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How Mobile Optimization Can Affect your Conversions in 2018

mobile optimization

For a long time, responsive design dominated the web as the format of choice for business and personal sites. Now, however, mobile optimization has begun to gain credence as a potentially preferable strategy. Mobile optimization refers to optimizing a website specifically for mobile devices. Instead of simply compressing and slightly rearranging the content on the screen, you design the entire experience for smaller screens. You’ve probably heard the term “mobile-friendly.” It’s a bit outdated, so even though it sounds like a good thing, it’s not enough. People are using their mobile devices more and more, as I’ll explain in a…

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How Mobile Optimization Can Affect your Conversions in 2018

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How to Convert Website Visitors into Customers (9 Effective Ways)

Figuring out how to convert website visitors into customers requires not only strategy, but extensive testing. You can learn from others what worked for them, but your website audience is unique. That’s probably why you’re reading this article. You want to know the best place to start. Then, you can test different solutions to increase your conversion rate. I’m a big fan of growth hacking. In other words, my goal is always to get the biggest possible results in the shortest possible time frame. That requires aggressive marketing and strategic application of data. You might take a different approach. Whatever…

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How to Convert Website Visitors into Customers (9 Effective Ways)

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15 High-Converting Lead Magnet Examples and Ideas

lead magnet ideas

Generating good lead magnet ideas can become a long process. Simply throwing together an e-book or whitepaper just because other businesses do it would be a mistake. High-converting lead magnet ideas offer so much value that your target audience can’t say no. The more you refine your lead magnet, the more qualified your leads become because you’re offering exactly what those leads need at the exact right time. Lead magnets can work for nearly all audiences, including those of B2B and B2C businesses. They’re powerful because they open the door to further communication between the business and the lead. But…

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15 High-Converting Lead Magnet Examples and Ideas

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A Complete Guide to High-Converting Lead Magnet

lead magnet ideas

Generating good lead magnet ideas can become a long process. Simply throwing together an e-book or whitepaper just because other businesses do it would be a mistake. High-converting lead magnet ideas offer so much value that your target audience can’t say no. The more you refine your lead magnet, the more qualified your leads become because you’re offering exactly what those leads need at the exact right time. Lead magnets can work for nearly all audiences, including those of B2B and B2C businesses. They’re powerful because they open the door to further communication between the business and the lead. But…

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A Complete Guide to High-Converting Lead Magnet

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A Reference Guide For Typography In Mobile Web Design




A Reference Guide For Typography In Mobile Web Design

Suzanna Scacca



With mobile taking a front seat in search, it’s important that websites are designed in a way that prioritize the best experience possible for their users. While Google has brought attention to elements like pop-ups that might disrupt the mobile experience, what about something as seemingly simple as choice of typography?

The answer to the typography question might seem simple enough: what works on desktop should work on mobile so long as it scales well. Right?

While that would definitely make it a lot easier on web designers, that’s not necessarily the case. The problem in making that statement a decisive one is that there haven’t been a lot of studies done on the subject of mobile typography in recent years. So, what I intend to do today is give a brief summary of what it is we know about typography in web design, and then see what UX experts and tests have been able to reveal about using typography for mobile.

Understanding The Basics Of Typography In Modern Web Design

Look, I know typography isn’t the most glamorous of subjects. And, being a web designer, it might not be something you spend too much time thinking about, especially if clients bring their own style guides to you prior to beginning a project.

That said, with mobile-first now here, typography requires additional consideration.

Typography Terminology

Let’s start with the basics: terminology you’ll need to know before digging into mobile typography best practices.

Typography: This term refers to the technique used in styling, formatting, and arranging “printed” (as opposed to handwritten) text.

Typeface: This is the classification system used to label a family of characters. So, this would be something like Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri, Comic Sans, etc.

Typefaces in Office 365


A typical offering of typefaces in word processing applications. (Source: Google Docs) (Large preview)

Font: This drills down further into a website’s typeface. The font details the typeface family, point size, and any special stylizations applied. For instance, 11-point Arial in bold.

3 essential elements to define a font


An example of the three elements that define a font. (Source: Google Docs) (Large preview)

Size: There are two ways in which to refer to the size (or height) of a font: the word processing size in points or the web design size in pixels. For the purposes of talking about mobile web design, we use pixels.

Here is a line-by-line comparison of various font sizes:

An example of font sizes


An example of how the same string of text appears at different sizes. (Source: Google Docs) (Large preview)

As you can see in WordPress, font sizes are important when it comes to establishing hierarchy in header text:

An example of font size choices in WordPress


Header size defaults available with a WordPress theme. (Source: WordPress) (Large preview)

Weight: This is the other part of defining a typeface as a font. Weight refers to any special styles applied to the face to make it appear heavier or lighter. In web design, weight comes into play in header fonts that complement the typically weightless body text.

Here is an example of options you could choose from in the WordPress theme customizer:

An example of font weight choices


Sample font weights available with a WordPress theme. (Source: WordPress) (Large preview)

Kerning: This pertains to the space between two letters. It can be adjusted in order to create a more aesthetically pleasing result while also enhancing readability. You will need a design software like Photoshop to make these types of adjustments.

Tracking: Tracking, or letter-spacing, is often confused with kerning as it too relates to adding space in between letters. However, whereas kerning adjusts spacing between two letters in order to improve appearances, tracking is used to adjust spacing across a line. This is used more for the purposes of fixing density issues while reading.

To give you a sense for how this differs, here’s an example from Mozilla on how to use tracking to change letter-spacing:

Normal tracking example


This is what normal tracking looks like. (Source: Mozilla) (Large preview)

-1px tracking example


This is what (tighter) -1px tracking looks like. (Source: Mozilla) (Large preview)

1px tracking example


This is what (looser) 1px tracking looks like. (Source: Mozilla) (Large preview)

Leading: Leading, or line spacing, is the amount of distance granted between the baselines of text (the bottom line upon which a font rests). Like tracking, this can be adjusted to fix density issues.

If you’ve been using word processing software for a while, you’re already familiar with leading. Single-spaced text. Double-spaced text. Even 1.5-spaced text. That’s leading.

The Role Of Typography In Modern Web Design

As for why we care about typography and each of the defining characteristics of it in modern web design, there’s a good reason for it. While it would be great if a well-written blog post or super convincing sales jargon on a landing page were enough to keep visitors happy, that’s not always the case. The choices you make in terms of typography can have major ramifications on whether or not people even give your site’s copy a read.

These are some of the ways in which typography affects your end users:

Reinforce Branding
Typography is another way in which you create a specific style for your web design. If images all contain clean lines and serious faces, you would want to use an equally buttoned-up typeface.

Set the Mood
It helps establish a mood or emotion. For instance, a more frivolous and light-bodied typeface would signal to users that the brand is fun, young and doesn’t take itself seriously.

Give It a Voice
It conveys a sense of personality and voice. While the actual message in the copy will be able to dictate this well, using a font that reinforces the tone would be a powerful choice.

Encourage Reading
As you can see, there are a number of ways in which you can adjust how type appears on a screen. If you can give it the right sense of speed and ease, you can encourage more users to read through it all.

Allow for Scanning
Scanning or glancing (which I’ll talk about shortly) is becoming more and more common as people engage with the web on their smart devices. Because of this, we need ways to format text to improve scannability and this usually involves lots of headers, pull quotes and in-line lists (bulleted, numbered, etc.).

Improve Accessibility
There is a lot to be done in order to design for accessibility. Your choice of font plays a big part in that, especially as the mobile experience has to rely less on big, bold designs and swatches of color and more on how quickly and well you can get visitors to your message.

Because typography has such a diverse role in the user experience, it’s a matter that needs to be taken seriously when strategizing new designs. So, let’s look at what the experts and tests have to say about handling it for mobile.

Typography For Mobile Web Design: What You Need To Know

Too small, too light, too fancy, too close together… You can run into a lot of problems if you don’t strike the perfect balance with your choice of typography in design. On mobile, however, it’s a bit of a different story.

I don’t want to say that playing it safe and using the system default from Google or Apple is the way to go. After all, you work so hard to develop unique, creative and eye-catching designs for your users. Why would you throw in the towel at this point and just slap Roboto all over your mobile website?

We know what the key elements are in defining and shaping a typeface and we also know how powerful fonts are within the context of a website. So, let’s drill down and see what exactly you need to do to make your typography play well with mobile.

1. Size

In general, the rule of thumb is that font size needs to be 16 pixels for mobile websites. Anything smaller than that could compromise readability for visually impaired readers. Anything too much larger could also make reading more difficult. You want to find that perfect Goldilocks formula and, time and time again, it comes back to 16 pixels.

In general, that rule is a safe one to play by when it comes to the main body text of your mobile website. However, what exactly are you allowed to do for header text? After all, you need to be able to distinguish your main headlines from the rest of the text. Not just for the sake of calling attention to bigger messages, but also for the purposes of increasing scannability of a mobile web page.

The Nielsen Norman Group reported on a study from MIT that covered this exact question. What can you do about text that users only have to glance at? In other words, what sort of sizing can you use for short strings of header text?

Here is what they found:

Short, glanceable strings of text lead to faster reading and greater comprehension when:

  • They are larger in size (specifically, 4mm as opposed to 3mm).
  • They are in all caps.
  • Lettering width is regular (and not condensed).

In sum:

Lowercase lettering required 26% more time for accurate reading than uppercase, and condensed text required 11.2% more time than regular. There were also significant interaction effects between case and size, suggesting that the negative effects of lowercase letters are exacerbated with small font sizes.

I’d be interested to see how the NerdWallet website does, in that case. While I do love the look of this, they have violated a number of these sizing and styling suggestions:

The NerdWallet home page


NerdWallet’s use of all-caps and smaller font sizes on mobile. (Source: NerdWallet) (Large preview)

Having looked at this a few times now, I do think the choice of a smaller-sized font for the all-caps header is an odd choice. My eyes are instantly drawn to the larger, bolder text beneath the main header. So, I think there is something to MIT’s research.

Flywheel Sports, on the other hand, does a great job of exemplifying this point.

The Flywheel Sports home page


Flywheel Sports’ smart font choices for mobile. (Source: Flywheel Sports) (Large preview)

There’s absolutely no doubt where the visitors’ attention needs to go: to the eye-catching header. It’s in all caps, it’s larger than all the other text on the page, and, although the font is incredibly basic, its infusion with a custom handwritten-style type looks really freaking cool here. I think the only thing I would fix here is the contrast between the white and yellow fonts and the blue background.

Just remember: this only applies to the sizing (and styling) of header text. If you want to keep large bodies of text readable, stick to the aforementioned sizing best practices.

2. Color and Contrast

Color, in general, is an important element in web design. There’s a lot you can convey to visitors by choosing the right color palette for designs, images and, yes, your text. But it’s not just the base color of the font that matters, it’s also the contrast between it and the background on which it sits (as evidenced by my note above about Flywheel Sports).

For some users, a white font on top of a busy photo or a lighter background may not pose too much of an issue. But “too much” isn’t really acceptable in web design. There should be no issues users encounter when they read text on a website, especially from an already compromised view of it on mobile.

Which is why color and contrast are top considerations you have to make when styling typography for mobile.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) has clear recommendations regarding how to address color contrast in section 1.4.3. At a minimum, the WCAG suggests that a contrast of 4.5 to 1 should be established between the text and background for optimal readability. There are a few exceptions to the rule:

  • Text sized using 18-point or a bold 14-point only needs a contrast of 3 to 1.
  • Text that doesn’t appear in an active part of the web page doesn’t need to abide by this rule.
  • The contrast of text within a logo can be set at the designer’s discretion.

If you’re unsure of how to establish that ratio between your font’s color and the background upon which it sits, use a color contrast checking tool like WebAIM.

WebAIM color contrast checker


An example of how to use the WebAIM color contrast checker tool. (Source: WebAIM) (Large preview)

The one thing I would ask you to be mindful of, however, is using opacity or other color settings that may compromise the color you’ve chosen. While the HEX color code will check out just fine in the tool, it may not be an accurate representation of how the color actually displays on a mobile device (or any screen, really).

To solve this problem and ensure you have a high enough contrast for your fonts, use a color eyedropper tool built into your browser like the ones for Firefox or Chrome. Simply hover the eyedropper over the color of the background (or font) on your web page, and let it tell you what the actual color code is now.

Here is an example of this in action: Dollar Shave Club.

This website has a rotation of images in the top banner of the home page. The font always remains white, but the background rotates.

Dollar Shave Club grey banner


Dollar Shave Club’s home page banner with a grey background. (Source: Dollar Shave Club) (Large preview)

Dollar Shave Club beige banner


Dollar Shave Club’s home page banner with a beige/taupe background. (Source: Dollar Shave Club) (Large preview)

Dollar Shave Club purple banner


Dollar Shave Club’s home page banner with a purple background. (Source: Dollar Shave Club) (Large preview)

Based on what we know now, the purple is probably the only one that will pass with flying colors. However, for the purposes of showing you how to work through this exercise, here is what the eyedropper tool says about the HEX color codes for each of the backgrounds:

  • Grey: #9a9a9a
  • Beige/taupe: #ffd0a8
  • Purple: #4c2c59.

Here is the contrast between these colors and the white font:

  • Grey: 2.81 to 1
  • Beige/taupe: 1.42 to 1
  • Purple: 11.59 to 1.

Clearly, the grey and beige backgrounds are going to lend themselves to a very poor experience for mobile visitors.

Also, if I had to guess, I’d say that “Try a risk-free Starter Set now.” is only a 10-point font (which is only about 13 pixels). So, the size of the font is also working against the readability factor, not to mention the poor choice of colors used with the lighter backgrounds.

The lesson here is that you should really make some time to think about how color and contrast of typography will work for the benefit of your readers. Without these additional steps, you may unintentionally be preventing visitors from moving forward on your site.

3. Tracking

Plain and simple: tracking in mobile web design needs to be used in order to control density. The standard recommendation is that there be no more than between 30 and 40 characters to a line. Anything more or less could affect readability adversely.

While it does appear that Dove is pushing the boundaries of that 40-character limit, I think this is nicely done.

The Dove home page


Dove’s use of even tracking and (mostly) staying within the 40-character limit. (Source: Dove) (Large preview)

The font is so simple and clean, and the tracking is evenly spaced. You can see that, by keeping the amount of words on a line relegated to the recommended limits, it gives this segment of the page the appearance that it will be easy to read. And that’s exactly what you want your typography choices to do: to welcome visitors to stop for a brief moment, read the non-threatening amount of text, and then go on their way (which, hopefully, is to conversion).

4. Leading

According to the NNG, content that appears above the fold on a 30-inch desktop monitor equates to five swipes on a 4-inch mobile device. Granted, this data is a bit old as most smartphones are now between five and six inches:

Average smartphone screen sizes


Average smartphone screen sizes from 2015 to 2021. (Source: TechCrunch) (Large preview)

Even so, let’s say that equates to three or four good swipes of the smartphone screen to get to the tip of the fold on desktop. That’s a lot of work your mobile visitors have to do to get to the good stuff. It also means that their patience will already be wearing thin by the time they get there. As the NNG pointed out, a mobile session, on average, usually lasts about only 72 seconds. Compare that to desktop at 150 seconds and you can see why this is a big deal.

This means two things for you:

  1. You absolutely need to cut out the excess on mobile. If this means creating a completely separate and shorter set of content for mobile, do it.
  2. Be very careful with leading.

You’ve already taken care to keep optimize your font size and width, which is good. However, too much leading and you could unintentionally be asking users to scroll even more than they might have to. And with every scroll comes the possibility of fatigue, boredom, frustration, or distraction getting in the way.

So, you need to strike a good balance here between using line spacing to enhance readability while also reigning in how much work they need to do to get to the bottom of the page.

The Hill Holliday website isn’t just awesome inspiration on how to get a little “crazy” with mobile typography, but it also has done a fantastic job in using leading to make larger bodies of text easier to read:

The Hill Holliday home page


Hill Holliday uses the perfect ratio of leading between lines and paragraphs. (Source: Hill Holliday) (Large preview)

Different resources will give you different guidelines on how to create spacing for mobile devices. I’ve seen suggestions for anywhere between 120% to 150% of the font’s point size. Since you also need to consider accessibility when designing for mobile, I’m going to suggest you follow WCAG’s guidelines:

  • Spacing between lines needs to be 1.5 (or 150%, whichever ratio works for you).
  • Spacing between paragraphs then needs to be 2.5 (or 250%).

At the end of the day, this is about making smart decisions with the space you’re given to work with. If you only have a minute to hook them, don’t waste it with too much vertical space. And don’t turn them off with too little.

5. Acceptable Fonts

Before I break down what makes for an acceptable font, I want to first look at what Android’s and Apple’s typeface defaults are. I think there’s a lot we can learn just by looking at these choices:

Android
Google uses two typefaces for its platforms (both desktop and mobile): Roboto and Noto. Roboto is the primary default. If a user visits a website in a language that doesn’t accept Roboto, then Noto is the secondary backup.

This is Roboto:

The Roboto character set


A snapshot of the Roboto character set. (Source: Roboto) (Large preview)

It’s also important to note that Roboto has a number of font families to choose from:

The Roboto families


Other options of Roboto fonts to choose from. (Source: Roboto) (Large preview)

As you can see, there are versions of Roboto with condensed kerning, a heavier and serifed face as well as a looser, serif-like option. Overall, though, this is just a really clean and simply stylized typeface. You’re not likely to stir up any real emotions when using this on a website, and it may not convey much of a personality, but it’s a safe, smart choice.

Apple
Apple has its own set of typography guidelines for iOS along with its own system typeface: San Francisco.

The San Francisco font


The San Francisco font for Apple devices. (Source: San Francisco) (Large preview)

For the most part, what you see is what you get with San Francisco. It’s just a basic sans serif font. If you look at Apple’s recommended suggestions on default settings for the font, you’ll also find it doesn’t even recommend using bold stylization or outlandish sizing, leading or tracking rules:

San Francisco default settings


Default settings and suggestions for the San Francisco typeface. (Source: San Francisco) (Large preview)

Like with pretty much everything else Apple does, the typography formula is very basic. And, you know what? It really works. Here it is in action on the Apple website:

The Apple home page


Apple makes use of its own typography best practices. (Source: Apple) (Large preview)

Much like Google’s system typeface, Apple has gone with a simple and classic typeface. While it may not help your site stand out from the competition, it will never do anything to impair the legibility or readability of your text. It also would be a good choice if you want your visuals to leave a greater impact.

My Recommendations

And, so, this now brings me to my own recommendations on what you should use in terms of type for mobile websites. Here’s the verdict:

  1. Don’t be afraid to start with a system default font. They’re going to be your safest choices until you get a handle on how far you can push the limits of mobile typography.
  2. Use only a sans serif or serif font. If your desktop website uses a decorative or handwritten font, ditch it for something more traditional on mobile.

    That said, you don’t have to ignore decorative typefaces altogether. In the examples from Hill Holliday or Flywheel Sports (as shown above), you can see how small touches of custom, non-traditional type can add a little flavor.

  3. Never use more than two typefaces on mobile. There just isn’t enough room for visitors to handle that many options visually.

    Make sure your two typefaces complement one another. Specifically, look for faces that utilize a similar character width. The design of each face may be unique and contrast well with the other, but there should still be some uniformity in what you present to mobile visitors’ eyes.

  4. Avoid typefaces that don’t have a distinct set of characters. For instance, compare how the uppercase “i”, lowercase “l” and the number “1” appear beside one another. Here’s an example of the Myriad Pro typeface from the Typekit website:

    Myriad Pro characters


    Myriad Pro’s typeface in action. (Source: Typekit) (Large preview)

    While the number “1” isn’t too problematic, the uppercase “i” (the first letter in this sequence) and the lowercase “l (the second) are just too similar. This can create some unwanted slowdowns in reading on mobile.

    Also, be sure to review how your font handles the conjunction of “r” and “n” beside one another. Can you differentiate each letter or do they smoosh together as one indistinguishable unit? Mobile visitors don’t have time to stop and figure out what those characters are, so make sure you use a typeface that gives each character its own space.

  5. Use fonts that are compatible across as many devices as possible. Your best bets will be: Arial, Courier New, Georgia, Tahoma, Times New Roman, Trebuchet MS and Verdana.

    Default typefaces on mobile


    A list of system default typefaces for various mobile devices. (Source: tinytype) (Large preview)

    Android-supported typefaces


    Another view of the table that includes some Android-supported typefaces. (Source: tinytype) (Large preview)

    I think the Typeform website is a good example of one that uses a “safe” typeface choice, but doesn’t prevent them from wowing visitors with their message or design.

    The Typeform home page


    Typeform’s striking typeface has nothing to do with the actual font. (Source: Typeform) (Large preview)

    It’s short, to the point, perfectly sized, well-positioned, and overall a solid choice if they’re trying to demonstrate stability and professionalism (which I think they are).

  6. When you’re feeling comfortable with mobile typography and want to branch out a little more, take a look at this list of the best web-safe typefaces from WebsiteSetup. You’ll find here that most of the choices are your basic serif and sans serif types. It’s definitely nothing exciting or earth-shattering, but it will give you some variation to play with if you want to add a little more flavor to your mobile type.

Wrapping Up

I know, I know. Mobile typography is no fun. But web design isn’t always about creating something exciting and cutting edge. Sometimes sticking to practical and safe choices is what will guarantee you the best user experience in the end. And that’s what we’re seeing when it comes to mobile typography.

The reduced amount of real estate and the shorter times-on-site just don’t lend themselves well to the experimental typography choices (or design choices, in general) you can use on desktop. So, moving forward, your approach will have to be more about learning how to reign it in while still creating a strong and consistent look for your website.

Smashing Editorial
(lf, ra, yk, il)


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A Reference Guide For Typography In Mobile Web Design

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How Do You Know Your Website Is A Success?




How Do You Know Your Website Is A Success?

Nick Babich



(This article is kindly sponsored by Adobe.) We live in a world where just about every business has an online presence. Let’s say you want to reach out to a business — what would be the first thing you would do? Well, you would probably look up their website to search for answers to your questions or simply any contact details you can find. With no doubt, the first impression of any website is now more important than ever.

There are more than 1.8 billion websites on the Internet right now, and the number is growing. The increase of the competition brings a great interest in examining the factors of success of a website. While no one will argue that it’s essential to have a successful website, it’s still not easy to understand what exactly success means and how to actually measure it.

Define What Site Success Means To You

Set A Global Goal

Finding the answers to questions such as “What are our goals?” and “What do we want to achieve with this website?” should be the first thing to do when starting a new project. Skipping a stage of defining global goals and moving directly to the design stage is a pretty common mistake among many product teams. Without knowing exactly what you want to achieve, your chances of making a positive impact with your website will be poor.

Every website needs a well-defined product strategy. A strategy sets the tone for all of the activities, and it gives a context that helps in making design decisions. When you have a solid understanding of what you expect to get out of your site, it helps you to work towards that goal.

your product strategy
Product strategy is a combination of achievable goals and visions that work together to align the team around desirable outcomes for both the business and your users. (Image credit: Melissa Perri) (Large preview)

Here are a few tips that help you set a goal:

  • Tie the purpose to business goals.
    The website’s purpose should serve to support the company’s mission and make the business more effective in achieving that mission.
  • Make it specific.
    Instead of saying something like “I want to have a strong online presence,” consider this instead: “Our website should be a place where users submit requests for our services. Our goal is to have 50% of our orders submitted online, not over the phone.”
  • Conduct competitor research.
    List sites of your competitors which you find successful, and try to pinpoint why they are successful.

Strive To Create User-Focused Experience

Because visitors ultimately determine the success of a website, they should be in the spotlight during site’s development. As Dieter Rams says:

“You cannot understand good design if you do not understand people; design is made for people.”

Thus, start with gathering this understanding:

  • Portrait your ideal users.
    Try to understand what content they might need/want, their browsing habits (how they prefer to interact with a website) and the level of their technical competence. This knowledge will help you appeal to them better.
  • Think about the goal of your visitors.
    Put yourself in the shoes of your visitor. What do you want them to get done? Place an order? Reach you for a quote? Become a member? Drive the design from the user’s goals and tasks.* *Ideally, each page you design should have a goal for your users.
  • Create user journey map.
    If you have an existing site, you can figure out typical ways people use it by creating user journey maps.

User journey map


User journey map. (Image credit: Temkin Group)

8 Essential Characteristics Of Website Design That Influence Its Success

In this section, we aren’t going to discuss design implementation details (e.g. where a logo should be placed). We’ll be focusing on the main principles and approaches for effective web design. These principles will be reviewed from the angle of the first impression. It’s essential to focus on great user experience during the first-time visit. Generally, the better the first impression, the better the chance that users will stay for longer. But if the first impression is negative, it might make users want to avoid interacting with your product for years.

And how do we leave a good first impression? Good design. First impressions are 94% design related. While it’s impossible to define one-fits-all design decisions that will guarantee a successful site, it is still possible to focus on factors that are able to create a great first impression: the quality of content, usability, and visual aesthetics.

1. High-Quality Content

The copy used on your website is just as important as the website’s design; it’s the reason why people visit your website. More than 95 percent of information on the web is in the form of written language. Even if your site is beautifully designed, it’s no more than an empty frame without good content. A good website has both great design and great content.

“Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.”

Jeffrey Zeldman

Match Users’ Expectations

Provide information your users expect to see. For example, if you design a website for a chain of restaurants, most visitors will expect to find the restaurants’ menus as well as maps that show where each restaurant is located.

Content That Builds Trust

Trust is what creates a persuasive power; trust makes the user believe in your products or services. That’s why it so important to build a sense of trust on your website. For example, if you design a website that will offer services, you should include content that will bolster a visitor’s confidence in those offerings. A simple way to accomplish this is to provide social proofs — put some testimonials on your site.

One great example is Basecamp. The company lists feedback from its clients together with a data statistic that reinforces the power of the social proof.


Basecamp pairs testimonials with research findings to create an ultimate persuasive effect.


Basecamp pairs testimonials with research findings to create an ultimate persuasive effect.

Focus On Microcopy

Microcopy is the tiny words we use in user interfaces. These might be field or button labels, or description for forms and other UI objects. Right microcopy can influence business profits. But in order to write good microcopy, it’s essential to understand user’s intentions and emotions.

During the Google I/O 2017, Maggie Stanphill explained the possible business value of writing good microcopy. After the Google team changed ‘Book a room’ to ‘Check availability’ in the Hotel search on Google, the engagement rate increased by 17%. This happened because the first version of microcopy (‘Book a room’) was too committal for that stage of the user journey. Users didn’t want to book a room; they wanted to explore all available options (date range as well as prices).


Good microcopy is human-oriented. In this example, ‘Check availability’ meets the user where they are in their mindset.


Good microcopy is human-oriented. In this example, ‘Check availability’ meets the user where they are in their mindset.

Text Is Optimized For Scanning

It’s necessary to adjust content to users’ browsing habits. It’s a well-known fact that users don’t read online, they scan. When a new visitor approaches a web page, the first thing s/he does is tries to do is to scan the page and divide the content into digestible pieces of information. By scanning through key parts of the page, they are trying to determine if the content is relevant to their needs.

Here are a few tips on how to format your content to make it easy to scan:

  • Avoid long blocks of text without images.
    With a huge probability, such content will be skipped. Use headings, paragraphs, or bullet points to break up a text.
  • Optimize layouts for natural scanning patterns.
    Eye tracking studies have identified that people scan pages in an “F” pattern. We read the first few lines, but then they start skipping down the page, caching only parts of the message. For this reason, it’s important to keep your text frontloaded — put the most important concepts first, so our eyes catch those important words as we track down.

Users don’t read, they scan. This heatmap shows where people’s focal points land. Effectively designed websites work with a reader’s natural behavior.


Users don’t read, they scan. This heatmap shows where people’s focal points land. Effectively designed websites work with a reader’s natural behavior. (Image credit: Useit)

Quick design tip: You can measure your readability score using a tool called Webpagefx.

Avoid Distraction

The human eye can instantly recognize moving objects. Moving objects such as animated banners or video advertising can capture users’ attention. An abundance of such content can lead to annoying and distracting experience. Thus, put an emphasis on a site with minimal distractions.


Heatmaps from eye-tracking studies: The areas where users looked the most are colored red; the yellow areas indicate fewer views. Green boxes are used to highlight the advertisements.


Heatmaps from eye-tracking studies: The areas where users looked the most are colored red; the yellow areas indicate fewer views. Green boxes are used to highlight the advertisements. (Image credit: NNGroup)

Contact Information

Make it easy for people to reach you. This requirement sounds pretty obvious; still, it’s quite a typical situation for first-time visitors to have to hunt for contact information. Don’t let that happen. Make a phone number, email, address and a contact form easily accessible.

Quick design tip: When designing your site, don’t make email or phone number a part of an image. Phone number/email should be in plain text so that users can copy this information.

Relevant Images And Videos In High Quality

Studies have proven that people are majorly visual learners. Most people are able to understand and grasp concepts far better when they are delivered in visual way.

Remember the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”? It’s relevant to web design. A simple way to increase visual appeal is to provide high-quality imagery or video content.

One great example is Tesla which doesn’t tell the benefits of its car but rather shows a quick video that makes it clear what it feels like to drive a Tesla:


Tesla uses a principle ‘show, don't tell’ when demonstrating the benefits of using cars.


Tesla uses a principle ‘show, don’t tell’ when demonstrating the benefits of using cars.

2. Simple Interactions

According to Hubspot survey, 76% of respondents mentioned ease of use as the most important characteristic of a website. That’s why the “Keep It Simple” principle (KIS) should play a primary role in the process of web design.

Cut Out The Noise

Cluttering a user interface overloads your user with too much information — every added button, image, and line of text makes the screen more complicated. Cutting out the clutter on a website will make the primary message more easily understood by visitors. Include only the elements that are most important for communication, and use enough whitespace. It will help to reduce the cognitive load for the visitors and will make it easier to perceive the information presented on the screen.

Quick design tip: Put more visual weight on important elements. Make important elements such as call-to-action buttons or login forms focal points so visitors see them right away. You can emphasize elements using different sizes or colors.


Lyft makes the most important information on a page (the call-to-action button) stand out.


Lyft makes the most important information on a page (the call-to-action button) stand out.

Strong Visual Hierarchy

The better visual hierarchy your create, the easier your content will be perceived by users (Simon’s law). A grid layout allows you to organize information in a way that makes it easier for visitors to read and comprehend information presented on the page. Using grids makes it much easier to create a layout that feels balanced.


Use a grid layout when designing web experiences. Using grids in Adobe XD.


Use a grid layout when designing web experiences. Using grids in Adobe XD.

Good Navigation

Good navigation is one of the most important aspects of website usability. Even the most beautifully designed website will be useless if users aren’t able to find their way around.

When developing navigation for your website, think about what pages are most likely to be important to visitors, and how they will move from one page to another. Follow users’ expectations — create a predictable navigation structure and place it where users expect to see it.

Quick design tip: Reduce the total number of actions required for users to reach the destination. Try to follow the Three-click rule which means creating a structure that will enable users to find the information they are looking for within three clicks.

Recognizable Design Patterns

Design patterns are designer’s best friends. When designing your site, it’s worth remembering that users spend most of their time on other sites. Every time the user has to learn how something new works, it creates friction. By using recognizable conventions, you can reduce the learning curve. Recognizable UI patterns eventually help users to parse complicated tasks easily. Thus, when you follow users’ expectations and create a familiar experience (e.g. place UI elements in places where users expect to find them), site visitors can use their previous knowledge and act through intuition. This helps reduce the learning curve and the need to figure out how things work.

3. Fast Loading Time

As technology enables faster experiences, users’ willingness to wait has decreased. Slow loading time is one of the main reasons visitors leave websites. A typical user will only wait for a few seconds for your page to load. If nothing happens during this time, they will consider the site to be too slow, and will most likely navigate away to a competitor’s site.

Slow loading not only creates a lousy impression on users, but it also affects site’s search engine ranking, as slow-loading pages are reduced in rank in Google’s Search engine.

Test Your Website

There are tools available that allow you to test website performance. One of them is Google’s Test My Site which gives you an actionable report on how to speed up and improve your site. WebPage Test is another helpful tool which allows you to run a free website speed test from multiple locations around the globe, using real browsers (Internet Explorer and Chrome) at real consumer connection speeds.


The slower your website is, the higher your bounce rate will be.


The slower your website is, the higher your bounce rate will be. (Image credit: Luke W.)

Find What Is Causing The Slow Loading Time, And Fix The Problem

If slow loading is a typical situation for your website, try to find out what causes the problem and solve it. Typically, page load times are affected by:

  • Visual elements (images and animations).
    HD images and smooth animation can only create good UX when they don’t affect loading time. Consider reading the article Image Optimization for tips on image optimization.
  • Custom fonts.
    Like any other asset, it takes some time to download a custom font (and it takes more time if the font is located on a 3rd party service).
  • Business logic.
    Whether or not a solution you’ve developed is optimized for fast loading time. There are a lot of things developers can do to minimize the loading time. For example, it’s possible to use file compression and decompression to improve the performance of а website.
  • Technical infrastructure.
    An infrastructure is a place where you host your websites. It includes both hardware and software components as well as internet bandwidth.

Create A Perception Of Speed

If you can’t improve the actual performance of your website, you can try to create a perception of speed — how fast something feels is often more important than how fast it actually is. Employing a technique of skeleton screens can help you with that. A skeleton layout is a version of your page that displays while content is being loaded. Skeletons give the impression of speed — that something is happening more quickly than it really is and improve perceived load time.

This real estate website reuses some of the data from search results page (the image of the building and basic description) while the detailed information is loading. This creates a sense of immediate response even when some time required to load the data.
This real estate website reuses some of the data from search results page (the image of the building and basic description) while the detailed information is loading. This creates a sense of immediate response even when some time required to load the data. (Image credit: Owen Campbell-Moore) (Large preview)

Check out this Codepen example of skeleton effect in pure CSS. It uses a pulsation effect to give users a feeling that website is alive and content is loading:

See the Pen Skeleton Screen with CSS by Razvan Caliman (@oslego) on CodePen.

4. Feeling A Sense Of Control

A sense of control remains one of the basic usability heuristics for user interface design. Effective interfaces instill a sense of control in their users.

Good Error Handling

To err is human. Errors occur when people engage with user interfaces. Sometimes, they happen because users make mistakes. Sometimes, they happen because a website fails. Whatever the cause, these errors and how they are handled, have a significant impact on the user experience. Bad error handling paired with useless error messages can fill users with frustration and can lead them to abandon your website. When errors occur, it’s essential to create effective error messages.


Make your website sound human even. Each error message your website display should be clear, clean, and useful.


Make your website sound human even. Each error message your website display should be clear, clean, and useful.

Designers can use a tactic called design for failure in which you try to anticipate the places users might face problems and plan for such cases. Whereas implementing the ideal user journey is the end goal, the complexities of an individual user’s experience are rarely so cut and dried. Recognizing potential pain points and preparing for it using tools like failure mapping for error recovery helps to ensure that you’re putting forth the best experience you can for the majority of your users.

No Aggressive Pushers

We all know that feeling. You visit a new website, the content on the page seems to be interesting. You begin to read it and just when you are halfway through the text, you are suddenly interrupted by a huge overlay asking you to either subscribe to a newsletter or take advantage of an offer. In most cases, your immediate reaction will be either to close the overlay or to close the entire page, the overlay along with it.

Aggressive pushers such as pop-ups with promotional content will put most people on the defensive. According to the NN Group, pop-ups are the most hated web experience ever.

Aggressive pushers create bad user experience.
Aggressive pushers create bad user experience. (Image credit: Vitaly Dulenko) (Large preview)

Don’t Autoplay Video With Sound

When users arrive on a page, they don’t expect that it will play any sound. Most users don’t use headphones and will be stressed because they’ll need to figure out how to turn the sound off. In most cases, users will leave the website as soon as it plays. Thus, if you use autoplay video content on your site, set audio to off by default, with the option to turn it on.

5. Good Visual Appearance

Does an attractive design lead to more conversion? While there’s no direct connection between attractive design and conversion, visual appearance might increase chances for conversion. As Steven Bradley says:

“Human beings have an attractiveness bias; we perceive beautiful things as being better, regardless of whether they actually are better. All else being equal, we prefer beautiful things, and we believe beautiful things function better. As in nature, function can follow form.”

Just like with any other area of design, web design is constantly changing. Design trends come and go, and its necessary to be sure that your design doesn’t look dated. Familiarize yourself with latest trends and try to keep your design up to date by tuning your design.

Awwwards and Behance are great places which will help you be familiar with the latest trends.

Avoid Generic Stock Photos

Many corporate websites are notorious for using generic stock photos to build a sense of trust. Such photos rarely hold useful information. Usability tests show that generic photos and other decorative graphic elements don’t add any value to the design and more often impair rather than improve the user experience. Eye-tracking studies show that users usually overlook stock images.


An example of a stock photo


An example of a stock photo

6. Design Is Accessible To All Groups Of Users

You can’t call your design successful if your audience has trouble using it. There’s a direct connection between bad UX and inaccessibility. One typical example of design decisions that often create terrible UX for the sake of beauty is using light grey text on light backgrounds. The example below was taken from one of the most popular powerful platforms for creating websites. Even a person with normal vision will struggle to read a text on this page, and there’s a huge possibility that a visually impaired person wouldn’t be able to read it at all.


Insufficient color contrast paired with small font size create readability issues.


Insufficient color contrast paired with small font size create readability issues.

The website you design should be accessible to all groups of users including blind, disabled or the elderly. Be sure to check WCAG documents and WUHCAG’s checklist.

7. Memorable Design

Taking into account the fact that almost all business have an online presence today — no matter what product or service you offer online — there are many other websites offering exactly what you do (perhaps even with the same benefits). It’s essential to set your website apart from the competition by crafting really memorable design.

Barbara Fredrickson and Daniel Kahneman proposed a psychological heuristic called the “peak-end rule” which dictates the way our brain works with information. The peak-end rule states that people judge an experience based mainly on how they felt at its peak (i.e., its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. The effect occurs regardless of whether the experience is pleasant or unpleasant. In other words, when we remember experiences, we tend to recall not entire experience but only key events that happened. That’s why it’s essential to create a spark that will stay in a user’s memory for a long time.

Color

Color hugely influences on what people remember, and how vividly they remember it. Selective use of color can trigger the memory and be that one added element that ensures your brand stays memorable and recognizable.

For example, when we think about Spotify, we usually think about vibrant colors. The service uses color as a brand and experience differentiator:


Spotify plays with colors to create a memorable experience.


Spotify plays with colors to create a memorable experience.

Illustrations

Illustrations are a versatile tool useful in creating a unique design. From small icons to large hand-drawn hero sketches, illustrations bring a sense of fine craftsmanship in digital experience.

A straightforward way of using illustrations in web design is to tailor them to your messaging.


Illustrations can be a great supplement of the text copy.


Illustrations can be a great supplement of the text copy. (Image credit: Evernote)

Using brand mascots in web design is another great example when illustrations can create a memorable experience. Mascots become the elements of identity and inter-connector between the user and the product.


By pairing illustrations with jokes, Smashing Magazine has developed a distinct design style that makes them memorable for anyone who aware of the brand.


By pairing illustrations with jokes, Smashing Magazine has developed a distinct design style that makes them memorable for anyone who aware of the brand.

Brand Consistency

Consistency is arguably the key rule to a successful brand. Inconsistency brings a huge problem — users won’t picture a specific thing when they think about a brand, and, as a result, it can quickly become forgettable. That’s why the website’s design should be consistent with your brand. Make sure that basic brand attributes such as brand colors, fonts, logos, and slogans are used consistently on the website.

Quick design tip: An excellent way to boost your ability to maintain a consistent brand design is through a style guide. Prepare it once and use it for each product you design.


McDonald's website design is consistent with its brand.


McDonald’s website design is consistent with its brand.

Humor

Make your experiences fun, so people remember them. One good example is Mailchimp, a service used to schedule and deploy email campaigns. The company fulfills a fairly technical niche, but by using humor it transforms this dry task into an inviting experience. Mailchimp uses a mascot called Freddie von Chimpenheimer. Freddie often cracks jokes, and humor is an effective way to connect with people. This positive attitude will often lead to people sharing and even advocating for the product with their friends.


Freddie, the cartoon mascot of MailChimp, is a great emotional carrier for humor.


Freddie, the cartoon mascot of MailChimp, is a great emotional carrier for humor.

Mailchimp adds small and delightful surprises throughout the user journey and makes sending emails a lot more fun.
Mailchimp adds small and delightful surprises throughout the user journey and makes sending emails a lot more fun. (Large preview)

8. Design Is Optimized For Mobile

Just a decade ago, designing for the web meant designing for a desktop, now it means designing for mobile and desktop. Mobile phones and tablets are driving an increasing amount of web traffic, and the numbers are only going to grow. In 2018, more than 50 percent of all website traffic worldwide was generated through mobile phones.

Prioritize Content And Features

Optimizing web design for mobile is a lot more than just making your design responsive. It’s about content and feature prioritization. Taking medium limitations into account, the goal is to show only what your users need in this medium.

Focus on refining the experience around your core objectives. Know what the core purpose of your app is — analyze which features of your app are used the most and put the most effort into making that experience intuitive.

Measure Success

After we’ve defined what makes a site successful, it’s time to understand how to measure the success. Measuring a site’s success requires an in-depth look at the analytics and data. As the first step in the process of measuring usage data, it’s essential to define right metrics. Metrics will make it clear whether your design decision is working or not. There are two groups of metrics — marketing metrics and UX metrics. Both groups of metrics are essential to a site’s success.

Marketing Metrics

Acquisition

Acquisition includes information about site’s visitors — how many people visit your site and how do they find it. Acquisition metrics include:

  • Number of gross visits.
    This is the most basic acquisition metric that you can track. It gives you a good baseline on how your site is doing, but it won’t tell you much without other metrics. For example, an increasing number of visitors does not necessarily mean success, because those visitors might not be relevant to your business goals.
  • Channels.
    As well as knowing your top-level traffic numbers (number of gross visits), you should also know where your traffic is coming from. If you use Google Analytics, it organizes acquired website traffic into a few broad categories such as Direct, Organic Search, Referral, Social. These groupings allow you to immediately segment your traffic source and identify specific patterns of behavior for each source.
  • Points of entrance.
    An entrance shows you what page people started their session on. You might think this would be the home page, when in fact that’s rarely the case, especially with referral and social traffic. If you go to the Behavior section of Google Analytics, you’ll be able to see your best-performing pages regarding traffic volume. Knowing what pages bring the most traffic is hugely important because it gives you reliable information on what content attracts people.

Engagement

Engagement measures the amount of time visitors stay on your website, as well as how many pages they visit. Engagement metrics help UX teams understand how much attention visitors give to a website.

Engagement metrics include:

  • Time spent on your site.
    Time visitors spend on site is often equated with engagement. Generally, the more time users spend on the site, the more valuable it’s for them. However, there might be an exception to this rule. For example, users might spend more time on a site because it’s hard to complete a specific task (e.g., find the information they need).
  • Total number of pages visited during user session.
    Generally, the more pages people visited, the better. However, it can also be an indicator of dissatisfaction – if people have to visit dozens of pages to find what they’re looking for, that often leads to unhappiness.
  • Bounce rate.
    The bounce rate (reported as a %) enables you to track how many people visit only one page before leaving your site. Naturally, you want this percentage to be as low as possible. There are some factors which could contribute to a high bounce rate. Generally, a high percentage could point to the lack of relevant content or usability issues. But of course, this rule has exceptions. For example, a visitor may have come to your site just to find contact information about your company. Once they had your phone number or address, there was no need to visit another page.

Quick tips:

  • Create a list of top 10 pages visitors are most engaged with. The pages that users are spending most time may help you determine if your goals are in-line with the goals of users.
  • Track exit pages. It’s essential not only to track how a user gets to your site but also how they leave it. This metric is different than a bounce rate in that it tracks visitors who visited multiple pages (bounce rate is a single page metric). If a particular page has a high exit rate, it might be an indication of a problem.

Retention

There are two types of website visitors: first-time visitors and returning visitors. Retention is the percentage of return visitors — people who continue visiting your website within a specific time frame. When a team measures retention, it becomes much easier to distinguish new users from returning users, and, as a result, see how quickly user base is growing or stabilizing.

Retention can be distilled from the percentage of new sessions. By comparing the percentage of new sessions vs. returning visitors, you can determine if your website is attracting new visitors and whether it offers enough value so people return to it.

Conversion

The majority of websites have a goal of getting visitors to convert (take action), whether it is to purchase an item or sign up for a newsletter. That’s why conversion is the metric that everyone cares about the most. Aim to maximize the number of people who convert (e.g., buy something after they come to your site). Obviously, the higher the conversion rate, the better your website is doing.

A conversion rate can tell you a lot about the quality of your traffic. For example, having a low conversion rate while having a lot of unique visits can be an indication that you are attracting the wrong traffic.

Here are a few tips for measuring conversion:

  • It’s always better to select easy-to-measure activities. For example, it might be something as simple as contact form submissions. Contact form submissions can be a great indicator of your site’s success — if users prompt an inquiry this is a great indication that your site has engaged them.
  • For larger sites, it’s good to have many different conversion goals on one site. For example, an eCommerce store might have three conversion goals — a product purchase, a subscriber to an email list, a social share.

Pirate Metrics (AARRR Framework)

As you can see, there are a lot of metrics that can be used. But how do you figure out which metrics to implement and track?

In the attempt to simplify the task of selecting right metrics, Dave McClure created a framework called AARRR. This framework uses a customer lifecycle as a foundation (the idea that visitors go from being a first-time visitor to a returning visitor), and tracks users through a conversion funnel over time. The life cycle consists of 5 steps:

  1. Acquisition
    Users come to the site from various channels.
  2. Activation
    Users enjoy their first visit (happy user experience).
  3. Retention
    Users come back and visit the site multiple times
  4. Referral
    Users like the product enough to refer it to others.
  5. Revenue
    Users conduct some type of monetization behavior.

The AARRR framework: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, Revenue.

Pirate metrics can help you determine where you should focus on optimizing your marketing funnel.

User Experience Metrics

While marketing metrics define the success of a product based on the conversion, user experience metrics focus on the quality of interaction with a product. Focusing on business goals does not necessarily lead to a better user experience. UX metrics can complement marketing metrics by concentrating on the critical aspects of user experience.

The Quality Of User Experience (HEART Framework)

When it comes to measuring user experience, it’s always hard to define specific metrics. Of course, there are high-level UX metrics that correlate with the success of user experiences such as usability, engagement, and conversion. But it might be hard to define metrics that will be relevant to a particular product. In the attempt to simplify this task, the Google team created a framework called HEART. This framework is intended to help designers focus on the product they create, and the user experience it provides. HEART uses some metrics that we already mentioned in the marketing section, but from a different angle.

  • Happiness
    Measures of user attitudes: satisfaction, perceived ease of use, net-promoter score. This metric can be collected via survey.
  • Engagement
    Level of user involvement. Engagement is typically measured as depth of interaction over some time period. For example, the number of visits per user per month.
  • Adoption
    Gaining new users of a product or feature. For example, the number of users who tried new product features in the last week.
  • Retention
    The rate at which existing users are returning. For example, for a web service this might be the number of active users remaining present over time. For e-commerce website, this might be the number of repeat purchases.
  • Task Success
    This category is most applicable to areas of your product that are task-focused. It includes behavior metrics such as efficiency (e.g. time to complete a task), effectiveness (e.g. percent of tasks completed), and error rate. For example, for e-commerce website this might be the number of search result success.

The HEART framework is very flexible — it can be applied to a specific feature or a whole product. It’s important to mention that you don’t need to collect metrics in all of HEART categories — you should choose only the most important for your particular project. It’s possible to choose metrics by following a process of Goals-Signals-Metrics.

The Goals-Signals-Metrics Process

The Goals-Signals-Metrics process helps you to identify meaningful metrics you’ll actually use.


Google HEART framework and Goals-Signals-Metrics process


Google HEART framework and Goals-Signals-Metrics process

The process of selecting metrics you can implement and track starts with goals. To define a goal, you need to focus on knowing what determines success. This is where the HEART categories will be particularly useful. For example, if you create a news site you might set a goal in the engagement category; the aim would be to have users enjoy the articles they read, and to keep them browsing to discover more articles from different categories.

Here are two tips that will help you define better goal:

  • *Don’t define your goals in terms of your existing metrics. *It’s a common pitfall when a team defines goals based on information it has. As a result, a goal might sound as something like ‘We need to increase traffic to our site.’ Yes, everyone wants to have more visitors, but does more visitors will move you towards your goal? Not necessary.
  • Work with team and stakeholders to identify the goals. You may not realize that different members of your team have different ideas about the goals of your project. Identifying goals early on in design process provides an opportunity to build consensus about where you are headed. Make sure that everyone on the team understands the proposed solution in sufficient detail.

After identifying your goals, you need to think about what user actions will result in progress toward these goals. These actions are your signals. There are usually a large number of potentially useful signals for a particular goal. Once you have identified some potential signals, you may need to do research or analysis to choose the ones that are most relevant. If we circle back to our example with a news site, an engagement signal for it might be the number of articles users read on the site.

Here are a few tips:

  • Consider how easy or difficult is to track each signal. It’s preferable to focus on signals that can be monitored automatically (e.g. your product can log the relevant information so you can use it for further analysis).
  • Try to choose signals that are sensitive to changes in your design. This way you will be able to analyze the data you have to understand whether the design changes benefit your users or not.
  • Don’t ignore negative signals. Identifying signals for possible missteps (e.g. number of errors during particular interaction) can help you reveal pain points in your product.

Once you’ve chosen signals, you can refine them into metrics you’ll track over time. In our news site engagement example, we might implement “how long users spend reading news” as “the average number of minutes spent reading news per user per day.”

  • Prioritize your metrics.
    Focus on tracking the metrics related to your top goals.
  • Don’t add metrics for sake of adding metrics.
    Avoid the temptation to add “interesting stats” to the list of metrics. Always ask yourself whether you will actually use these numbers to help you make a decision.
  • The metrics you track should be tied back to design decisions.
    When you see a change, you should be absolutely clear on what has caused that change.

What Can Influence Success

Follow TETO Principle

How to make sure that website meets user’s expectations? You can’t just assume that it does — you need to test your design to see how users engage with it. Testing can reveal much more than how usable a site is — it can also demonstrate the users’ emotional response to the design. That’s why TETO-principle (test early, test often) should be applied to every web design project.

  • Don’t expect to build a perfect product right from the first attempt.
    Product design is an ongoing journey for both you and your users. That means that you design something, test it, rework it and then test it again.
  • Use comparative testing to find the best solution for your users.
    If you have multiple solutions to a particular problem and not sure what solution works best for your product, you can use A/B testing to validate it. Compare what users do in one scenario vs. another, and see which design is the most effective.
  • Collect qualitative feedback.
    All measurable data that we’ve talked about in previous sections can tell you a lot of answers on “*how many*” questions. But this data won’t tell you why people interact in a way they do. Facing readability issues, hesitation when filling out a payment form, using search because site’s navigation is really hard to deal with — all of these types of details are critical to understanding the user experience. They might be a reason why people abandon a process and leave the site. It’s possible to find answers to why questions by observing and interviewing your users.

User interview illustration


User interview (Illustration by Igor Kopelnitsky)

Data-Informed, Not Data-Driven Design

When product teams collect data, they usually follow either data-driven or data-informed design process. The latter is more preferable. Design shouldn’t be driven by data, it should be informed by data.

Don’t Be Obsessed Over Numbers

A lot of metrics get reported simply because they are flowing in from analytics tool. While it’s tempting to report a lot of different things and hope that this will make your report more valuable, in reality, this usually leads to more complex reports that are hard to read.

Don’t Fall Into The Trap Of Complete Redesign

All too often design teams try to introduce a complete rework for a solution which they believe will result in more successful web experience. Jared Spool calls major product redesign a Flip-the-Switch strategy — “the most ineffective way to get major changes into a design.” In the article, “ The Quiet Death of the Major Re-Launch,” he shares a story on the eBay redesign — and it’s a great reminder of why users don’t like dramatic changes. A complete redesign that brings new visual and interaction design might be too much change and have an adverse effect.

If you have an existing website, instead of investing in a large scale redesign focus on subtle evolution, make small and incremental changes that can (over time) improve conversions without visitors even noticing that changes have been made.

Conclusion

So, how do you know that your website is a success? As a product creator, you must first define what success means to you. For that, it’s always important to have a big picture in mind of what it is that you want to achieve.

The next step would be to focus on metrics. Metrics will show you how a site changes over time. They will help you fill in the blanks between what has happened and why.

This article is part of the UX design series sponsored by Adobe. Adobe XD tool is made for a fast and fluid UX design process, as it lets you go from idea to prototype faster. Design, prototype and share — all in one app. You can check out more inspiring projects created with Adobe XD on Behance, and also sign up for the Adobe experience design newsletter to stay updated and informed on the latest trends and insights for UX/UI design.

Smashing Editorial
(ra, il)


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How Do You Know Your Website Is A Success?

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What is Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), Best Practices, Tools [Guide]

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Conversion rate optimization offers one of the fastest, most effective methodologies for turning your existing web traffic into paying customers. Also known as CRO, conversion rate optimization can involve numerous tools and strategies, but they’re all geared toward the same thing: Converting visitors into leads and leads into customers. There is a lot of conflicting and illuminating information out there about CRO. For instance, one study found that using long-form landing pages increased conversions by 220 percent. However, some companies find that short-form landing pages work better for their audiences. Similarly, about 75 percent of businesses who responded to another…

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What is Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), Best Practices, Tools [Guide]

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Lessons Learned While Developing WordPress Plugins




Lessons Learned While Developing WordPress Plugins

Jakub Mikita



Every WordPress plugin developer struggles with tough problems and code that’s difficult to maintain. We spend late nights supporting our users and tear out our hair when an upgrade breaks our plugin. Let me show you how to make it easier.

In this article, I’ll share my five years of experience developing WordPress plugins. The first plugin I wrote was a simple marketing plugin. It displayed a call to action (CTA) button with Google’s search phrase. Since then, I’ve written another 11 free plugins, and I maintain almost all of them. I’ve written around 40 plugins for my clients, from really small ones to one that have been maintained for over a year now.

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Good development and support lead to more downloads. More downloads mean more money and a better reputation. This article will show you the lessons I’ve learned and the mistakes I’ve made, so that you can improve your plugin development.

1. Solve A Problem

If your plugin doesn’t solve a problem, it won’t get downloaded. It’s as simple as that.

Take the Advanced Cron Manager plugin (8,000+ active installations). It helps WordPress users who are having a hard time debugging their cron. The plugin was written out of a need — I needed something to help myself. I didn’t need to market this one, because people already needed it. It scratched their itch.

On the other hand, there’s the Bug — fly on the screen plugin (70+ active installations). It randomly simulates a fly on the screen. It doesn’t really solve a problem, so it’s not going to have a huge audience. It was a fun plugin to develop, though.

Focus on a problem. When people don’t see their SEO performing well, they install an SEO plugin. When people want to speed up their website, they install a caching plugin. When people can’t find a solution to their problem, then they find a developer who writes a solution for them.

As David Hehenberger attests in his article about writing a successful plugin, need is a key factor in the WordPress user’s decision of whether to install a particular plugin.

If you have an opportunity to solve someone’s problem, take a chance.

2. Support Your Product

“3 out of 5 Americans would try a new brand or company for a better service experience. 7 out of 10 said they were willing to spend more with companies they believe provide excellent service.”

— Nykki Yeager

Don’t neglect your support. Don’t treat it like a must, but more like an opportunity.

Good-quality support is critical in order for your plugin to grow. Even a plugin with the best code will get some support tickets. The more people who use your plugin, the more tickets you’ll get. A better user experience will get you fewer tickets, but you will never reach inbox 0.

Every time someone posts a message in a support forum, I get an email notification immediately, and I respond as soon as I can. It pays off. The vast majority of my good reviews were earned because of the support. This is a side effect: Good support often translates to 5-star reviews.

When you provide excellent support, people start to trust you and your product. And a plugin is a product, even if it’s completely free and open-source.

Good support is more complex than about writing a short answer once a day. When your plugin gains traction, you’ll get several tickets per day. It’s a lot easier to manage if you’re proactive and answer customers’ questions before they even ask.

Here’s a list of some actions you can take:

  • Create an FAQ section in your repository.
  • Pin the “Before you ask” thread at the top of your support forum, highlighting the troubleshooting tips and FAQ.
  • Make sure your plugin is simple to use and that users know what they should do after they install it. UX is important.
  • Analyze the support questions and fix the pain points. Set up a board where people can vote for the features they want.
  • Create a video showing how the plugin works, and add it to your plugin’s main page in the WordPress.org repository.

It doesn’t really matter what software you use to support your product. The WordPress.org’s official support forum works just as well as email or your own support system. I use WordPress.org’s forum for the free plugins and my own system for the premium plugins.

3. Don’t Use Composer

Composer is package-manager software. A repository of packages is hosted on packagist.org, and you can easily download them to your project. It’s like NPM or Bower for PHP. Managing your third-party packages the way Composer does is a good practice, but don’t use it in your WordPress project.

I know, I dropped a bomb. Let me explain.

Composer is great software. I use it myself, but not in public WordPress projects. The problem lies in conflicts. WordPress doesn’t have any global package manager, so each and every plugin has to load dependencies of their own. When two plugins load the same dependency, it causes a fatal error.

There isn’t really an ideal solution to this problem, but Composer makes it worse. You can bundle the dependency in your source manually and always check whether you are safe to load it.

Composer’s issue with WordPress plugins is still not solved, and there won’t be any viable solution to this problem in the near future. The problem was raised many years ago, and, as you can read in WP Tavern’s article, many developers are trying to solve it, without any luck.

The best you can do is to make sure that the conditions and environment are good to run your code.

4. Reasonably Support Old PHP Versions

Don’t support very old versions of PHP, like 5.2. The security issues and maintenance aren’t worth it, and you’re not going to earn more installations from those older versions.


The Notification plugin’s usage on PHP versions from May 2018. (Large preview)

Go with PHP 5.6 as a minimal requirement, even though official support will be dropped by the end of 2018. WordPress itself requires PHP 7.2.

There’s a movement that discourages support of legacy PHP versions. The Yoast team released the Whip library, which you can include in your plugin and which displays to your users important information about their PHP version and why they should upgrade.

Tell your users which versions you do support, and make sure their website doesn’t break after your plugin is installed on too low a version.

5. Focus On Quality Code

Writing good code is tough in the beginning. It takes time to learn the “SOLID” principles and design patterns and to change old coding habits.

It once took me three days to display a simple string in WordPress, when I decided to rewrite one of my plugins using better coding practices. It was frustrating knowing that it should have taken 30 minutes. Switching my mindset was painful but worth it.

Why was it so hard? Because you start writing code that seems at first to be overkill and not very intuitive. I kept asking myself, “Is this really needed?” For example, you have to separate the logic into different classes and make sure each is responsible for a single thing. You also have to separate classes for the translation, custom post type registration, assets management, form handlers, etc. Then, you compose the bigger structures out of the simple small objects. That’s called dependency injection. That’s very different from having “front end” and “admin” classes, where you cram all your code.

The other counterintuitive practice was to keep all actions and filters outside of the constructor method. This way, you’re not invoking any actions while creating the objects, which is very helpful for unit testing. You also have better control over which methods are executed and when. I wish I knew this before I wrote a project with an infinite loop caused by the actions in the constructor methods. Those kinds of bugs are hard to trace and hard to fix. The project had to be refactored.

The above are but a few examples, but you should get to know the SOLID principles. These are valid for any system and any coding language.

When you follow all of the best practices, you reach the point where every new feature just fits in. You don’t have to tweak anything or make any exceptions to the existing code. It’s amazing. Instead of getting more complex, your code just gets more advanced, without losing flexibility.

Also, format your code properly, and make sure every member of your team follows a standard. Standards will make your code predictable and easier to read and test. WordPress has its own standards, which you can implement in your projects.

6. Test Your Plugin Ahead Of Time

I learned this lesson the hard way. Lack of testing led me to release a new version of a plugin with a fatal error. Twice. Both times, I got a 1-star rating, which I couldn’t turn into a positive review.

You can test manually or automatically. Travis CI is a continuous testing product that integrates with GitHub. I’ve built a really simple test suite for my Notification plugin that just checks whether the plugin can boot properly on every PHP version. This way, I can be sure the plugin is error-free, and I don’t have to pay much attention to testing it in every environment.

Each automated test takes a fraction of a second. 100 automated tests will take about 10 minutes to complete, whereas manual testing needs about 2 minutes for each case.

The more time you invest in testing your plugin up front, the more it will save you in the long run.

To get started with automated testing, you can use the WP-CLI \`wp scaffold plugin-test\` command, which installs all of the configuration you need.

7. Document Your Work

It’s a cliche that developers don’t like to write documentation. It’s the most boring part of the development process, but a little goes a long way.

Write self-documenting code. Pay attention to variable, function and class names. Don’t make any complicated structures, like cascades that can’t be read easily.

Another way to document code is to use the “doc block”, which is a comment for every file, function and class. If you write how the function works and what it does, it will be so much easier to understand when you need to debug it six months from now. WordPress Coding Standards covers this part by forcing you to write the doc blocks.

Using both techniques will save you the time of writing the documentation, but the code documentation is not going to be read by everyone.

For the end user, you have to write high-quality, short and easy-to-read articles explaining how the system works and how to use it. Videos are even better; many people prefer to watch a short tutorial than read an article. They are not going to look at the code, so make their lives easier. Good documentation also reduces support tickets.

Conclusion

These seven rules have helped me develop good-quality products, which are starting to be a core business at BracketSpace. I hope they’ll help you in your journey with WordPress plugins as well.

Let me know in the comments what your golden development rule is or whether you’ve found any of the above particularly helpful.

Smashing Editorial
(il, ra, yk)


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Lessons Learned While Developing WordPress Plugins

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Building Diverse Design Teams To Drive Innovation




Building Diverse Design Teams To Drive Innovation

Riri Nagao



There has been a surge of conversations about the tech industry lacking diversity. Companies are therefore encountering barriers in innovation. The current state of technology faces inequality and privilege, a consequence of having limited voices represented in the design and product development process. In addition, we live in a challenged political and socio-economic state where it’s easier to be divided than come together despite differences.

Design’s role in companies is becoming less about visual appeal and more about hitting business goals and creating value for users. Therefore, the need to build teams with diverse perspectives is becoming imperative. Design will not only be critical to solving problems on the product and experience level, but also relevant on a bigger scale to close social divides and to create inclusive communities.

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Creating a team who can work well together across different disciplines can be hard. Rachel Andrew solicits some suggestions from the speakers at our upcoming SmashingConf in Toronto. Read article →

What Is Diversity And Why Is It Important?

Diversity is in perspectives and values, which are influenced by both inherit traits (such as ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation) as well as acquired traits that are gained from various life experiences (cultural influences, education, social circle, etc.). A combination of traits shape people’s identity and the way they think.

In particular, conflicts and adversities experienced by people have a significant influence on how they develop their values. The more an individual has stepped outside their comfort zone, the more unique of a perspective they bring to the table and an expanded capacity to be compassionate towards others.

Diversity is important because it directly affects long-term success, innovation, and growth. Advantages of working on a diverse team include increased collaboration, effective communication, well-rounded sets of skills represented, less susception to complacency, and active efforts for inclusivity are made earlier in the process.

What Is The Competing Values Framework?

The positive correlation between diversity and innovation are undeniable. So how exactly does it work? Having differing and oftentimes clashing perspectives on a team seems to hinder progress rather than drive it. But with the right balance of values, this dynamic is extremely advantageous. Design, as a problem-solving discipline, uses insights to drive innovation, which can only manifest between differences, not commonalities. When different perspectives and values are represented, blind spots become more apparent and implicit biases are challenged.

This is illustrated in the Competing Values Framework, a robust blueprint that was devised by Quinn and Rohrbaugh, based on researching qualities of companies that have sustainably produced a steady stream of innovative solutions over the years. This model for organizational effectiveness shows how different perspectives translate into business values, as well as show where their weaknesses are.

These are categorized into “quadrants” as follows:


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The CVF can help you build teams that are optimized for any goal. (Image source)

1. Collaborate

People with characteristics from the Collaborate quadrant are committed to cooperating together based on shared values. They foster trust with each other and with their audience through compassion and empathy. Their priorities are long-term growth of communities and commit to learning and mentoring. While a sense of unity might help a team be more purpose-driven, this can discourage individuals who think differently to bring new ideas to the table because they are averse to taking risks. People here also lose sight of the realities of constraints because they look too far ahead.

2. Create

While most people are hesitant to change and innovation, those in this quadrant embrace it. They’re extremely flexible with a shifting landscape of user and business goals and aren’t afraid of taking risks. Creatives see risk as an opportunity for growth and embrace different ways of thinking to come up with solutions. Trends are set by creatives, not followed. In contrast, however, those in this quadrant aren’t as logical and practical with the execution needed to bring ideas to life. Their flexibility can become chaotic and unpredictable. Taking risks can pay off significantly but it’s more detrimental without a foundation.

3. Compete

As the name implies, people here are competitive and focus on high performance and big results. They’re excellent decision makers, which is why they get things done quickly. They know exactly how to utilize resources around them to beat competitors and get to the top of the market. Competitors stay focused on the business objectives of increasing revenue and hitting target metrics. On the other hand, they’re not as broad of a visionary in the long run. Since they prioritize immediate results. Because of this, they may not be as compassionate towards their audience and not consider the human side of company growth.

4. Control

People in this quadrant focus on creating systems that are reliable and efficient. They’re practical and can plan strategically for scaling, and they constantly revisit their design processes to optimize for productivity. They are extremely detail oriented and can identify areas of opportunities in the unexpected. They’re also experts at dealing with multiple moving parts and turn chaos into harmony. But if there are too many Control qualities on a team, they become vulnerable to falling into complacency since they depend on reliable systems. They are averse to taking risks and fear the nature of unpredictability.

People and their values don’t always neatly fit into categories but this framework is flexible in helping teams identify their strengths and weaknesses. Many individuals have traits that cover more than one quadrant but there are definitely dominant qualities. Being able to identify what they are on an individual level, as well as within a team and at the company level is important.

How Do We Use The CVF To Build Diverse Teams?

There are already many great design processes and frameworks that takes aspects of the CVF to help teams take advantage of diverse perspectives. The sprint model, developed by the design partners at Google Ventures, is an excellent workflow that brings together differing values and skill sets to solve problems, with an emphasis on completing it in a short amount of time. IDEO’s design thinking process, also referred to human-centered design, puts users at the forefront and drive decisions with empathy with collaboration being at the core.

Note: Learn more about GV’s Design Sprint model and IDEO’s Design Thinking approach.

The CVF complements many existing design processes to help teams bring their differing perspectives together and design more holistically. In order to do this, teams need to evaluate where they are, how to fit in the company and how well that aligns with their priorities. They should also identify the missing voices and assess areas for improvement. They need to be asking themselves,

What has the team dynamic been like for the past year? What progress has been made? What goals (business/user/team) are the most important?

The Competing Values Framework assessment is a practical way to (1) establish the desired organizational outcomes and goals, (2) evaluate the current practices of teams within the organization/company and how they manage workflows, and (3) the individual’s role and how they fit into the context of the team and company.

For example, a team that may not have had many roadblocks and disagreements may represent too much of the Collaborate quadrant and need people who represent more of the Compete quadrant to drive results. A team that has taken risks has had failures, and has dealt with many moving parts (Create) may need people who have characteristics of the Control quadrant for stability and scaling on a practical level to drive results and growth.

If teams can expand by hiring more, they should absolutely onboard more innovators who bring different perspectives and strengths. But teams should also keep in mind that it’s absolutely possible to work with what they already have and can utilize resources at their disposal. Here are some practical ways that teams can increase diversity:

Hire For Diversity

When hiring, it’s important to find people with unique perspectives to complement existing designers and stakeholders. Writing inclusive job descriptions to attract a wider range of candidates makes a big difference. Involving people from all levels and backgrounds within the company who are willing to embrace new perspectives is essential. Hiring managers should ask thoughtful questions to gage how well candidates exercise their problem-solving skills and empathy in real-life business cases. Not making assumptions about others, even with something simple like their pronouns, can establish safe work environments and encourage people to be open about their views and values.

Step Outside The Bubble

Whether this would be directly for client work or for building team rapport, it’s valuable to get people out of the office to experience things outside of their familiar scope. It’s worthwhile for design teams to interact with users and spend time in their shoes, not only for their own work as UX practitioners but also to help expand their worldview. They should be encouraged to constantly learn something new. They should be given opportunities to travel to places that are completely different from their comfort zone. Teams should also be encouraged go to design events and learn from industry experts who do similar work but in different contexts. Great ideas emerge when people experience things outside their routine and therefore, should always get out and learn!

Drive Diversity Initiatives Internally

Hosting in-house hackathons to get teams to interact differently allows designers to expand their skills while learning new approaches to problem solving. It is also an opportunity to work with people from other teams and acquire the skills to adapt quickly. Bringing in outside experts to share their wisdom is a great way for teams to learn new ways of thinking. Some companies, especially larger organizations, have communities based on interests outside of work such as the love for food or interest in outdoors activities. Teaching each other skills through internal workshops is also great.

Foster A Culture Of Appreciation

Some companies have weekly roundtable session where each person on the team shares one thing he or she is appreciative about another person. Not only does this encourage high morale but also empowers teams to produce better work. At the same time, teams are given a safe space to be vulnerable with each other and take risks. This is an excellent way to bond over goals and get teams with differing perspectives together to collaborate.

What Should Diverse Teams Keep In Mind?

Acknowledging that while different ideas and values are important, they can clash if conversations are not managed effectively. Discrimination and segregation can happen. But creating a workspace and team dynamic that is open to discussion and a safe space to challenge existing ideas is crucial. People should be open to being challenged and ask questions, rather than get defensive about their ideas. Compromise will be necessary in this process.

When diversity isn’t managed actively, or there is an imbalance of values on a team, several challenges arise:

  • Communication barriers — How people say things can be different from how others hear and understand them. Misunderstandings could lead to crucial voices not always being heard. If a particular style of communication is accepted over others, people fear speaking up. They might hold the wisdom to make design decisions that could impact the business. If a culture of openness doesn’t exist, a lot of those gold mines never get their opportunities to see the light of day.
  • Discrimination and segregation — As teams become more diverse, people can stray away from or avoid others who think differently. This can lead to increased feelings of resentment, leading to segregation and even discrimination. People might be quick to judge one another based on stereotypical references, rather than mustering the courage to understand where they come from.
  • Competition over collaboration — People on design teams need to work collaboratively but when different perspectives clash and aren’t encouraged to use their perspectives to create value for the company, they become competitive against each other rather than have the willingness to work together. It’s important to bring the team back to the main goal.

Embracing different perspectives takes courage but it’s everyone’s responsibility to be mindful of one another. Being surrounded by people with different perspectives is certainly uncomfortable and can be a stretch outside their comfort zones. Design teams are positioned advantageously to do so and be role models to others on its impact. Conversations about leveraging differing perspectives should happen as early in the process as possible to limit friction and encourage effective collaboration.

Conclusion And Next Steps

Rather than approach it as an obligation and something with a lot of risk, leaders should see it as a benefit to their company and team’s growth. It is often said that roadblocks are a sign of innovation. Therefore, when designers in a team are faced with challenges, they are able to innovate. And only through the existence different perspectives can such challenges emerge. Assessing where the company, teams, and individuals are within the CVF quadrants is a great start and taking steps to building a team with complementing perspectives will be key to driving long-term innovation.


I’d like to personally thank the following contributors for taking their time to providing me with insights on hiring for and building diverse design teams: Samantha Berg, Khanh Lam, Arin Bhowmick, Rob Strati, Shannon O’Brien, Diego Pulido, Nathan Gao, Christopher Taylor Edwards, among many others who engaged in discussions with me on this topic. Thank you for allowing me to take your experiences and being part of facilitating this dialogue on the value of diversity in design.

Smashing Editorial
(cc, ra, yk, il)


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Building Diverse Design Teams To Drive Innovation

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Measuring Websites With Mobile-First Optimization Tools




Measuring Websites With Mobile-First Optimization Tools

Jon Raasch



Performance on mobile can be particularly challenging: underpowered devices, slow networks, and poor connections are some of those challenges. With more and more users migrating to mobile, the rewards for mobile optimization are great. Most workflows have already adopted mobile-first design and development strategies, and it’s time to apply a similar mindset to performance.

In this article, we’ll take a look at studies linking page speed to real-world metrics, and discuss the specific ways mobile performance impacts your site. Then we’ll explore benchmarking tools you can use to measure your website’s mobile performance. Finally, we’ll work with tools to help identify and remove the code debt that bloats and weighs down your site.

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How would you design a responsive car configurator? How would you deal with accessibility, navigation, real-time previews, interaction and performance? Let’s figure it out. Read article →

Why Performance Matters

The benefits of performance optimization are well-documented. In short, performance matters because users prefer faster websites. But it’s more than a qualitative assumption about user experience. There are a variety of studies that directly link reduced load times to increased conversion and revenue, such as the now decade-old Amazon study that showed each 100ms of latency led to a 1% drop in sales.

Page Speed, Bounce Rate & Conversion

In the data world, poor performance leads to an increased bounce rate. And in the mobile world that bounce rate may occur sooner than you think. A recent study shows that 53% of mobile users abandon a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load.

That means if your site loads in 3.5 seconds, over half of your potential users are leaving (and most likely visiting a competitor). That may be tough to swallow, but it is as much a problem as it is an opportunity. If you can get your site to load more quickly, you are potentially doubling your conversion. And if your conversion is even indirectly linked to profits, you’re doubling your revenue.

SEO And Social Media

Beyond reduced conversion, slow load times create secondary effects that diminish your inbound traffic. Search engines already use page speed in their ranking algorithms, bubbling faster sites to the top. Additionally, Google is specifically factoring mobile speed for mobile searches as of July 2018.

Social media outlets have begun factoring page speed in their algorithms as well. In August 2017, Facebook announced that it would roll out specific changes to the newsfeed algorithm for mobile devices. These changes include page speed as a factor, which means that slow websites will see a decline in Facebook impressions, and in turn a decline in visitors from that source.

Search engines and social media companies aren’t punishing slow websites on a whim, they’ve made a calculated decision to improve the experience for their users. If two websites have effectively the same content, wouldn’t you rather visit one that loads faster?

Many websites depend on search engines and social media for a large portion of their traffic. The slowest of these will have an exacerbated problem, with a reduced number of visitors coming to their site, and over half of those visitors subsequently abandoning.

If the prognosis sounds alarming, that’s because it is! But the good news is that there are a few concrete steps you can take to improve your page speeds. Even the slowest sites can get “sub three seconds” with a good strategy and some work.

Profiling And Benchmarking Tools

Before you begin optimizing, it’s a good idea to take a snapshot of your website’s performance. With profiling, you can determine how much progress you will need to make. Later, you can compare against this benchmark to quantify the speed improvements you make.

There are a number of tools that assess a website’s performance. But before you get started, it’s important to understand that no tool provides a perfect measurement of client-side performance. Devices, connection speeds, and web browsers all impact performance, and it is impossible to analyze all combinations. Additionally, any tool that runs on your personal device can only approximate the experience on a different device or connection.

In one sense, whichever tool you use can provide meaningful insights. As long as you use the same tool before and after, the comparison of each should provide a decent snapshot of performance changes. But certain tools are better than others.

In this section, we’ll walk through two tools that provide a profile of how well your website performs in a mobile environment.

Note: If can be difficult to benchmark an entire site, so I recommend that you choose one or two of your most important pages for benchmarking.

Lighthouse

Lighthouse audit tab


Lighthouse in the Google’s Web Developer Tools. (Large preview)

One of the more useful tools for profiling mobile performance is Google’s Lighthouse. It’s a nice starting point for optimization since it not only analyzes page performance but also provides insights into specific performance issues. Additionally, Lighthouse provides high-level suggestions for speed improvements.

Lighthouse is available in the Audits tab of the Chrome Developer Tools. To get started, open the page you want to optimize in Chrome Dev Tools and perform an audit. I typically perform all the audits, but for our purposes, you only need to check the ‘Performance’ checkbox:

Lighthouse audit selection


All the audits are useful, but we’ll only need the Performance audit. (Large preview)

Lighthouse focuses on mobile, so when you run the audit, Lighthouse will pop your page into the inspector’s responsive viewer and throttle the connection to simulate a mobile experience.

Lighthouse Reports

When the audit finishes, you’ll see an overall performance score, a timeline view of how the page rendered over time, as well as a variety of metrics:

Lighthouse performance audit results


In the performance audit, pay attention to the first meaningful paint. (Large preview)

It’s a lot of information, but one report to emphasize is the first meaningful paint, since that directly influences user bounce rates. You may notice that the tool doesn’t even list the total load time, and that’s because it rarely matters for user experience.

Mobile users expect a first view of the page very quickly, and it may be some time before they scroll to the lower content. In the timeline above, the first paint occurs quickly at 1.3s, then a full above-the-fold content paint occurs at 3.9s. The user can now engage with the above-the-fold content, and anything below-the-fold can take a few seconds longer to load.

Lighthouse’s first meaningful paint is a great metric for benchmarking, but also take a look at the opportunities section. This list helps to identify the key problem areas of your site. Keep these recommendations on your radar, since they may provide your biggest improvements.

Lighthouse Caveats

While Lighthouse provides great insights, it is important to bear in mind that it only simulates a mobile experience. The device is simulated in Chrome, and a mobile connection is simulated with throttling. Actual experiences will vary.

Additionally, you may notice that if you run the audit multiple times, you will get different reports. That’s again because it is simulating the experience, and variances in your device, connection, and the server will impact the results. That said, you can still use Lighthouse for benchmarking, but it is important that you run it several times. It is more relevant as a range of values than a single report.

WebPageTest

In order to get an idea of how quickly your page loads in an actual mobile device, use WebPageTest. One of the nice things about WebPageTest is that it tests on a variety of real devices. Additionally, it will perform the test a number of times and take the average to provide a more accurate benchmark.

To get started, navigate to WebPageTest.org, enter the URL for the page you want to test and then select the mobile device you’d like to use for testing. Also, open up the advanced settings and change the connection speed. I like testing at Fast 3G, because even when users are connected to LTE the connection speed is rarely LTE (#sad):

WebPageTest advanced settings form


WebPageTest provides actual mobile devices for profiling. (Large preview)

After submitting the test (and waiting for any queue), you’ll get a report on the speed of the page:

WebPageTest profiling results


In WebPageTest’s results, pay attention to the start render and first byte. (Large preview)

The summary view consists of a short list of metrics and links to timelines. Again, the value of the start render is more important than the load time. The first byte is useful for analyzing the server response speed. You can also dig into the more in-depth reports for additional insights.

Benchmarking

Now that you’ve profiled your page in Lighthouse and WebPageTest, it’s time to record the values. These benchmarks will provide a useful comparison as you optimize your page. If the metrics improve, your changes are worthwhile. If they stay static (or worse decline), you’ll need to rethink your strategy.

Lighthouse results are simulated which makes it less useful for benchmarking and more useful for in-depth reports and optimization suggestions. However, Lighthouse’s performance score and first meaningful paint are nice benchmarks so run it a few times and take the median for each.

WebPageTest’s values are more reliable for benchmarking since it tests on real devices, so these will be your primary benchmarks. Record the value for the first byte, start to render, and overall load time.

Bloat Reduction

Now that you’ve assessed the performance of your site, let’s take a look at a tool that can help reduce the size of your files. This tool can identify extra, unnecessary pieces of code that bloat your files and cause resources to be larger than they should.

In a perfect world, users would only download the code that they actually need. But the production and maintenance process can lead to unused artifacts in the codebase. Even the most diligent developers can forget to remove pieces of old CSS and JavaScript while making changes. Over time these bits of dead code accumulate and become unnecessary bloat.

Additionally, certain resources are intended to be cached and then used throughout multiple pages, such as a site-wide stylesheet. Site-wide resources often make sense, but how can you tell when a stylesheet is mostly underused?

The Coverage Tab

Fortunately, Chrome Developer Tools has a tool that helps assess the bloat in files: The Coverage tab. The Coverage tab analyzes code coverage as you navigate your site. It provides an interface that shows how much code in a given CSS or JS file is actually being used.

To access the Coverage tab, open up Chrome Developer Tools, and click on the three dots in the top right. Navigate to More Tools > Coverage.

Access the Coverage tab by clicking on More tools and then Coverage


The Coverage tab is a bit hidden in the web developer tools console. (Large preview)

Next, start instrumenting coverage by clicking the reload button on the right. That will reload the page and begin the code coverage analysis. It brings up a report similar to this:

The Coverage report identifies unused code


An example of a Coverage report. (Large preview)

Here, pay attention to the unused bytes:

The coverage report UI shows a breakdown of used and unused bytes


The unused bytes are represented by red lines. (Large preview)

This UI shows the amount of code that is currently unused, colored red. In this particular page, the first file shown is 73% bloat. You may see significant bloat at first, but it only represents the current render. Change your screen size and you should see the CSS coverage go up as media queries get applied. Open any interactive elements like modals and toggles, and it should go up further.

Once you’ve activated every view, you will have an idea of how much code you are actually using. Next, you can dig into the report further to find out just which pieces of code are unused, simply click on one of the resources and look in the main window:

Detail view of a file in the Coverage report, showing which pieces of code aren’t being used


Click on a file in the Coverage report to see the specific portions of unused code. (Large preview)

In this CSS file, look at the highlights to the left of each ruleset; green indicates used code and red indicates bloat. If you are building a single page app or using specialized resources for this particular page, you may be inclined to go in and remove this garbage. But don’t be too hasty. You should definitely remove dead code, but be careful to make sure that you haven’t missed a breakpoint or interactive element.

Next Steps

In this article, we’ve shown the quantitative benefits of optimizing page speed. I hope you’re convinced, and that you have the tools you need to convince others. We’ve also set a minimum goal for mobile page speed: sub three seconds.

To hit this goal, it’s important that you prioritize the highest impact optimizations first. There are a lot of resources online that can help define this roadmap, such as this checklist. Lighthouse can also be a great tool for identifying specific issues in your codebase, so I encourage you to tackle those bottlenecks first. Sometimes the smallest optimizations can have the biggest impact.

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Measuring Websites With Mobile-First Optimization Tools