5 User-Centric Web Design Techniques for 2021

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Towards the end of last year, Google announced a ‘Page Experience’ update for May 2021. Websites with a good page experience will receive a boost, and those with a poor page experience will find their rankings drop.

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‘Oh great’, you may be thinking – ‘the success of my site hinges on something that’s largely subjective’. But actually, you’d be surprised at how united even the most diverse audience can be in the things that make for a good or bad page experience, whether they realize it or not.

In this article, we’ll walk you through five
web design trends to put your users first in preparation for the big update (and for general long-term online success). Some of these are quick fixes, some are a little more technical, and some are altogether more fun – but all of them can have a significant impact when used correctly.

1. Check your site’s visual hierarchy

Even if you’ve never heard of the term visual hierarchy, your site has one. As does every newspaper, every billboard – and even this article.

In basic terms, visual hierarchy is all about making sure the right parts of your page (web or otherwise) are attracting the right amount of attention. When done well, it makes your content more appealing, because it brings order to your design.

The use of different font sizes is a classic example of visual hierarchy in action. Titles and straplines are set in a larger font (as they’re most important), while the Terms and Conditions are tucked away nice and small at the end (not wanting to catch too much attention).

But there are some less obvious changes to make, too:

  1. Did you know
    users spend 80% of their time viewing the left half of the webpage? A site boost could be a mere left-align away.
  2. Does clicking your logo redirect customers to your homepage? This is what
    36% of them expect.
  3. Do you have a clear call to action? Whether you want your customers to get in touch, view your shop, or check out your portfolio, a colourful, concise call-to-action button is still an effective way to spark action, and give your customers a direction to follow.

2. Speed things up

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Slow sites are a universally bad experience, with 40% of users abandoning a site if it doesn’t load in just three seconds.

If you know your site could stand to speed up a bit (you can run it through Google’s free
PageSpeed Insights tool for a verdict from the experts), there are some simple steps you can take on your own.

First, make sure you have compressed any images using a free tool such as
Kraken.io. This reduces the file size (which can be massive on high-res photos), without visually affecting the images.
25% of pages could save more than 250KB simply by compressing images.

Next up is videos. Rather than uploading these directly to your website, try embedding them via a third party platform, like YouTube or Wistia. When a third party hosts your video, its ‘weight’ is kept away from your site, and this should help your content load more quickly.

If neither of these fixes appears to be helping, it may be worth talking to your web hosting provider. If you’re at the upper limit of your current plan’s bandwidth or storage allowances, an upgrade could be the answer.

3. Ditch the stock imagery

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Stock imagery (especially stock imagery that really looks like stock imagery) is a no-go for the modern website, especially stock images of people. At best, your site will look a bit generic, and at worst it will look a bit tacky.

Fill your site with photos of your actual team, your actual customers, and your actual product in action. This will make it more interesting, more trustworthy, and more human. If you’re up for trying something more experimental, we’re loving the growing trend of blending graphics or illustrations with photography for something totally eye-catching and unique.

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The
I Weight Community’s bold homepage commands your attention from the word go, and puts its high-profile founder – Jameela Jamil – front and center

4. Make it personal

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Personal web design isn’t about trying to call every user by their first name (although when it comes to emails, this should absolutely be the goal). It’s more about taking the information you already know about your customer, and the similarly-behaving customers before them, and using this to refine their experience.

Depending on your website, this could be showing a ‘Related Products’ section, ‘Previously Viewed’ content or products, or even ‘Top Picks for [name]’, Netflix-style.

While the ideal is to have an experience personalized to each user, the bare minimum should be tailoring your site to their location. Do your prices show in the local currency? Does your checkout page ask UK customers for their state or ZIP code?

5. Build ‘mobile-first’, always

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The sad truth is you can carry out all the steps above to improve your website, but if the mobile experience is poor, it’ll all be for nothing.

Google now only crawls the mobile version of your site, meaning it’s basing its entire assessment of the quality of your site on the mobile experience alone.

But Google’s policies aren’t the only reason you should focus on the mobile version of your site;
more than half of all searches are carried out on mobile, and the rate of growth of mobile ecommerce has only been
accelerated by the pandemic. In short, by making a great mobile experience, you’re giving the people what they want.

So how do you go about putting this into practice? We think the best way to start is with a simple shift in perception: instead of thinking how can I make my site work better on mobile, develop the best possible solution for mobile, and then adapt this to work on desktop. Essentially, think and build mobile-first.

Summary

In this article, we’ve walked you through five user-centric web design crowd-pleasers which should all have a positive impact on your website when the anticipated May update rolls around.

But beyond these changes, it’s essential to find what’s important to your audience, and what they’re looking for when they come to your site specifically. There’s a lot you can find out from clever manipulation of page data, but sometimes it’s the more qualitative feedback that’s most helpful, so try running an onsite poll, or emailing a survey to your database, to gather that really valuable, specific feedback.

About the Author

Hannah Whitfield writes for
Website Builder Expert, a leading resource for getting people online. A good website is an essential for any modern business, and Hannah wants to help readers get the most out of theirs.

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