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Understanding user behaviour (part 1)


When you’re planning a new website it’s easy to get caught  up in making it “look nice” and forget about how your customers will interact  with the site. Equally, it’s also very common to see companies trying to second  guess how their customers will act, without properly researching or  understanding how people really  behave on a website.

There are two main steps to improving your website  experience for your customers, which I’ll explore in this two-part blog series.

Step 1: Understand and apply the “ground rules”

There are certain rules of the web that we can apply to any  website, whether it’s a new site or an existing site, to improve the user’s  experience overall.

Rule 1: Visual cues

Users expect a number of visual cues. For example, there are  certain ways of making it clear that some text is “clickable”. You can make it  look like a button, underline it, make it a different colour. If it stands out  from the rest of your paragraph, then users know that means they can click it.

Also, you should provide the user feedback where you can.  When they click a button does it subtly change to let them know it’s clicked?  If something’s loading is there a “spinner” to let them know something’s going  on?

Rule 2: “Above the fold” is a bit of a myth 

One unexpected example of user behaviour that I find  particularly interesting is the tendency of users to scroll down when they first visit a page. When you’re designing a  website a lot of companies will talk about what’s “above the fold” – all the  content you can see on an average desktop computer without scrolling. This is a  flawed approach for 2 reasons:

  • Desktops are becoming less commonly used and the  “fold” might be somewhere different on everyone’s various different devices
  • Users tend to scroll down, and spend very little  of their time looking at the very top of the page. If you spend all of your  time worrying about exactly what the website looks like the moment a customer  lands on the page, then you’re not actually looking at what most of your customers  will.

While we do pay attention to what’s likely to be on the  user’s screen when they first land, we shouldn’t ever be worried that they  “won’t see” content that’s below that imaginary “fold” – particularly the  content that’s just below the fold,  that’s actually one of the best places to put important information.

Rule 3: Be consistent

Avoid trying to get too clever and confusing your user.  Users should never have to try to figure out whether two different words or  actions mean the same thing. A good example of this is in a checkout process,  you should keep the “proceed” button looking consistent throughout so it’s  always clear how to move to the next step of the checkout. Also, make sure you  avoid placing an identical-looking link on more than one page which does  different things depending on where you are on the site.

Rule 4: Always have a goal

Finally, make sure  you know what the primary goal of each page on your website is. It may be the  same goal for every page on your website. In fact, for a small business website  that’s very typical – you want people to contact you. Keep that goal in mind and  make sure that you encourage potential customers to move towards it. 

Understanding the  basic ground rules is a great start when you’re working on a new website. But  what if you have a website and you want to make some improvements? In part 2 of  this article I’ll look at techniques you can use to understand specifically how  your customers interact with your  website.

If you want to see  how we turn our user behaviour know-how into results for your business, why not  get in touch about your new website project?

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Understanding user behaviour (part 1)
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