User experience (or UX as it’s affectionately called) is a fickle thing. As a concept, it covers A LOT of things yet tells you very little about what you need to know in a pragmatic way. It refers to a wide range of subjective experiences based on a comprehensive set of practical standards and techniques.
The online world was initially designed as a hypertextual information space, which soon turned into a multifaceted experience thanks to the development of increasingly sophisticated frontend and backend technologies. With multiple channels and devices at our disposal, user experience is a complicated issue that keeps on evolving beyond its intended original application.
As users press for polished experiences and reward those who provide them, the key is to recognize and integrate various elements and practices along the way. If you’re looking to improve user experience, here are key steps (in no particular order) you can take to make it happen:
Step #1: Load pages faster
Speeding up your website’s performance is an obvious step toward a better user experience. There are way too many sites out there and with attacks on users’ attention spans coming from every corner of the Internet, it’s irresponsible to expect any user will wait long enough for a page to load (in case they don’t have a slow connection).
If you don’t want users bouncing due to their impatience, you need to make every second count. To do that, let’s make sure you first understand the difference between ‘page speed’ and ‘site speed’.
Seemingly two same things that affect user experience, page speed (aka page load time) represents the time it takes a specific page (e.g. ‘Blog’ page) to fully display content so you can optimize the performance of that specific page. In contrast, Site speed refers to the speed at which your entire website loads (e.g. rendering and pre-rendering processes that happen in the background) as people use it.
It’s important to make a distinction because you can improve user experience in two ways:
- looking at your website as a whole to discover if there are any categories or specific elements where users are encountering issues and leaving;
- fine-tuning individual page speeds.
Google provides a couple of tools for both cases: Page Speed Insights for desktop and mobile page-specific loading speeds and suggestions for improvement, and Test My Site to compare your site’s mobile speed. There are plenty of other tools you can use such as GTMetrix, Pingdom, WebPageTest, and more. Additionally, you can dive deep(er) in the user experience design and check out guides like the one on Moz that detail different techniques for improving page loading speed. As a quick preview, you can:
- compress your images
- cut down on the number of plugins you use
- optimize CSS delivery
- leverage browser caching
- reduce redirects
- use faster hosting
and a bunch of other stuff. The bottom line is that pages with a long(er) loading time are prone to having higher bounce rates and lower average time on page, thus negatively affecting conversions.
Another plus for speeding up things is that the almighty Google has pegged page and site speed as ranking factors for search results. According to Moz, a slow page speed prevents search engines from crawling more pages using their allotted crawl budget, this time negatively affecting your site’s indexation.
Step #2: add text-to-speech to your arsenal
Adding an audio option to your content is one of the newest strategies to improve user experience. The consumption of audio content is constantly growing, so much so that the US alone has about 192 million (68% of the population) monthly listeners of online audio. Average time spent listening clocks at more than 15 hours a week, which leads me to a reasonable conclusion:
the age of audio content is here.
Much of the credit goes to podcasts that have reinvented content interaction and consumption in a world where people are largely on the move. Almost single-handedly, podcasting has broadened the possibilities of audio as a content channel, paving the way to success other formats such as audio articles and skills/actions are currently enjoying.
So, if you are a publisher, brand content, or a DIY content creator with a fair amount of textual content, this is how you tangibly improve user experience. A text-to-speech solution in the form of a simple audio player transforms text into lifelike speech within minutes. I say ‘lifelike’ as these synthetic voices (using actual voices as the basis of synthesis) have advanced to a point where they are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. Feel free to play this post via the player below the title for a sample of speech quality or use this demo to test on your own piece of content and different settings.
Customization options usually include different languages (so you can reach more people), different voices, playback speed, and others that allow you to seamlessly blend the player with the rest of the website.
Now, I bet some of you are wondering:
Hey, aren’t I about to add MORE stuff on my site and make it slower?
That is a good question, considering what I just wrote on the page speed subject.
The answer is generally no.
A browser typically loads a page from top to bottom and if the element is synchronous, it will stop loading the page until that specific element has been fully loaded. That being said, do recognize that every website is unique so mileage may vary but these are standards the industry has set and follows to a T.
The reason why I focus on text-to-speech as a method of improving user experience is that there is no scalable alternative. For an occasional brand here and there, it might make more sense to record live voice in the vein of podcasts. With a professional voice actor, a brand gets a unique footprint and recognition, as well as a process that is potentially very expensive if there are large volumes.
Furthermore, the automation of such instances is currently largely reserved for titans like Amazon and Google with their Samuel L. Jacksons’ and John Legends’ or large brands who can afford that kind of online marketing.
Also, you should perceive adding a listening experience as a step forward to increasing the accessibility of your website. People with visual impairment and disabilities comprise a huge demographic and with audio content, you are basically removing accessibility barriers and directly contributing to their user experience.
If you’re still not convinced audio content is the way to go, consider the monetization aspect. Adding and audio experience can be a new revenue stream as ads are worked into the listening experience. And it pays off. One study has shown that users are 35% more receptive to audio advertising than its video counterpart when they’re relaxed and focused, with pretty even receptivity levels across different scenarios. Even the ever-elusive Generation X has a 32% higher receptivity to audio ads than video ads. Another research has found that people respond to audio ads in a positive way, considering them less intrusive than visual ones.
And that’s only the audio advertising part without even mentioning the freedom to experiment with the distribution and delivery of your content.
With ConTech (content technology) in the mix, you can further improve end-user experience and increase onsite engagement through content aggregation and recommendation. A separate embedded unit will suggest top trending and related content based on continuous learning of users’/listeners’ behavior.
Because the scope of what audio-enabled platforms can do is huge, ConTech goes perfectly in line with the daily habits and behaviors of today’s tech-savvy audience. It’s the straightforward way to easily and quickly integrate content with the rising number of audio and voice-enabled platforms.
Step #3: Improve readability
Interestingly enough, readability doesn’t strictly adhere to text only. Sure, the primary objective is for your content to have a high level of understanding by using clear language and short sentences and paragraphs (three to four lines seems to be the consensus). Then, you carefully place your headings to create structured writing and play with line height (distance between two adjacent lines of text) and font types and sizes for accentuation.
However, often a user experience improvement plan overlooks the full extent of readability because numerous things go into creating readable content, not just text. For starters, you can:
- Contrast the text and background color where one should appear distinct against the other.
- How you arrange content also matters. Bullet points are the undisputed king in this area (see?), making it easier to read text that is broken into actionable pieces.
- Visual content that can supplement the existing content and give the right idea to the user. If used properly, it can even steer them toward an action you want them to perform. As a species, we comprehend visuals faster than text, and that is something you can leverage in almost every situation.
Case in point: one chocolate maker’s promotion of a chocolate bar with a three-dimensional appearance and a ready CTA to the left of it.
While it doesn’t sound like it at first, readability is a fairly broad and important part of user experience. As with everything online, you can use tools like Readability Test Tool and Readable to measure and optimize your readability. Some digital writing tools such as Grammarly (without which yours truly wouldn’t be so proficient in writing) also offer readability metrics and scores to make sure whatever you write is easy to understand.
Readability is also a “side effect” of adding an audio option to your site via a text-to-speech solution. As great as that technology is, it isn’t perfect because some content works better when converted and some doesn’t work as expected. In turn, that means you need to write content for audio: be short and simple (among other things) with every word pulling its weight for easier comprehension.
Step #4: Have a pro evaluate your web design
This step ventures into UX design, which is a key component of user experience. The main reason why I think an expert UX practitioner, preferably a UX designer, should have a hand in this effort is that a lot of user experience (still) revolves around text. If you are content specialists, there’s not much you can do about visual design.
Yet, advice or tips from a pro can immensely improve user experience by making sure you have a copy-friendly design that improves the legibility of your copy. And that’s just one specific example. The way an entire site is laid out makes a notable impact on how users interact with it.
From my experience (limited as it may be compared to others), the key is to help your users.
For instance, if a particular page features a call to action, you want to keep your content concise. If the idea is for a user to fill a form, that form needs to be designed properly so there is no friction in filling it out. Generally speaking, users can become overwhelmed if targeted with too much content. They may miss the point of what they are supposed to do. It’s in situations like these where an expert can help improve website user flow and streamline the user experience.
If the money is tight, there is always an option to bury your head in this matter and come out as an expert yourself. With the relevant information available a few clicks or taps away, it’s a viable option if you have the time and dedication.
The path to a great user experience begins with removing friction and adapting to evolving needs
I’d like to think that 15 minutes or so of your time were well spent reading or listening to this post in your quest to improve user experience. The simple truth of the matter is that content is evolving, which automatically means the user experience is evolving.
Who would have thought that just five years ago, podcasts would have a reserved spot in search results? Or that technology would evolve so fast that we can legitimately talk to our speakers and receive back actual, valuable information? Or that flashy design would become outdated?
Hence, it’s important to understand that users’ needs change and adapt to ongoing developments. We are creatures of habit and we like consistency. In the context of the Internet, if we don’t find it in one place, we quickly move on to the other. More than ever before, it’s vital to provide an experience your audience can rely on each and every time.
As time goes on, there will be new ideas to improve user experience. While it will be crucial to keep a track of new developments, it will be equally important to have the “old” practices perfected. In this day and age, people are more demanding and choosy. In a way, they feel entitled to great user experience and are very intolerant of a subpar one.
With user experience practices expanding, there will be always room for improvement. Take that change as a positive thing – as an opportunity to make your website better and more in tune with what your audience expects.
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