Think Usability

Lately I have been extremely busy improving my websites, because some of them were hit by Panda and I felt like they all lacked a proper usability. This is not an excuse to not post on this blog anymore, but fortunately I have a lot of great posts to write from my recent experiences.

I keep visiting a lot of websites that provide very good content, but fail badly on the usability side which can be improved with some work. And I felt that my websites can be seriously improved too, so I started learning about UX and then began some tests. Soon after I realized that Bounce Rate can be easily decreased and time on site consistently increased by just making some minor changes. So I started changing basically everything.

I will structure this post according to the steps I made in order to improve the UX ( user experience ) of my website and will also list most of the things I changed during the experiments. I will also state if the changes made affected my visitors actively or passively. I call passive changing the background colors, while active are the URL colors, font, size, or the clickable thumbnails.

What I changed

Passive:

  • Site background
  • Title size and font
  • Font size and family ( tried Arial and Georgia )
  • Font color ( from black to dark grey )
  • Logo
  • Location of images in the articles
  • Website width ( Between 800px and 1020px )
  • Loading speed
  • Number of images
  • Website clutter

Active:

  • Menu ( font size, color and family, background color, button names )
  • Related pages ( font size and color, background color, position, thumbnail size, position, and color )
  • Sidebar ( position left and right, size )
  • Tried many things on the sidebar ( tested latest posts, popular posts, most commented, picked articles manually, picked them by CTR )
  • Ads ( tried to get the best CTR possible by not degrading usability )
  • Sharing buttons ( tried dozens of positions, sizes and tried to use as few as possible )
So here’s the steps I made to be able to improve the usability of my websites

1. Learning

I am not an usability expert neither did I know very much about it when I decided I want to improve my websites. So I started reading a lot of guides, blogs, ebooks and discuss on forums. After that I started asking people to compare my websites with other websites from the same niche, without telling them which one is mine. This way they gave me an unbiased answer. This helped me a lot because I asked them to tell me what do they like at each website and what are the turn downs of everyone. Starting from this I began analyzing them myself and I also got some help from some friends of mine who are web design and UX experts.
It wasn’t easy as I wasn’t thinking like a non-tech-savvy user so most websites seemed to have pretty good UX to me. But by reading the guides, analyzing thousands of websites I began thinking the way a newbie internet user thinks.

2. Planning

Doing an usability test is not an easy job at all because you need very good planning, patience and pretty good web design and coding skills. So again I started working along with professionals to help me setup split tests for the changes I listed above. But you can’t do it chaotically because you will not know what causes the changes and what didn’t. So I planned everything very carefully and made the changes gradually after I tracked absolutely every change I noticed.

3. Testing

While doing tests you first need to think as a newbie user and even more. After you imagine how an user would feel on your website, you need to consider more things. What if he doesn’t notice that button or that link. So include bigger buttons, links or any other navigation elements in your test. If they prove not to work or to actually degrade the UX of your website it’s fine, you can take them down. But do it, because you can never predict what the results will be.

4. Tracking

Some of you might think “I’m using Google Analytics, so I’m tracking my website very well,” but you are so wrong. You need to track every click and every action the user takes in order to make an accurate UX split test. So make sure to use the really good features Google Analytics offers with proper coding along with a tool like CrazyEgg. Each change can affect the bounce rate, time on site, CTR on every link, social involvement and so on. So track absolutely everything. Of course you can go wrong sometimes, so that is why you need to be very careful about this.

5. Understanding the analytics

If you have done a proper tracking of your visitors’ activity, then you will now have a huge amount of data to analyze. This also isn’t an easy job to do, because you might get blinded by a decreased bounce rate, an increase CTR on some areas or better social involvement. But most probably you will not improve them all. Everything goes up at the cost of something else going down. So you need to set some priorities for yourself. Do you want to focus on decreased bounce rate and a higher ads CTR ? Then keep the changes that help you in this direction. Unfortunately some people focus on the wrong things. For example if you choose to focus solely on ad revenue, you might seriously decrease the UX which could significantly decrease your traffic and future growth.
There are a lot of calculations and predictions to be done in order to ensure a good long-time revenue. But usually you need to be satisfied with a short-time revenue because ads decrease UX and bad UX decreases growth.

Conclusion

I spent over 6 months to increase the UX of my major websites, but it was definitely worth it. I managed to increase time on site, decrease bounce rate and even increase ad revenue CPM by almost 40%. 6 months ago I wasn’t even dreaming this is possible and I can bet that’s what you’re thinking too. So start testing and you will see there are huge improvements to be made to your website.
And after you do manage to improve your UX, plan another set of tests and begin running them, because nothing is ever perfect and you can always improve.

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  1. I was hoping to see a new post on this blog one day!
    Keep posting, Alex. Your articles are great!

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