Originally posted on semrush.com.
Do you ever navigate to a blog post for information, only to find that the site is so hard to look at you can barely even bring yourself to read it? Sadly, this happens more often than it should.
Gathering, writing, and sharing information aren’t the only important aspects of your content strategy. The design of your websites and blogs is also essential--and may just require even more attention than writing the articles themselves. If you don’t put effort into maximizing your site’s UX, the time and effort you spend on research and writing will only go to waste.
From improving your content formats to making your site more visually appealing, there are lots of factors that can help you better the user experience of your website or blog.
1. Choose the Right Headings
You might not think about how important headings are to your site’s user experience. After all, our readers hardly notice headings, right? Think again.
Formatting subheadings requires a careful strategy. The most effective subheadings are:
Clear and straightforward
Similar in length
Parallel in structure
Directly related to the title of your article
Headings in articles aren’t just good for SEO. By highlighting searchable key terms, your headings and subheadings clearly and directly address the questions your readers are looking for, making your website more comfortable to navigate. They also break up the text, making articles easier to scan and less daunting for your readers.
2. Add Authentic Images
We all know that images are great for making web pages more visually interesting. Still, images must be chosen carefully.
While it is cheap and easy to upload stock photos, it is best to avoid stock photos altogether. This is true regardless of whether you hire a professional photographer or take the pictures yourself. Stock photography may look professional, but they are often impersonal, vacuous, and devoid of character.
A particularly elucidating photo experiment proves this point exactly. When Visual Website Optimizer ran a test for a moving company to determine the value of real photography versus stock photos, it found that a page displaying original photos of their trucks and crew showed a 45% improvement in conversions over the stock version.
3. Mix and Match Content Formats
The last thing you want is for well-researched blog posts to come across as dull and monotonous. While tone and style are certainly responsible for engaging written content, so too is the visual appeal.
Visual appeal isn’t just about inserting images; it is also about the look and formatting of the text itself. Varied content formats between articles or even within the same article give your content visual texture.
Rather than stick to long paragraphs, break up your text with subheadings, bullet points, or lists (like this one).
4. Use White Space to Your Advantage
Think about it: If this entire article were just one big paragraph, you probably wouldn’t be reading it, would you?
How you format your words isn’t the only thing that makes your text visually appealing; equally as important is the blank space between the images and text, also called white space.
White space is critical because it invites your readers into the article, giving them room to breathe. Paragraph separations, subheadings, lists, and spaces around images all help create white space.
Consider these two examples of text. The first, from Jack Kerouac’s novel On The Road, is deliberately long and dense for stylistic effect.
I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead. With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road. Before that I’d often dreamed of going West to see the country, always vaguely planning and never taking off. Dean is the perfect guy for the road because he actually was born on the road, when his parents were passing through Salt Lake City in 1926, in a jalopy, on their way to Los Angeles. First reports of him came to me through Chad King, who’d shown me a few letters from him written in a New Mexico reform school. I was tremendously interested in the letters because they so naively and sweetly asked Chad to teach him all about Nietzsche and all the wonderful intellectual things that Chad knew. At one point Carlo and I talked about the letters and wondered if we would ever meet the strange Dean Moriarty. This is all far back, when Dean was not the way he is today, when he was a young jailkid shrouded in mystery. Then news came that Dean was out of reform school and was coming to New York for the first time; also there was talk that he had just married a girl called Marylou.
While this style works well for a novel, it would be too convoluted in a blog post. Take, on the other hand, this article from CNBC:
Following your work blunder, Black encourages you to reach out to people you are close to at work as fast as possible.
‘Get to your champions, your supporters, your mentors, you don't want them hearing about it in the hallway from somebody else a week later,’ Black says.
The point is to make sure they hear the correct information directly from you and not a rumor that has spun out of control.
Those champions and supporters can help you restore your personal image, Black adds.
Since the purpose of a blog post is to convey information clearly and directly to busy readers, you don't want your articles to be poetic and difficult to decipher; instead, you want your articles to be well-spaced and easy to navigate and understand.
5. Make It Interactive
While varied content formats and a strategic use of white space make your site easy and pleasant to use, you can spice up the look and feel of your site even more. Making your site interactive makes your users more likely to browse your site for additional articles and to keep coming back.
There are many different types of interactive content. One option is to make website text and images subtly interact with the user’s mouse. When the user’s mouse hovers over a menu item, the text can change color. Or, when the user hovers over a product image, explanatory overlay text can fade in.
You can also pursue more creative options. Apester, for example, works with publications to embed quizzes, polls, and visual storytelling within the articles themselves. Visual storytelling is particularly useful in driving user interaction, as it connects with readers’ emotions and gives them a chance to be part of your site’s narrative. When your readers actively participate in the content they read, you increase user engagement and the time spent on your site.
6. Optimize Your Site for Mobile
It is frustrating to navigate to a site using your phone, only to find that the site’s pages don’t fit properly onto your mobile screen. Google is equally eager for change, as revealed with the mobile-friendly ranking boost it put forth in 2015.
Now, Google is providing yet another incentive for sites to go mobile-friendly. It is shifting to a mobile-first index - meaning that it will look primarily at mobile content for its search rankings. Google already sees more mobile searches than desktop searches, and its upcoming shift to a mobile-first index, estimated to roll out sometime in 2018, is its way to account for this.
Still, Google doesn’t want you to worry if you are slow to go mobile. For those without a mobile site, the search engine will still index their desktop site. But the bottom line is that mobile content will be the decisive factor in ranking search results. This prioritization of mobile represents an important fact - that mobile is indeed the new standard and that, in the future, there could be bigger consequences for not adapting your site accordingly.
If you want to rank well for SEO, and if you don’t want users to give up on your site, it is critical that you make your pages easily viewable and readable on mobile. This will not only make your site more searchable but will also drastically improve its usability. A great option to gear up for Google’s change, which the search giant is trying to push, is to move towards responsive web design, which gives a site capabilities to automatically accommodate for features like screen size and device type.
7. Eliminate and Customize Your 404s
As you probably know from personal experience, 404 error pages are a huge deterrent from reading a page. Even if just one page on a website displays a 404, readers are likely to navigate away from the site altogether in search of a faster, more reliable one. In other words, a single 404 on your site could drive potential readers away.
To avoid this, thoroughly search your site to catch all your 404s before your readers do. On top of that, rather than allow your site to navigate to the standard 404 page, personalize 404 error messages so that they are friendly and attractive. Though such messages are, of course, best avoided, custom 404s, when they do exist, are better than those without personality.
Kualo, in particular, has a great 404 page that entertains users with its own version of Space Invaders:
Integrating games into your 404s is an effective way to keep your readers entertained, rather than annoyed when a link fails to load. You can use entertaining, thematically relevant images for a similar effect.
Still, entertainment value is just one key virtue of a good 404. You should also couple your entertainment tactics with a clear and simple error message about what went wrong, as well as options for easy navigation back to your site.
Regardless of your page design, you should make it clear to users that you empathize with them and genuinely care about delivering a smooth and comfortable browsing experience. You should also speak in a personable tone and use words that your users can relate to and understand. This, combined with the humor that a good 404 page can bring, helps build an emotional connection with your users.
8. Speed Up Your Page Loads
In the current age of fast-paced work and neverending multi-tasking, speedy page loads can make or break whether a user remains on your site. If a page loads too slowly, users are likely to give up going to your website in favor of faster ones--including the sites of your competitors. In fact, it’s been shown that 87% of users who have to wait 2 seconds for a page to load will abandon the site.
Improving your page load speed is not only important for desktop, but it is also an integral part of optimizing for mobile that represents one of Google’s many efforts to encourage what might already be a natural shift toward the mobile web. The company is facilitating the move toward an increasingly user-friendly mobile experience with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), a Google-backed project with the goal of boosting mobile page load speed and streamlining the mobile web.
In order to check whether your site delivers a speedy user experience across all platforms, you can use free tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights. When you enter the URL of the site in question, the Google tool will show areas where your page speed is weak and provide suggestions for improvement.
Your Website Should Be An Experience
From creating a quick and comfortable browsing experience to making your content clear, eye-catching, and interesting, it is essential that you take the time to improve your site’s user experience. A good web experience isn’t just about reading useful information; even more, it’s about reading useful information in a pleasing and engaging way. Informative content alone simply isn’t enough.