When you think of a good website, what criteria do you lay out to identify it as such? Are there specific color schemes? Is it easy to navigate? Personally, I find that it’s actually easier (and more concise) to note the negatives rather than the positives when discerning whether a website is of high quality. What I look for in particular is something we like to call “User Friction”. Think of the rules of friction itself: “the resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another.” When friction is applied to an object in motion with a stagnant surface, the object tends to slow down tremendously in most cases.
When observing the fluidity of navigating a website, we are going to conceptualize our customers as an object which is slowed each time it hits a new object (in this case, directing users to a new section of a website). How we apply the term “user friction” to a website is by identifying all of the individual parts which slow down the user’s path from entering the website to the POS. Let’s go ahead and launch into some examples of user friction which can help you identify if your website is properly designed, as well as some tips to help rectify any mistakes.
Weak or Missing Search Bar
The search function on an ecommerce website is arguably the strongest tool in their online arsenal. Customers who know what they want are going to expect that they find the product NOW; rather than later. A strong search bar isn’t simply a box which is easy to locate, it encompasses the strength of the entire search function built into your website.
To make your search bar as effective as possible, products should be categorized properly, use concise names and descriptions, and narrow the search based on the number of keywords entered.
Try not to use characters that aren’t readily available on the keyboard to the most computer illiterate users when naming products. Using these characters can cause certain search functions to ignore the correct product.
Don’t make your product titles excessively lengthy. If the products are listed on your website, try to keep as much information as you can in the description. Keep important identifiers such as color or dimension in the title as contextually appropriate; taking a look at Amazon listings can help you with forming the titles for your products.
Search functions will sometimes include a search on every keyword entered into a query, meaning that “small brown dog bed” will compile a search for every individual product containing *even one* of these words. Customers performing a search aren’t interested in delving through your catalog; they just want to view at most ten or so products.
Poor Navigation Bar
Your navigation bar will invariably be used by people who are intrigued by your website. Sometimes during the uploading of content onto the website (products in particular) the content isn’t placed within categories, placed in the wrong categories, or the sheer volume of categories is so high that it feels impossible to navigate the entire website without taking eons. All of these mistakes cause the customer to spend extra time attempting to search through the catalog, meaning that there’s extra chance for the user friction to become enough that the customer leaves the website all together.
Create broader categories to filter content through. If a customer intends to find a “small brown dog bed” via browsing your website, it’s far more intimidating to navigate through (Pets -> Dogs -> Small Dogs -> Household Items -> Beds -> Brown Beds) than (Pets -> Dogs -> Beds). Don’t fret if this makes a category list longer, it is mentally more attractive than diving deeper into subcategories.
Approach creating categories as creating an easily solvable maze. When your customer enters this maze, the goal is to get them to the end as quickly as possible without frustrating them. Customers will feel satisfied with reaching the end quickly.
Avoid creating too many categories by employing keywords in product titles and descriptions. If you are selling a book on figure skating, and it’s the only skating related book you have, don’t create “Skating”, “Ice Skating”, or “Figure Skating” categories. Leave it in the “Sports” category. This keeps the navigation bar from cluttering, and allows your refinement searches to shine.
Long, Scrolling Website With Bulk or Without a Properly Formatted Navigation Bar
One of the website layouts that’s become popular in the last couple years is the single-page scrolling websites. They’re long, contain all of the website’s information, and are supposed to be sectioned to make navigation simple for customers. Some websites defeat this purpose by including, or entirely excluding, a navigation bar that doesn’t properly segment the data. This causes viewers to be unable to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily (contradicting the aforementioned goal of ease-of-use).
If your website is a single-page-scroller, section it almost as you would a book. You wouldn’t want a restaurant menu at the bottom of the “About Us” section, since the navigation bar won’t bring you straight to the menu. Speed is of the essence with all websites, and exponentially so with single page sites.
Refrain from placing too much content within a section. Bulking sections on a single-page site is particularly detrimental to the experience of mobile users, who account for more than 50% of Google searches.
The Result of a Lack of Website Flow
Websites guilty of the previous infractions result in sites that don’t possess a good “flow”. Think back to the term “user friction”, and how the customer’s journey through a website will slow them down until they stop. An effective website will cause the experience to be fluid, leading to us viewing a positive experience as having a “flow’. Let’s take a look at a plinko board to visualize what the customer goes through on both a poorly and properly executed website experience:
Poorly Composed Website: Think of the ball being dropped as the customer entering your website. As they navigate through the site, they’re constantly being stopped by misplaced product, erroneous categories, or even pages which were never completed. Each stop causes increasing user friction as they attempt to move to the POS. No one wants to gamble on finding information or a product they want, so don’t make the process into one.
Properly Composed Website: This time, we’re going to remove 90% of the bars from the face of the bar. The ball naturally will hit fewer bars, which means that the likelihood of landing in the slot is substantially higher. The customer no longer needs to work towards landing on the goal they desire, so they’re not only more likely to reach the goal but are also more likely to return to the website again.
A Couple Tips for Avoiding the Problem
Keep in mind that this isn’t the full list of issues a website may possess, but are instead ones which are the most impactful. Shoddy advertisements, poor color schemes, text font, and a plethora of less impactful issues can affect the experience of your customer base. If you are wondering about your website, there are some reliable ways to test your bias towards your setup.
Third party viewers are the most direct way of challenging your personal bias. As with writing composition, having someone to review your product (in this case, your website) will help you catch mistakes or take a different perspective. Sit some friends, family, or colleagues down and ask them to navigate your site. Have them explain what they do and do not like, and try to have them explain why if possible. Write down what they say, and review their feedback after you’ve received a few points of view. Having this feedback is invaluable whether you are redesigning your website yourself, or can now give articulated pointers to the company you’ve hired to do it for you.
You can compare and contrast by going back to the tried-and-true technique of reviewing competitors in your field. Google search some keywords dealing with your business, and look at the websites that pop up. Try navigating through these sites, and take note of what you do and do not like about the website, as well as your reasoning. As with the third party testers, your notes are invaluable in any reconstruction performed on your site.
Hopefully, with these tips, you can identify potential issues with your website and act upon them accordingly. Don’t forget that simplicity always helps when in doubt!