Improving Your Site’s Performance and Usability

Take a second and think of your favorite website to visit or use. Often, the best sites almost seem to sense what you need or want next. Does your own website offer that kind of strong User Experience (UX)?

If you’re not sure, don’t worry. Making a top-notch first impression with your site isn’t as difficult as you might expect. There are a few key principles for optimizing your site for usability, which can set you on the right path quickly.

In this post, we’ll talk a little more about what usability is and why it matters. Then we’ll explore seven best practices for improving your website visitors’ experience. Let’s get to work!

What Is Site Usability? 

Usability is part of a larger concept referred to as User Experience (UX). UX describes what it’s like for a visitor to use your website, including how it makes them feel and what impressions they’re left with.

As for usability, it refers more specifically to how easy and intuitive your website is to use. This has an effect on your site’s UX, since an easy-to-use site with clear navigation offers a superior experience. Ideally, visitors will be able to navigate your site with ease and find what they need quickly.

Importance of Usability for Your WordPress Site

Designing for usability requires you to prioritize the human UX. Glitches, speed bumps, or barriers to navigation can quickly send a potential reader or customer over to a competitor’s site. Naturally, this is something you’ll want to avoid.

Additionally, there’s a strong connection between usability and success. Well-thought-out and tested user experiences can increase traffic, social sharing, and even conversions. If you want to not only attract visitors but keep them coming back time and time again, it’s vital to spend time optimizing your site for usability.

User Experience Best Practices for WordPress

Improving your site’s usability requires taking a number of factors into account. If a user immediately runs into a problem of any kind on your site, they aren’t likely to stick around.

Understanding why visitors ‘bounce’ off your site is important for developing an effective usability strategy. Simply put, there’s an expectation from visitors that your site will work well. To help you make that happen, let’s go over seven best practices for optimizing your site.

1. Maintain Excellent Website Performance

We often discuss performance optimization as a key part of WordPress site management in its own right. However, your site’s speed also plays a central role in its usability.

When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. If your pages take too long to load, users will be left sitting around and waiting for your content. This will likely result in frustration, and lead visitors to look for solutions to their problems elsewhere.

We’ve written extensively about WordPress performance optimization in the past. Consider checking out our resources on the subject, and finding out how your site is performing using our WP Engine Speed Tool.

2. Make Your Site Mobile Responsive

If your average user can’t access your site’s menu from their mobile phone because it was designed for desktops and is just out of reach of their thumb, that’s a problem. Shopping trends tell us that lots of consumers now browse products primarily in their own bathrooms, beds, cars, and offices. 

When you pair that information with the fact that one in five Americans now considers themselves to be ‘mobile only’ internet users, creating mobile-friendly content as a part of your usability strategy is crucial. Fortunately, many modern WordPress themes and plugins are built on the concept of responsive design, and adapt to the device being used to view content.

It’s still important to keep differences between devices and platforms in mind while building your site. However, WordPress makes it easier to remain attentive to the usability needs of audiences, no matter how they access your site.

3. Implement Simple Navigation and a Clear Site Layout

Have you ever searched for a delicious-looking online recipe to cook, but after what feels like an eternity of scrolling, you bail out and order pizza in about three clicks? Human psychology says that the more clicks required to get something, the less likely we are to complete the task. 

Creating a clear sitemap and focusing on strong web navigation can help you avoid this usability pitfall. Not being able to find what we want on a website is a pretty big turn-off in the consumer/product relationship. Therefore, menus should be easy to find, let visitors know where they are, and avoid flashy innovations or clever gimmicks.

Utilize Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are a handy navigation feature that show visitors their path through your site. This makes it easy for them to quickly jump back through the pages they’ve already visited if they need to retrace their steps.

There are several ways you can implement breadcrumbs on your site. Some themes include this feature out of the box, or enable you to turn it on via the Settings page.

Another popular solution is to use the Yoast SEO plugin. You can find this option by navigating to SEO > Search Appearance > Breadcrumbs.

4. Scannable and Stylish Design

Generally speaking, most people don’t read web content word for word like they do with print materials. Website users strongly prefer to be able to scan your site and quickly find the information that is most relevant to them.

Using small paragraphs and incorporating headings and lists where applicable are smart methods to improve the readability of your site’s content. However, there are other aspects of web design to keep in mind as well.

For instance, no number of lists, headings, or paragraph breaks can make up for a font that is difficult to read. Flashy graphics, overwhelming colors, and too many elements crammed into one space can be distracting as well. You’ll also want to make sure your site meets accessibility standards, so visitors of all abilities can use it.

Design for Accessibility

The Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is a global initiative created to provide a standardized approach to developing accessible web content. Its goal is to provide a common level of access to web content for people with disabilities. 

Using WordPress’ accessibility tools and staying up-to-date on WCAG requirements in your area are key steps towards better UX. Usability and accessibility go hand-in-hand in many ways. An accessible website follows sound UX principles and creates a better experience for all users, not just those with disabilities.

Reconsider White Space

Don’t be fooled—white space isn’t actually white. This common misconception is what keeps many people from designing clean, sleek sites. White space is any area of design free from images, text, or decoration. Its function is to add clarity, organization, and legibility.

White space also includes the areas on a page that help draw attention to a particular object. This helps to increase comprehension, highlight and isolate important User Interface (UI) elements, and create a tidier design.

There are two types of white space you’ll want to use strategically: active and passive. Passive white space doesn’t have a role in user design, but instead acts to improve aesthetics without directing the user through a specific journey or flow. Active white space is used to create a page structure and guide the attention of the user.

Google can be considered the authority when it comes to white space, based on its  sleek and simplified home page. The absence of clutter and reduced user paths put less work on the user, helping them feel more calm and relaxed.  

Think Hard About Color

Color and emotion go hand-in-hand. When you use color strategically, users start to associate feelings with your website and logo.

Take the classic brand Coca-Cola. Red is associated with excitement, boldness, love, and passion; Coke’s cherry red logo helps it stand out among competitors and instills a sense of excitement and nostalgia.

A study from the University of Toronto shows that most of the people surveyed preferred simple color combinations of two to three preferred colors. Always choose a dominant and secondary color for your brand first. 

Next, use accent colors to highlight secondary information on your website. Remember to follow the 60-30-10 rule. Your dominant color will account for 60% of the space on your website, the secondary color 30%, and your accent color 10%.

Additionally, anything that is clickable and leads users to a different destination should be the same color. Get started by creating a palette or pulling a color scheme from designated photos or logos.

Choose the Right Font

You may be familiar with fonts as they pertain to the shape of alphabetical and numerical characters. While this is a very important aspect of typography to consider, there are other factors to think about too.

First, you shouldn’t need more than two fonts for your website – one for titles and headings, and another for body text. In a few cases you might use a third typeface for elements such as button text, but too many fonts can be distracting and disorienting. It’s best to use as few as possible.

In addition, while script and niche fonts may seem fun and exciting, they’re usually more difficult to read than a classic serif or sans serif type. It’s best to limit fancy typefaces to titles and headings, therefore, and even then consider whether your fonts are legible enough for smaller screens and users with visual impairments.

You should also consider the size of your text. Very small fonts will be difficult to understand, and may even become completely unreadable on small mobile devices. Too little spacing between characters and lines of text can have a similar effect.

Finally, you’ll want to consider your text’s alignment as well. It’s best to follow expected norms, which for English speakers is generally left- or center-aligned text, depending on the circumstances. However, if your site has an international audience, you may want to localize your site’s text alignment for different audiences.

5. Ensure That Your Content Is Concise and Focused

Considering everything we’ve discussed so far, it’s clear that designing for today’s web users can be challenging. The average viewer spends only 5.59 seconds consuming the content of a web site. Plus, even the most intelligent readers are looking for clear and concise content that is searchable and cuts out jargon. 

That’s good news for content creators concerned about usability. You can skip the thesaurus and aim to make good use of your online real estate by using bulleted lists, to-the-point phrasing, and short, scannable paragraphs.

It’s also smart to implement a tried-and-true F-shaped design pattern, to make sure readers see your most important details first. Implementing these techniques will show your visitors that they can depend on your site for concise information that’s easy to find.

6. Have Clear Calls to Action (CTAs)

CTA buttons on your site should be so enticing that your audience can’t help but click on them. If you follow design best practices, your CTA buttons will feel natural during users’ journeys through your site. 

Remember that smaller targets are harder for users to hit because they require more accuracy, increasing the risk that visitors will click on the wrong link. You can use the following standards as a guide:

  • Apple’s iPhone Human Interface Guidelines recommend a minimum target size of 44 pixels wide and 44 pixels tall. 
  • Microsoft’s Windows Phone UI Design and Interaction Guide suggests a touch target size of 34px with a minimum touch target size of 26px. 
  • Nokia’s developer guidelines suggest that the target size should be no smaller than a 1cm x 1cm square or 28 x 28 pixels.

Call to Action buttons should be big, bright, and very obvious. Remember that you don’t want your users to have to think. This means giving the buttons very clear labels. Avoid text like “Click Me” and “Submit” in favor of “Download the eBook Now” or “Learn More About Our Platform.”

7. Strive for an Error-Free Site

If you’ve never received an email from a retired high school English teacher outlining the grammar mistakes on your website, consider yourself lucky. While some complaints may seem pedantic, these kinds of small errors can create major UX breakdowns.

If your site has dead links, misspelled words, or content so out of date that it shows up in a ‘Throwback Thursday’ post, visitors will likely notice. This can degrade your site’s credibility. Developing a content schedule and planning ahead for site maintenance, quality assurance, and processing user feedback can enhance usability and keep your audience coming back.

Monitor and Test Your WordPress Site to Improve Usability

While the usability best practices we’ve outlined above are an excellent starting point, optimizing your site’s UX is not a one-and-done process. You’ll need to carry out ongoing testing and maintenance to ensure your site stays in shape over time. Here are a few strategies that can help.

Monitor Website Analytics

Keeping an eye on your website analytics and user behavior patterns can help you spot usability issues you might otherwise overlook. For example, a high bounce rate on a landing page might indicate that it doesn’t provide ample navigation through to the rest of your site.

Likewise, low Click-Through Rates for CTAs can indicate that your buttons are lacking in some way. Similarly, pages with low views may not be well represented in your menu, or might be difficult to find.

Improving usability by monitoring your analytics takes some detective work. However, it’s fairly easy to track user behavior, thanks to platforms such as Google Analytics. Plus, the payoff can be significant, and nothing beats real-world data when it comes to indicators about which parts of your site need tune-ups.

A/B Testing

A/B testing is a process in which you create two variations of an element on your site, and show them both to users to determine which one performs better. You can use this method to test almost anything, but it’s a highly popular strategy for assessing CTAs, color choices, landing pages, and titles.

Google Optimize can walk you through the A/B testing process, and help you gather your results with ease. Although running these tests takes a fair amount of time and patience, it can significantly improve your site.

Usability Testing

Usability testing involves bringing in real-life users – either paid participants or volunteers – to test out your website. You’re likely very familiar with your website and how it works, but usability testers can help point out features that aren’t as obvious to newcomers.

Finding usability testers can be tricky. There are freelancers you can hire to do usability or UX audits if you aren’t able to find volunteers. You can also recruit actual users from your site, by sending out email invitations or going through a research agency.

For the actual tests, you’ll likely want to give participants a list of tasks to complete so you can make sure they dig deep into your site, and don’t just take a quick look around your home page and call it quits. Screen recordings are also common in usability testing, so you can see exactly where testers encounter problems.

Improve your Site’s Experience With WP Engine

Usability and UX are partners in a process that works to maximize online experiences. By adhering closely to the principles we’ve discussed, you can ensure that your site is easy to use and leaves a strong impression on its visitors.

Of course, you’ll need some quality resources if you want to optimize your WordPress website. Here at WP Engine, we can help you create an excellent experience for your site’s visitors. Check out our plans, and get ready to take your site to the next level!

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