How to Create a Website That Meets User Needs

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By Michael Rough and Chelsea Terris

hackersCreating a successful web design takes more than fancy graphics and slick interfaces to compete and thrive in today’s search environment.

If you and your team are building a website for a client, there are many aspects to consider, especially if you intend to drive traffic organically through the search engines. Design and layout must coincide harmoniously with content and appropriate optimization to create a stunning user experience for humans and positive signals to search engine crawlers and algorithms.

Meeting the needs of someone you don’t know, as well as impersonal algorithms, can seem backward and strange. However, by following one fundamental piece of advice, you can ensure that your website is ready for the kinds of users that would appreciate your client’s business. Achieving this goal becomes easier when you know and understand the questions your users have and the answers that will satisfy them.

Getting to Know (Imagining) the User

Getting acquainted with a client’s desired user can be a challenge for a newly-hired marketing team.  Understanding what needs take priority can be a struggle, particularly if your client withholds information or your team fails to ask them detailed questions. However, much of this stress can be eliminated by coming up with an extensive client questionnaire at or before initial meetings that focuses on determining who your “ideal” user is and what that person needs, wants, and finds motivating.

Another great way to find questions that your target individual wants answered is by using Google with the “suggest” function turned on. Most Chrome users have this feature enabled by default. By entering questions relating to your product or service, Google will return questions based on the most commonly searched-for answers. The following types of query seeds (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How) should help you determine the questions your potential users want answered, providing you with a focus for targeted content.

In addition to knowing what they are looking for, it helps to gain a deeper understanding of your user by asking some questions about them, such as:

  • How old are you?

  • What brings you to this site?

  • What health/ home improvement/ child care/ retail needs do you want met?

  • How can we best help you, based on our expertise?

  • What do we want you to know so you can be comfortable with us/ our services?

  • What type of marketing has worked before? This may include keyword research and conversions tracking on the part of the business.

If you or the business you are working with has been established for some time, you may be able to come by this information easily based upon longstanding clientele or repeat business. However, whether just starting out or long-established, getting a clear vision of who you are trying to reach with your website is never a waste of time.

Empathizing with the User

Once you fully understand your ideal user and know them inside and out, you are ready to create a site that appeals to them 100%.

However, there is one way in which you could get off track, even with this arsenal of in-depth knowledge. You and your team can sidetrack disastrously by losing – or never developing – a sense of empathy with potential clients. If you cannot step into the shoes of this user and imagine him or her seeking your services in a moment of need, you’ve already missed the mark. Even if you are building a site for someone whose business has no context in your own life (creating a doggie day care site if you hate pets, let’s say), you must find some way to understand what users are looking for to genuinely meet their needs.

Sites that provide user empathy will naturally include the following elements:

  • Authentic design: Stock photos are almost a marketing standard these days, so make sure yours look and feel real. Savvy users can sense a lack of reality in overly cheerful or staged-looking stock images and will see your business as a cardboard cutout rather than a living, breathing service they can rely on. Whenever possible, use pictures from your/ your client’s actual business location and activities. Team photos and quotes are excellent trust-builders.

  • Content that gets at the heart of their questions: Avoid encyclopedic lists of your services like bad Indian food. Particularly when you are dealing with something personal to the user, like his home or health, anything less than complete clarity will not fly. If your topic is complicated, simplify it based on what the user needs to know in order to trust you and adding links to additional pages with more detailed information if needed. Those trust-inspiring facts may be your number of successful surgeries, years in business, or a renowned approach that has earned you or your business word-of-mouth or media attention.

Expert tip: Make sure your content is snackable. Walls of text will scare off the very users you want to attract, so be sure to break up paragraphs into 5-sentence chunks and use burlesque, or alluring, headings to draw the eye onward.

  • Contact Information: A surprising amount of websites, both new and old, fail to address the needs of the user to quickly locate contact information, weekly schedule, and hours of operation. This is especially true due to mobile browsing trends, in which the traditional format of displaying business contact information may be unreadable, thus limiting the the site’s ability to deliver information to those viewing the site.

A Brief Word on UX

Meeting user needs visually is paramount to both ranking well in search and reducing your site’s bounce rate. One essential way to do this is to make sure users can easily access your site on any of their mobile devices. You can accomplish this in one of two ways:

  • Responsive Design: Responsive design automatically adjusts your website to fit on any screen size and orientation. Google recommends that all new websites be designed responsively to create an excellent experience on any device, from iPhones to Tablets. If redesigning your site to be responsive is out of your budget, install a mobile app, such as Mobile Joomla or WPtouch Pro, both of which which will provide a similar UX.

  • Create a Mobile Site: Another budget-friendly option is to create a mobile site, or copy of your website that is smaller and easily navigable on mobile devices. Your server will deliver this smaller, fully-optimized page to provide a unique mobile experience for your users. While responsive design remains the gold standard in UX, mobile sites are an excellent second choice.

Additionally, no matter how well-optimized and content-rich your site is, no one will stick around for long if your pages load slowly. Consider using a content delivery system to share your site’s static files on servers closest to the user, thus reducing latency. Other streamlining tactics include evaluating your site’s plugins and browser cache settings to reduce unnecessary requests of the server. For more tips on how to reduce load time to a coveted 2 seconds, check out this post on QuickSprout.

Understanding your user – who they are, what they want, and the devices or platforms with which they consume information – will put you well on your way to building a site that satisfies their needs, as well as those of search engines. To paraphrase Matt Cutts, “As long as you have great content, you should do well in Google.”