Oh, if we only knew more about our users! It's a lament that we commonly hear among website owners. There are numerous ways to learn more about your users (analytics software, user surveys, focus groups, etc.), but what people often ignore are the universal truths that describe all Web users. Even if you just launched your website yesterday, you already know one important thing about your users, because it's true of all online users:
Every Web User Has a Problem They Are Trying to Solve
Every website visit ever recorded originated with someone who had a problem. Here are some example "problems":
- I need to find an affordable flight to London...
- Pests are destroying my vegetable garden...
- I can't remember who sings that song...
- I'm bored. I need to be entertained for the next 20 minutes...
Knowing this fact, the simple question is: Will you offer your users a solution, or more problems? Many people will immediately balk at the notion that they're creating problems for their users. But before you answer, consider if you are putting your users through any of the following trials:
- You have to download an applet, add-on, or specific browser to use my website (or, you can't view my site on mobile devices).
- You have to go through three or four (or more) levels of navigation to find the information you're looking for.
- You have to complete a multi-step registration process to see any content in full.
- My website is not 508 compliant (users with some disabilities can't access my site).
These are obvious issues, but study your website carefully, and keep in mind that even the smallest annoyance will be considered a "problem" by some of your users. Which leads us to our second universal truth...
Web Users are Very Impatient
This fact cannot be overstated. You may be willing to wait 20 seconds for your beautiful website to load, but the overwhelming majority of your visitors will not be so understanding. After as little as five or six seconds of waiting, some of your users will conclude that your site isn't working or isn't worth it.
Today's speed of information exchange has trained the average person to expect instant answers. When this expectation is violated, people become frustrated. This means it is imperative to minimize page load times. It also means you need to minimize the number of pages the user needs to navigate through by simplifying navigation, offering search functionality if you have more than seven or eight pages on your site, and (if applicable) clearly guiding new visitors through exactly what they need to do to get started.
If it falls within your budget, focus groups and user testing can return valuable data on where users fail on your site. If you don't have the resources for this, examine your website with a very critical eye. At every turn, ask yourself if you could make things any simpler for your users. If so, why don't you? Because if you don't, someone else will.