Insider secrets for improving user experience and keeping visitors longer on your site
Updated: Nov 29, 2021
If you are a publisher, brand, or a content creator looking to improve user experience, I’m pretty sure you fire up your website analytics every once in a while and methodically go over data. And while you look over the metrics, one particular deserves special attention: average time spent on page.
Why? Because, along with the bounce rate, it provides insight into how well your content is actually performing – you know, if anyone is actually reading it.
Here’s an example: you have a regular blog post (just like this one) that has an average time on page of 20-30 seconds. In the case of this particular blog post you are reading or listening (fingers crossed for either version), you can check on the audio player roughly how much time it takes to go through it. So, if you’re seeing such low average times, even if the bounce rate isn’t high, it’s worth to note that either your visitors aren’t reading your blog post or they are some serious speed readers.
Or there’s another level of the Internet I’m not familiar with.
If you don’t generate enough interest, you’re leaving money on the table – plain and simple. While there are numerous reasons why people leave a website, there are also numerous things you can do to increase engagement and keep your audience longer on your site. First, let’s cover the must-dos like…
Speed up your website performance
Other than having a 404 error page (which I’ll cover further down), a slow loading performance is probably the worst thing that can happen to your website. If you think that sounds like an exaggeration, think again: Google will actually penalize you if your site takes a few seconds longer to load. Plus, as an attention-starved species, especially if we are on a shoddy mobile network, we demand an immediate response so literally every second counts.
Do notice there is a distinct difference between ‘page speed’ and ‘site speed’ (I am neat that way). Both can affect your conversion rate, user experience, and a whole lot of other things but they differ enough that you should be aware of. Page speed refers to the time it takes a specific page to fully display content (aka page load time) so you can optimize the performance of only that particular page.
Page speed can be described in either “page load time” (the time it takes to fully display the content on a specific page) or “time to first byte” (how long it takes for your browser to receive the first byte of information from the web server). Site speed represents the speed at which your entire website loads as people use it, meaning all the rendering and pre-rendering processes that happen behind the scenes.
So, there’s looking at your site as a whole to find out if there are categories or certain pages where users are encountering issues and bouncing, and then finding a way to improve user experience by fine-tuning individual page speeds.
There are a couple of things you can do. First, test your website’s loading speed through Google’s own tools Page Speed Insights and Test My Site to see how the search engine sees your site’s performance. If you want to dig deep into your UX design and do more, check this link for some effective techniques in improving page loading speed.
Check for broken pages, then optimize them
It’s sounds a bit dumb, right – everyone knows you shouldn’t have a 404 error (when a user requests a webpage that is no longer on the server) page on your site’s “resume” yet I’ve put it here for a good reason.
404s are just bad user experience, plain and simple. They are frustrating for both sides but only you are stuck with them – your visitors will turn to a faster and disrupt-free solution. These pesky pages happen when you change the site’s layout and or add/remove page information or – in cases where you’re totally helpless – when a user mistypes an URL. However, if you double-check your work, you can avoid many of them and actually turn them to good use.
First, you need to figure out how bad the situation is. There are quite a few free online checkers/validators like the Online Broken Link Checker, Dead Link Checker, and a bunch of others you can choose from. You can also use the Google Search Console to check the crawling, indexing and ranking status and optimize visibility of your website.
The best way to improve navigation and crawlability is to redirect the dead pages, even if only a tiny slice of your visitors would benefit from it. What’s the alternative – to be sent to a “content not found” page? Using a 301 redirect (aka the permanent redirect), search engines will assign the old URL’s link value to the URL you redirected your visitors to.
Another cool thing you can do is customize your 404 pages so that your visitors have a choice to go to another part of your site via a navigation or search bar, link of your top pages, thumbnails of popular articles, and so on. You can turn it into an online marketing opportunity and add a subscription link or offer free content like an ebook or webinar. There are loads of options, some of which may require the assistance of a web designer/developer, depending if your site is hard-coded or built on a CMS.
As a final piece of advice on how to improve user experience regarding this subject: stay on top of things by scheduling periodical checks (daily, weekly, monthly, depending on your options) for new broken links.
Keep it clean
Google also says that even if your website is perceived as slow, it “may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content”. But, you have to keep it clean. Clean refers to a number of things. For instance, it can be too many links that confuse people and take away from your content. It can be too many ads that disrupt the user experience or any other element that’s diverting your visitors’ attention spans and driving them to click away to something more user-friendly.
Just don’t go overboard.
Clean also refers to formatting, like the amount of white space that makes the existing text easier to read. White space is often perceived as critical to good design as sometimes, it’s not easy to scan everything and absorb, which is how skimming often starts. Make your content visually appealing to make it easier to read and digest but also to enable the visitor to focus on the surrounding elements. Be mindful not to go crazy with white space – it takes up space, after all so try to find the balance between what is important to communicate and what is important to highlight, whether it is an image and/or text.
Now, here’s where things get amusing and where the somewhat hidden stuff comes out.
Add an audio experience
I’m sure your first thought is why audio. Today, audio is used as a primary channel and as a complementary medium to written and/or visual communication thanks to increasing smart speaker use and better digital connectivity (e.g. in vehicles). It has effectively transformed how people consume content due to its personal and convenient nature. So adding it to your repertoire means meeting the needs of a growing audience of listeners.
I could literally spend hours talking about the numerous opportunities a listening experience offers, from improving user experience and making your content portable to new monetization options. Suffice it so say that audio is where the readers are these days, and they’ll likely stay there for a long time
So how can you get in on the action?
The first step is to convert articles to audio by transforming text into lifelike speech. That audio player I talked about at the beginning (and that you may be listening to this article from in the case you’ve decided to opt for that experience)? That’s the end product of the process and a simple one at that. As you can see, it blends well with the rest of our site. It only takes seconds to convert text to audio. With only a few clicks, you can customize it to natively align with your overall site’s look and feel without any disruption.
The penetration of audio content is growing year over year and it’s now fair to say the medium has (re)entered the mainstream sphere. The increase in the usage of digital audio will soon be a vital part of integrated media strategy in the digital content space – look no further than the incredible growth of podcasting. By adding an audio element to your arsenal of content, you are doing two things: increasing onsite engagement by at least 5x, and doing what your audience has already immersed itself with.
Leverage contech for further engagement
Adding an audio version of your content is only one step on the path to improved user experience. Contech or content technology is another layer in a largely visual environment, one that will complement the listening experience and add more value. I’ve been babbling on Quora about this (and some other things) numerous times, but I stand by it: contech platforms will assume bigger roles to increase engagement as time goes by and technology takes a stronger hold.
The main aspect will be content aggregation and recommendation, where an embedded unit will increase engagement on top trending and related content based on continuous learning of listeners’/readers’ behavior. As a result, they will spend more time on site, exploring more content to enjoy while browsing. Contech is developing rapidly, adding on what voice technology is doing so I expect to see a growth in the use of voice and text to speech technology as it catches on.
Finally, pay attention to readability
I’m saying this for two reasons. The first one should be fairly obvious as it increases the level of ease to understand your content. By improving your content readability, you affect your visitors’ behavior on the site and improve their page on time.
Thankfully, that doesn’t apply to code.
The second reason is the link to voice search. People are increasingly using it all the time so Google and other search engines are becoming more and more focused on voice. That means long paragraphs and difficult words will affect your position in search results.
Because voice search is getting bigger, search engines are prioritizing better language understanding, especially for natural language and conversational queries. The reasoning is that better understanding of the nuance and context of a query will lead to a better match when returning search results for it.
As a part of your UX design, It’s important to write understandable and readable content for higher ranking. With readability, it’s two birds with one stone. There’s a test I’m ambiguous about but worth mentioning – it’s called the Flesch Kincaid readability test and it basically tests the reading ease of your content – if it can be generally understood to a 12-15 year old – you’re good. I’m ambiguous because I doubt it’s accuracy but I think it’s a good benchmark.
How to improve user experience starts with a broader understanding of problems your audience is facing
People like consistency, whether it’s the consistency of a pudding or that of a website. It’s one of the key principles of good UX design as it provides an experience visitors can rely on each and every time. Having a user-friendly website saves them the confusion and frustration of having to find ways to resolve or navigate around problems, regardless of how small they may be.
Technology, particularly the voice part of it, is the answer to many questions, including the one of improved user experience. There are still various kinks in the road that need to be navigated around but voice technology, especially its text to speech section, is still at its relative beginning.
The Internet is a largely visual place, replete with different types of images, gifs, videos, and ultimately – text. The fact that the human ear has become both tolerant and comfortable to “mechanical” voices speaks volumes (pun intended). It’s a testament to both how much voice technology has advanced and how important audio has become in content consumption. And we are just seeing the start of it.
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