You need to audit your website UX more often than you think

It’s a well-known fact among marketers that a website’s user experience is critical to its success as a communication tool. Just how critical may come as a surprise.
 
A recent HubSpot report found that 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site with a frustrating user experience.

“The last thing you want to have to do is a complete overhaul,” says Bob Sprecher, McGuffin Creative Group’s chief creative officer. “So, select the areas that need the most attention today and get busy fixing them. Making bite-sized adjustments will keep your site top of mind throughout the year, every year — avoiding the ‘yeah I looked at our site for the first time in a long time and we need to completely redo it’ crisis.”

The user experience is like a shopping experience

Sprecher compares the user experience on the web to shopping in a retail store. When consumers come into a modern store with large aisles, clear directional signage, common sense merchandise placement and even product trial displays, they feel good as they move through the store. They get a sense that the store keeps up with the latest trends. Contrast that experience with visiting an out-of-date store that’s been around for many years. It feels cluttered and dirty, has poor or no directional signage, and the merchandise hierarchy and placement are confusing. Today’s customers might not feel as good about that shopping experience. The same holds true for the web. Today’s users can sense when the user experience hasn’t been updated because they’ve visited enough other websites or brick and mortar stores to know the difference.

Your UX should be universal

Patricia Moore, a noted gerontologist and one of the founders of “universal design,” advocates that products and environments should be built to accommodate the widest range of people possible. Her firm, MooreDesign Associates, works with clients like Johnson & Johnson, Boeing, Kraft, AT&T, Herman Miller and 3M. In her book "Disguised," she recounts what she learned disguised as elderly women from various socioeconomic backgrounds, which resulted in her long-held assertion that the user experience needs to address the challenges of the aging and disabled.

In a recent Wired article, Moore, often called the “Mother of Empathy,” explains why she doesn’t see design as an aging or disability problem. “It’s lifestyle that design needs to focus on,” she says. “And lifestyle can change at any age and at any time.” Which is why UX needs to take every possible lifestyle change into consideration. For example, when thinking about ADA compliance you should consider those individuals who use screen readers to navigate the web. And if you have a video that plays on a loop with no ability to pause the sound, that person won't be able to use your site.

You need to constantly be iterating. Just like your home. You don’t wait until the entire house is outdated to update it. You do it one room at a time.
- Bob Sprecher, McGuffin Creative Group CCO

Conduct UX audits often and informally

UX audits play a crucial role in evaluating how successful your user interface is with site visitors — and how to improve it. According to Sprecher, it’s important you do UX at least once a year.
 
“The digital landscape is forever changing,” he explains. “Digital trends come and go, and today’s users are savvy and subconsciously pick up on these trends. They feel when a UX fade is at the end of its life cycle. It’s fair to say that as soon as you finish a major, time intensive overhaul of your site, it’s likely already showing its age. It can be so frustrating — you put so much time and resources into a reboot only for it to already feel a little out-of-date.”
 
Here’s the key: “You need to constantly be iterating. Just like your home. You don’t wait until the entire house is outdated to update it. You do it one room at a time. Granted, sometimes it’s necessary to bulldoze the house and rebuild it, but don’t just accept that simplistic ‘all or nothing’ thinking. If the bones are good, then you have something you can build on. Many UX trends are timeless, like clear and simple navigation, easy to follow page hierarchy and making your content scannable. But dated trends such as not being mobile-friendly, or everything must be ‘above the fold’ are out-of-date and need to go.”

An audit is an active process

“To help you iterate continuously, you need feedback. Doing a simple low-fidelity UX audit is a cost-effective way to survey users. Ask your clients, your colleagues, your employees, your friends and members of your family. Be sure to include individuals from different age brackets, those with disabilities, and people outside the marketing world. Most importantly, ask people who will tell you the truth,” continues Sprecher.
 
“Our approach is to give people assignments. We ask them to go to the homepage and do certain tasks. We record the sessions live on Zoom, so we can watch how they perform their assignments and observe their actions and emotions. We want to hear their frustrations, what they like and don’t like — or if they have a strong reaction to a particular photo. We also ask them targeted questions, such as ‘What does this page feel like?’ We also let them comment on anything they want to comment on. Don’t try to force them to only focus on the task you gave them. Let them explore and express what they’re seeing, feeling and thinking. That is where the real gold is. Chances are, others will comment on the same things and patterns will emerge.
 
“From these observations, we can see what’s working and not working,” he adds. “It’s immensely helpful, and an enlightening process.”