, I began to recognize that there’s a huge range of technical aspects behind the visual design of a website. All those aspects make up the user experience.
Without a focus on the end user, there’s a real risk that your website provides no actual value to your user or is actively broken. In which case, what is the point of even having a website?
We’ve all been on websites that had something that didn’t work – you couldn’t see the call-to-action button, you couldn’t read the text, the contact form didn’t work. If you’re a keyboard user or you use other assistive tech, you already know that most websites can only be used with a mouse. Consciously or otherwise, that poor user experience translates directly to your impression of the brand.
User experience and web accessibility dovetail beautifully, because good design is good for everyone. If you design your website for as many users as possible, it makes a better experience for all users. And as search engines continue to put more and more emphasis on the user journey and UX, ensuring your own site is user-friendly and accessible is the best investment in your own brand awareness.
If your website is your gateway, your homepage is like the front door to your business. It’s often the first interaction a potential customer has with your brand, so you know it’s important to make a good impression. If your homepage is a mess, it can quickly lead to frustration and, ultimately, turning away potential customers. That’s why it’s crucial to take the time to review and improve your homepage regularly.
Remember, we’re not talking about your use of colours or fancy gidgets – if you’re colour blind, or you have neurocognitive differences, or even if your screen just doesn’t display those flashy moving gifs, your visual “appeal” is wasted.
With so much riding on your homepage, it’s essential to review it regularly to ensure it is delivering the best user experience possible. By doing so, you can attract and retain more customers who will be more likely to come back for more.
There are preliminary items we need to monitor as well, the things that need to be in place before your user can even reach your front door. We’ll call these your curb appeal, and these things are crucial for your user to be able to click on your website in the first place.
How to Check Your Curb Appeal
If any or all of these are not met, it doesn’t matter how much time and energy you’ve put into your homepage design – they won’t see it, and you probably won’t know they tried.
- there are no security warnings when they type in your URL, or click on your site from a google search
- it can’t take too long to load (two seconds is the current industry advice)
- it’s responsive, which means it works on mobile devices equally well
Your website’s homepage is the face of your business in the online world. If you’ve never worked a retail job, you may not know how easy it is to open your shop for the day and forget to flip the open sign. Or you flip the switch but neglect to unlock the front door. This confuses visitors, because you might look like you’re open when you’re not, or vice versa. Websites are the same: you need to look like you’re open, and act like you’re open, otherwise your user gets confused – and a confused user is not a happy user.
You may have heard this stat already, but more than half of website traffic now comes from mobile devices. Your own site might show slightly different stats, but regardless of how many people are trying to visit your website on their mobile or tablet, your website needs to work for them.
Ensure your site has a responsive design, meaning it adjusts to different screen sizes and is optimized for touch-screen interactions. This might be an easy fix, or you might need to hire a designer to redo your website, but this is the bare minimum requirement for providing a decent user experience on your website.
In keeping with our front-door metaphor, if your visitor cannot get ahold of you, you have locked your virtual front door and thrown away the key. If your website does nothing else, or even if you believe it’s already working just fine, do this anyway.
Go to your website today. Take five minutes and check all of this list to make sure the information is correct. Then, take five more minutes and test them. Remember, visual appeal means nothing if the tech isn’t there to back it up, and even great web designers sometimes make typos.
The basics really matter – Your homepage checklist
Run these tests in a private or incognito browser for best practice. Even better, run these tests from both your mobile device AND your laptop browser.
- Test your phone number
- Does it look correct?
- Is it clickable (hint: it should be)?
- If it’s clickable, does the link open the correct number?
- Test your email address
- Same questions as above. Make sure the link opens the correct email address – it’s easy to have a typo in the code.
- Your address – If you have a publicly listed address, it should be immediately obvious on your homepage. If your address is private, you should at minimum list your geographic area or area of service. Don’t make people hunt down your info to see if you’re local.
- If your address is public, is there a google map or other online map?
- Does the online map work, or show an error message?
- Contact forms and/or links – Your contact form might be on your Contact page and not right on your homepage, but you need to test it anyway.
- Is there recaptcha? Can you pass it?
- Does the submit button work?
- Once you submit a test message, do you actually receive an email in your inbox? If not, where did it go?
- Hours of operation
- If you have them on your website, are they correct?
The basics are basic for a reason: they are the foundation of your online presence. For now, forget about your visual look, your colour scheme, your flashy animations (which, by the way, should be removed entirely because they add visual and cognitive clutter).
Your online brand is priceless and needs to be protected. If you give your potential customer a lousy user experience on your website and they can’t get ahold of you, they’ll find someone else.
An accessible, user-friendly website is key for our online world today. If you’re curious to see how your website holds up, we invite you to try our Spotlight Test at spotlight.brightwebs.ca. A quick self-evaluation will give you a customized report and a chance to see exactly how your website is doing.
Bright Webs Design