A fresh perspective can help you get the most out of your website, especially when approaching the experience from the point of view of your customers. The first of this two-part series examines the importance of readability and performance, and what you need to look for when improving your website.
Your website is your most powerful online presence, and, as such, it’s an effective tool for showcasing who you are and what you do. But it’s also important to remember that your website is not just about You.
Read more about bringing your brand to life through your website here
Sure, brand identity and personality are integral aspects, but it’s easy to become overly precious about these things, or slightly complacent as time goes on, and forget that a successful website is as much about serving your customers as it is a representation of yourself.
Because we now live in a primarily digital world, your website has as much of an impact on your customer service as any physical interaction — arguably more so. With that in mind, you should always be asking yourself: “What will a prospective customer experience when they visit my website?”
Seeing your website through the eyes of a customer, rather than looking at things purely from your own perspective, can help identify areas that could be improved upon and maximise its effectiveness as a marketing tool. With that in mind, let’s take a look at two very important aspects:
Readability — It’s not what you say…
At its most basic premise, your website is a directory for the purpose of serving your customers with important information; who you are; what you do; how you do it — everything a prospective client would want to know about your business. This means using the right words in all the right ways.
Inspiring text on your website can go a long way toward engaging readers and encourage them to buy into your brand. But often we forget about one of the main pillars of successful text — readability. If your content isn’t reader-friendly, there’s no amount of clever wordplay that will get your message across.
Website visitors only read about 20% of the words on a web page before deciding on its usefulness. Clarity and conciseness is key.
It’s fair to say that people don’t read a web page the same way they would a book or newspaper. Most of us tend to scan the copy, jumping from one point of interest to the next, always on the lookout for relevant pieces of information. In fact, a study by the Norman Nielsen Group revealed that, on average, we only read about 20% of the words on a web page before deciding on its usefulness — which is typically determined within about 59 seconds. If they can’t find what they’re looking for in that short amount of time, or can’t discern any semblance or relevance in who you are and what you do, they will most likely search elsewhere.
This is why it’s so important to revisit the text on your website from the point of view of your visitors, rather than looking at things purely from your own perspective, and ask whether or not readers will successfully infer meaning behind the message you are trying to put across. Quite a bit of this will have to do with the tone and expression, but a lot of it will come down to how reader-friendly your text is. Like the old adage goes: It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
With that in mind, what exactly do you need to be on the lookout for when improving the readability of your website?
Good formatting is the foundation of reader-friendly text. If the wording on your web page isn’t laid out in a succinct and coherent manner, it’s going to be a lot harder for people to digest your message quickly.
Always try to break your message down into the following sections:
It’s called the inverted pyramid because, although the structure resembles a traditional pyramid, the most important part of the message is situated at the top, and the information is gradually diffused with supplementary — more detailed, yet less important — information as you get towards the bottom. Setting out your text this way allows you to serve readers withe the overall premise of your message straight away, whilst at the same time allowing you to be more detailed and emotive when you need to be.
Form and Void
Whilst take note of your text and how it looks, it’s important to always pay attention to the space it occupies. Backgrounds should provide ample contrast to ensure better readability. Black text on a white background is a classic example of what works best, but other combinations are just as effective. However, some colour combinations, such as blue-on-red, and white-on-yellow, can have an adverse effect and make text a real headache to read.
Also, avoid busy background images as these can just as easily distract and decrease readability. Make sure to only place text on areas with sufficient empty or white space. The below image on the left is an example of how a background image can hinder readability, whereas the image on the right is much clearer.
Meanwhile, it’s of the utmost importance to pay attention to the space surrounding your text and give your words enough room to breathe. You want to make sure no other elements on encroach areas that are dedicated to the words on your page, otherwise, the overall page can look crowded, which makes the idea of reading instantly unappealing. Use empty space as a buffer to help keep these elements separate but complementary.
You want to use a font that works with your brand identity, but it also needs to be easy to read. There are plenty of hyper-stylised fonts out there that may look striking, and may even accurately reflect who you are, but it’s no good if that particular style makes it difficult for readers to decipher what’s written on your web pages.
That’s not to say you can’t play around with the typeface and add a bit of personality. When done correctly, including bold versions of your font can help to establish a tone of voice, or emphasise certain words that are most important in your message.
Selecting the best typeface for your website is a nuanced processed. Thankfully, Digital Therapy has listed 21 of the best for a modern website here.
Performance — Let’s get you up to speed
Website performance, for all intents and purposes, is the modern-day standard by which the reputation of any sized business can be measured.
Let’s say, for example, you’re waiting for a website to load. What’s acceptable to you?
5, 6 seconds?
Probably not even that — at least, not anymore.
We have neither the time nor the patience these days. Not now we’re living in a world of instantly accessible content, same-day delivery, and otherwise high customer service expectations. That’s why it’s so important to provide a web experience that fulfils these expectations, as research shows that milliseconds can make a real difference in customer behaviour.
In fact, 1 second delay in load time leads to 11% fewer page views, 16% decrease in customer satisfaction and 7% loss in conversions; whilst 78% of customers who have trouble with website performance say they won’t return to the site again. At the same time, Google has stated unequivocally that it prefers to reward fast sites with higher positions in the natural search results.
78% of customers who have trouble with website performance say they won’t return to the site again.
With that in mind, here are 5 quick and easy tips that you can apply in order to improve the performance of your website.
Remove unnecessary plugins
There’s a huge number of freely available plugins and scripts out there making it all-too-tempting for website owners to add more than they actually need.
So, when the next shiny new plugin catches your eye, ask yourself: Do I really need this? because the additional functionality it offers might not be worth the trade-off in site speed. Instead, find out whether it could be coded into your site’s theme.
In the meantime, it’s definitely a good idea to run through the plugins already installed on your website to see if getting rid of some will improve performance. This process involves you disabling every plugin on your site, one by one, Kill Bill style. After you disable a plugin, run your site through a tool like GT Metrix. This will show you the speed of your website.
If you find that the speed of your website greatly increases after deactivating a plugin, then you’ve identified a possible candidate for total removal. If you absolutely require that specific plugin’s functionality for your site to work, then experiment until you find another plugin that doesn’t affect the speed of your site.
Resize images before you upload them
Many content management systems (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla let you upload images at full size and then adjust their display size within your website’s backend. This is very convenient when you’re pushed for time, but it also has a negative knock-on effect; forcing web browsers to execute multiple commands – pulling up the initial images and then resizing them on the fly – and ultimately increases the load time of your site.
However, changing the image size doesn’t necessarily decrease the file size, and this will slow down your site’s loading speed if the file size is too large. You could use specialist image-editing software to get around this, but it’s probably not something you would use enough to warrant the purchase.
Thankfully, there’s a really useful online tool available called TinyPNG. All you need to do is upload your image after you’ve resized it, and this tool will compress the image without reducing the resolution.
Make use of content delivery networks
A content delivery network (CDN) is a way of way of taking static website files and delivering them through web servers that are closer in proximity to the user’s physical location. Typically, if you’re not using a CDN, then your users will have to access your web host’s server at its central location. This can lead to slow site speeds, especially if your visitors are located far away from the central location of your server.
It’s also worth remembering that there’s a chance your website crash if you are using a single server and it gets overloaded with traffic. CDNs prevent this through the use of multiple servers; switching to new server locations as they become overloaded.
Enable browser caching
Caching is a mechanism for the temporary storage of web page resource files in order to reduce bandwidth and increase performance.
What browser caching does is “remember” the resources that the browser has already loaded so that, when the visitor returns in the future, the content — your logo, CSS files, etc. — can be recalled from within the cache rather than reloading the entire page.
What this all means is, your pages will load much faster for repeat visitors and so will other pages that share those same resources.
The easiest way to enable browser caching is a plugin like W3 Total Cache for WordPress. Alternatively, talk to your web developer about ways to integrate browser caching into your server-side scripting.
Switch to dedicated hosting
If you’ve gone through the checklist above and still find that your website performance is painfully slow, it might be time to get in touch with your hosting provider and switch to a service plan that provides dedicated hosting. This gives you sole access to the server, as opposed to sharing the server with dozens of other companies where website speed is impacted by the number (and type) of websites being hosted.