It wasn’t so long ago that advertising was just a tool to get customers into the door. Once they stepped through the threshold or picked up the phone to call, that was when your customer service practices could take over and you could begin to advocate your products, take care of your customers, and ultimately close the sale. And for a while, websites were lumped into that advertising category by most small business owners.
By now we all realize that websites are so much more important than that to the vitality and growth of our businesses. We no longer have the luxury of greeting the customer at the front door to begin advocating for our product or service. Most of our customers have already decided to pursue (or not pursue) our products and services long before they’ve contacted us. In fact, some of us never even speak to our customers before we’ve sold a product or service to them. They’ve made these decisions based on their first impressions and interactions with our business…through our website.
So, if you would ask whether UX (or User Experience) matters for your small business, then the answer is a big fat YES. It absolutely does.
What is Important for a Small Business Website?
Our websites are more than just a first impression. They are our first interaction with our customer. In this way, our customer is essentially stepping into our front door for the first time when they visit our website. When a customer steps through the front door, how do you want them to feel? UX practices determine not only how a user navigates your website, but how they connect with your business, your products, and your services. If a customer feels agitated or confused, they are not likely to stay long. On the other hand, if your customer feels welcome and comfortable, then the experience is transformed into an enjoyable one.
So, what are some things that we can do to keep our customers happy once they’ve stepped into our virtual storefront? In a brick and mortar environment, we might put product teasers or beautiful packages at the front of the store to attract people. We organize our store in such a way that it is comfortable for people to work their way through the aisles because we know that crowded aisles and lack of organization make it difficult for customers to find what they’re looking for. We may occasionally ask if we can help them find anything, but we do not want them to feel pestered, so we lay our store out in a way that allows them to do most of the looking on their own. We set out endcaps for products that we really want to show off or promote without overburdening our customer with sales tactics. All of this we do to provide our customers with a comfortable experience.
We can translate and apply very similar practices to create the same comfortable and enjoyable experience for users (i.e. customers) on our website.
Simplicity vs. Clarity of Path
Simplicity is a concept that is commonly touted as extremely important in the world of UX design. However, simplicity is a subjective term and one that can be easily misunderstood. We can view simplicity as a clean layout, the level of complexity of the site build, or how many features are offered to the users. All have very different context and can, therefore, be lost in translation.
Of course, we want the user experience to be as simple and straight forward as possible. However, the methods that we use to create this experience are not always simple in and of themselves.
More important than simplicity for your website user experience is clarity of path. Ultimately, we want users to perform certain actions on our site, whether it be making a purchase, scheduling a service, or filling out a form. There is always a path from the point where the user enters your site to the point where they perform that action. Your website’s job is to guide your user along that path to perform that action.
The tools that you would use to guide your user are implicitly connected to your business model and the types of products and services that you offer. If your products speak to multiple audiences and demographics, then you will need to take all of those perspectives into account when you are creating a path for them.
Whether that be bringing those specific users into the area of the website that is most relevant for them to begin with or providing crumbs for different types of users to follow, making their way to the products and services that are best for them. We can accomplish these things through the way that we deliver our content, what we call attention to and when we call attention to it, the use of landing pages, cross-selling of products, and by subtly asking the user when they need help.
Best Practices for Great Usability
Compartmentalize Your Content
Breaking your content out into smaller bits is an extremely effective way of helping users to find the content that they are looking for without becoming overwhelmed. In the same way that you would not tell every user about every product or service when they walk through the door, you would not want to do so with the home page of your website. Give users smaller bits of content, highlighting your primary offerings. Give them a chance to browse. This makes it easy for users to quickly peruse your home page, find what they’re looking for and follow that path. If multiple services are offered under one category, break your category page out in the same way, highlighting a little about each service or product. Finally, when the user has found exactly what they’re looking for, you can now give them the meat of the content and really drive it home. You are delivering content according to what your customer has asked for.
Keep Your Headings and Labels Clear and Direct
We’ve all been lost in the aisle where nothing is alphabetized, color-coded, or arranged in any sort of clear order, and we all know how frustrating that can be. It is okay to show your personality through your content, including headlines and labeling. In fact, that’s a great way to build a relationship with your users. Ultimately, however, it is far more important that your users can find their way around. Just be sure to put some serious thought into style vs. usability.
One of the best ways to guide your users to take specific actions on your website is through the visual hierarchy. This is done through a specific focus on color, size, form, imagery, animation, illustration, typography, spacing, and how all of those elements interact to call attention to (or away from) different elements on your site. A font choice can make all of the difference as to how effective your call to action is, whether it be the font in the call to action or the fonts surrounding the call to action. By the way, a call-to-action itself is more than just a button. It is important to consider all of the design elements that are used to call attention to the desired action without competing with the rest of your page or site.
Make Use of Defaults
When a user is filling out a long form, consider whether there are answers that might be the same for most users. For example, if you are based in California, and most of your users are in California, set the address fields on your forms to California as a default, giving your users less to fill out. If a specific product size is far more common than others, make that size the default choice. Overall the less effort the user has to make to perform standard actions on your site, the better their experience will be.
How Does User Experience Differ for Small Business vs. Corporate Business?
The short answer here is that it doesn’t. Our small businesses face the same types of challenges when it comes to User Experience for our websites. We all have audiences, competitors, and a unique niche or selling proposition.
More importantly, we all have users. They all have different interests, likes and dislikes, capabilities, emotions, tolerances, and more. Do what you can to provide them with an excellent experience and they will keep coming back.