Anyone who keeps up with the search industry and specifically pays attention to Google SEO news will know that user experience and the overall usability of a website is quickly gaining prominence as a ranking factor. While doubters of this might point to the Moz search ranking factors report and say there isn’t anything about usability in there, many of the factors indicate whether the usability of a site is good or not. At the same time, it must be accepted that the nature of usability means there are plenty of intangible factors to consider, too. After all, several aspects of usability are subjective and open to interpretation. What one person sees as great web design might not equal what another does, for example.
However, there are plenty of factors all pages will have in common, that are measurable when it comes to usability. That’s why every search or digital marketing agency out there, we included, offers a usability audit within their services.
Website owners can have a tendency to believe their own site is brilliant, but often won’t dig deeper down into the detail. Whether this is through delusion or not wanting to deal with the reality, we don’t know, but a reluctance to deal with issues on their own site is often the biggest barrier to site owners and webmaster seeing increased success.
Make no mistake, as Google and algorithms such as Google Panda continue to evolve – as seen with the recent Google Panda 4.0 rollout, usability and user experience, are going to become even more critical when it comes to website rankings.
What Can I Do?
The easiest thing for any webmaster to do is to use Google Analytics to look at their user metrics. Looking at time spent on-page, bounce rate, and user behaviour and journeys through your site, for example, will give you some high quality data and lessons from which you can go away and make a real difference to your site.
Google Analytics is a great tool, and goes into such detail that you could easily conduct a full usability audit using it yourself, if you knew what you were looking for.
We understand that not every webmaster and site owner is going to have as much time as they might like to dedicate to improving their usability. Nonetheless, it is definitely time worth spending. Here are 10 of the top things you should look at on your site if you’re short on time that will help you make a difference.
Check the Page Speed
The loading time of your website pages is one of the big areas where you can make a real difference to your website’s usability score.
You can check the scope for improvement in terms of loading times for your pages using Google’s Pagespeed Insights developer tool, and you are also able to access the tool through your Google Analytics account. As well as giving your pages a score out of 100, Pagespeed Insights will tell you what your website is doing well and areas where you might be able to improve.
How Does the Site Look on Various Browsers & Devices?
With the growth in the use of responsive web design that has been seen in recent years, the need for checking how a website looks on different browsers and devices has reduced somewhat. However, many small businesses and start-ups will have a very basic web design and usually won’t be in a position to have hired a top developer to create an excellent responsive design.
Therefore, it will still be necessary to spend some time checking it yourself. You can do this using the Screenfly tool, although on desktop you will still need to try out different browsers. Don’t waste time going through all the browsers you can find. Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Opera are the most popular ones, so check these four.
Do All On-Page Elements Look Great?
There are few things worse than a website that could be brilliant, but that lets itself down because certain on-page elements fail to load. Text and navigation elements are usually fine in these cases, which means graphics, other rich media such as videos, and any on-page widgets are probably the main culprits letting you down.
The first question to ask is whether you really need them on the page. This is particularly true in the case of widgets and other plug-ins. Graphics and videos are usually worth having and will make the page more appealing, whereas widgets and plug-ins tend to be “bells and whistles” that aren’t needed or provide any value to the website user.
Secondly, for the on-page elements that you do need to keep and that are adding value, you should look to minify them so that they load correctly and quicker every time.
Is it Easy to Return to the Homepage?
A key aspect of website navigation is the ability of the user to return to the homepage. This is because, while it is good practice to make every page on your site accessible within three clicks from anywhere, users will often use the homepage as the central “hub” and as the point they will always return to before starting another journey through your website.
You don’t need a “Home” button on your website necessarily, as long as your main logo acts as a link back to the homepage. Most websites will have a “Home” link in the header and the footer across the site as well as linking through the logo. Choose the option that works best for you, but ensure there’s always a one click way back to your homepage.
Is Your Site Navigation Consistent?
This aspect has settled down massively in recent years, but it is still possible to find websites where the navigation changes position on every page. Needless to say, these are the websites that tend to rank lower in terms of usability scores, and won’t have the best user metrics in the world if you were to go into their Google Analytics accounts.
Whether you hire a designer and developer or use a content management system like WordPress (which will do it for you), ensure that different pages or sections aren’t showing your users a different navigation set-up when they move through your website.
Does Your On-Site Search Bar Work?
If you have a well-designed and brilliantly laid out website, you don’t need to have an on-site search bar. At least, that’s how the theory goes. The truth is that a search bar is a great addition to a website, providing you with some valuable insights about the behaviour of your visitors. If you don’t have an on-site search bar featured on your site, then you need one, particularly if you have many pages.
On-site search allows users to find what they’re looking for quickly, while from your perspective you can use the data to bring the things users are frequently searching for closer to the surface. Think of it this way: if something is a popular search term on your site, are you losing business because others are finding your site and not seeing or using the search function?
Is Your Content Engaging?
Whatever industry you’re in, it is likely that your content is going to be the primary deciding factor as to whether you actually get a conversion or not. Your content should be easy to read and relevant to the audience you’re trying to target.
It’s as simple as that, but be sure to check everything that goes on your website if you’re outsourcing content writing.
You can find numerous resources related to content strategy and content marketing in our blog section.
Can People Contact You?
Although it is pretty much common knowledge that a webmaster can be contacted using the firstname.lastname@example.org email address, if you don’t have an option for users to contact you, whether that is via a contact form or by having your email address on the website, it is a big downer on user experience.
While Google will potentially see this as a problem, any visitors that do see your site may be concerned by the absence of contact details, especially if you’re trying to sell something on your site.
Does Your Site Have any Annoying Features?
In a usability audit, this would feature as one of the potential avoidances that you should be looking into. Again, you might be thinking that your website is great, but by taking a step back and having a really honest look at your site you might find it is quite irritating that a user needs to download Flash for your website to work 100% correctly, or that the constant screen flash asking for their email address is perhaps unnecessary.
You may have already nailed some of the annoying features when looking at unnecessary plug-ins and widgets on your page. If not, this is your chance to deal with them.
Do You Have Dead Links?
The final top 10 check you should be doing is looking at dead links on your website. Ideally, you shouldn’t have any of these on your site, but if you’re constantly updating your website and adding new pages, especially in the early days, it can be easy to leave links that lead to 404 pages or to half complete pages on your website.
Conducting regular internal link audits will ensure that you keep on top of this important user experience metric, which will influence your search standing as well as how users enjoy their time on your website.
How easy is Your Website to Use?
The usability of your website, both from a human perspective as well as from that of a search engine, is crucial to your success, and will become a bigger factor in Google algorithm updates in the future. As well as focusing on ranking factors highlighted by industry authority sources such as Moz, you should focus on the features highlighted here to ensure your website is performing as highly and as strongly as possible.
If you are in need of a full usability audit for your website, please contact us now for a free, no obligation quote.