How site visitors experience your website—more concisely known as the user experience or UX—is something you absolutely must consider. Without a good UX, no one will get to appreciate your innovative ideas, cool graphics, or top-notch products. And it’s not because they don’t try. Rather, it’s because a bad layout and design is difficult to navigate and your most important information might not be visible or easy to find.
And that’s really unfortunate. Way too many decent businesses are irreparably hurt by poor web design and UX decisions. The good news, however, is that within WordPress it’s pretty simple to avoid the damage and put forward a UX that serves your target audience well. You just need to know what to prioritize and some of the things you should definitely avoid doing if you want to see success.
Okay, without further adieu, here are the top WordPress UX rules I think every site should follow:
Rule #1: Never (Ever!) Make Site Visitors Work for Information
You can never use the excuse that visitors just didn’t look in the right place to find your contact information. Or that they just didn’t look hard enough for those pertinent product details. It is your responsibility as the site owner to ensure everything is easy to find and where site visitors expect them to be. A few things you need to pay particular attention to include:
Clean navigational menus are a must
Usually positioned in the header or along the lefthand side of your site, your menus need to be easy to find and use. That means easy clicking here, folks! Unruly drop down menus and secondary toolbars that vanish as soon as you navigate a millimeter away from them are annoying, yes, but they also seriously inhibit your visitors ability to interact with your site. Can you say increased bounce rate? I know I’ve skipped town on several sites when I couldn’t get a handle on their unwieldy menus.
If you’re dealing with this problem on your site, WPMU Dev actually offers a helpful tutorial on fixing this issue, however. And it’s not that complicated, I promise!
Another thing you need to watch out for is steering clear of putting too many options in your menus. Drop-downs are fine and dandy but when they drop down to reveal twenty links that practically fill the entire browser screen? Yeah, that’s not so user-friendly and can make your site look really disorganized and cluttered. Limit primary navigation to your most important pages and use secondary menus for listing out your less important content.
Make social icons easy to find
A major part of the modern website user experience is social integration. That means it’s vital you put those social profile icons in a place where people can easily see them and where they are expected. In the header space next to the navigation is a good option. Even better is placing them in your sidebar. Just make sure users don’t have to scroll to see them. Keep those icons above the fold.
Same goes with social share icons. Put them where people expect them—the top or bottom of posts usually works, Share buttons that overlay your content in some way work, too. A floating share bar can be effective like Floating Social Bar or AddThis. These appear (usually) along the lefthand side of your site and “float” on top of your content as the user scrolls.
Or you can use a plugin to add more stylish social share buttons than what come standard like Shareaholic. Don’t be afraid to explore your options. And you might want to keep tabs on the development status of our own social share plugin, Monarch, while you’re at it.
Whether you’re trying to sell a product or get people to sign up for your newsletter, making sure your call-to-action is highly visible means a world of difference when it comes to conversions. But remember, a major part of UX is functionality, too. Don’t make your newsletter signup form, for instance, overly complicated. The fewer steps a visitor has to complete to perform the task you want them to, the better. Often, just an email address will suffice.
If you need help implementing a compelling CTA on your site, there are quite a few plugin solutions out there. You can embed them within your content or even feature them as a triggered-on-scroll box. Something like WordPress Calls to Action or Hello Bar work very well.
And if you don’t feel like paying for the latter, there’s always Attention Grabber for adding a stylish bar across the top of your site that appears when the user scrolls down.
Prominent contact and about info
Even though an about page and a contact page are website staples, you’d be surprised by how many site owners think there’s is the exception to the rule and leave them off altogether. This is a bad move. If you want to instill trust in your visitors, which is especially important when you’re trying to encourage them to open their wallets, you need to put as much information about yourself out there upfront.
Don’t make people click through several pages to get to your bio. Don’t make them scroll down to your footer and squint at the tiny print to find your contact information. Put these things on their own pages in your primary navigation menu to boost visitors’ confidence in your site. I mean, who would you be more likely to purchase from, a company with established information about its core team members or a company that’s run by shadowy, unknown figures? It’s not that hard to suss out, now is it?
Rule #2: Use the “Above the Fold” Rule
This term comes from ye olde newspaper days. When a newspaper is folded and laying in the bin waiting to be picked up, there’s usually a main headline that’s in full view. Presumably, this is the most important story of the day. That space is called “above the fold” because it is literally above the crease in the paper. It has since been applied to websites, however, and refers to the space that is viewable immediately after a site loads.
Before the user scrolls or does anything, what’s visible on your site? It should be your most important information, otherwise you’re not utilizing the space effectively and you’re not giving visitors adequate direction about what you want them to do. If you sell kitchen gadgets, make sure that’s abundantly clear at first glance. An eye-catching image, links to your best content, and your primary navigation all should be visible within the browser viewport.
Rule #3: Less is More
This can be a hard rule to follow, but trust me on this: less is more. You don’t need every single bell and whistle out there. Yes there are tons of nifty plugins and you just have to try them all. I get it. But once you do, make sure you only implement those that actually add something substantial to your site. Stick with those fancy features that are most effective, fit your design and industry, and do something for you. Features for feature’s sake are useless.
Plus, too many features can be distracting. Think of the old school web design days. Animated gifs everywhere! And I’m not talking those high quality renderings of your favorite movies you can find on Tumblr nowadays. No, I’m talking about dancing bananas, spinning “@” symbols, and sparkly backgrounds. They were a UI and UX nightmare. So don’t rock your website like it’s 1997. Keep it current and keep it minimal.
Rule #4: Rein in Your Sidebar
Do you suffer from never-ending scroll syndrome? Just because your home page or blog index is long, doesn’t mean your sidebar needs to be stuffed full of information and extend the entire length of your posts. It doesn’t need to contain every single social media API. And it certainly doesn’t need your Categories, Recent Posts, Featured Posts, and a Tag Cloud! Pick the most important items to feature here and stick with those. Your site visitors will thank you by hanging around longer. Basically, don’t make your visitors feel inundated with information.
Rule #5: Increase Site Speed
While UX is often conflated with visual presentation, it also includes a site’s speed. How quickly your content loads can spell the difference between engaged users that want to stick around for a while and those that would rather jump ship.
You can increase your site’s speed in a number of ways. For instance, you can:
- Use a CDN. A content delivery network can dramatically speed up your site, making your content more accessible to a greater number of people at once.
- Limit plugins. While plugins can offer a whole host of functionality to your WordPress site, too many can make for seriously lagging load times. Be selective in the plugins you use. Only install those that add significant features to your site. And remember: even plugins that aren’t active can bog down your site. Delete anything you’re not using!
- Use caching. Now here I go recommending a plugin as soon as I told you to limit plugin usage. But these are important, I promise. Using a caching plugin can increase site speed dramatically. W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache are two of the most popular options out there right now because they are effective.
- Use excerpts. Rather than using full posts on your home page, use excerpts, The content will load much faster this way.
- Condense images. Smaller images load faster, plain and simple. If you use a lot of screencaps in your posts or PNGs, you should use something like TinyPNG to condense your images to the smallest size possible. This will save you on storage space, too.
If you need more tips, be sure to check out the extensive walkthrough we wrote a while back all about improving site load speeds.
Rule #6: Don’t Be Afraid to Shun the Trends
Trends can be UX killers. Don’t believe me? Here, I’ll give you a current example. How many times have you heard that sliders don’t work? I’ve heard it at least a dozen times, all from different sources. Study after study shows they don’t work. In fact, they’ve been found to have a click-through rate of just 1%. This can largely be blamed on the fact that people just ignore sliders altogether. The mere sight of them triggers banner blindness.
And yet, how many themes do you see out there that still include them? I can definitely see sliders having their place, perhaps as a way to highlight your latest or best blog content. But featured at the top of your site just below the header? Yeah, that just doesn’t convert. And the science backs it up. Sliders are bad for SEO, even!
My point here is that people tend to avoid this advice because sliders are really popular right now. People seek out themes that include them for this very reason. But UX isn’t about popularity. You might have to go against the grain and resist the trends to keep your site ultimately usable, functional, and conversion-friendly. To do otherwise is to put trends before your visitors and customers. And when you think about it, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it?
What does make sense is creating a site that makes your target visitor’s life easier. And if sliders or other trendy doodads don’t fit into that equation, so be it.
Prioritizing the user experience might feel initially like you have to sacrifice fun design decisions. But that’s actually not the case at all. Good UX looks great and functions great. It’s intuitive and easy-to-use for your visitors and it looks good while doing it. Yes, that might mean doing a little more work to get it all perfect, but isn’t the prospect of building a site that truly works in your favor worth the extra effort?
What things have you done to improve the UX of your WordPress site? Did I miss anything here? I’d love to hear your ideas!
Article thumbnail image by venimo / shutterstock.com