User experience, or UX, involves the quality of the experience that users have when navigating and interacting with your nonprofit’s website. It’s a fairly broad but extremely important element to keep in mind whenever you’re updating your site. In today’s digital-first environment, UX can make or break your ability to convert new visitors into donors, and it plays a critical role in encouraging long-term engagement from existing supporters.
If you’re new to web design or the concept of UX, the easiest way to think about it is to simply consider your website from a new user’s perspective:
- Is your organization’s mission easily identifiable on your homepage?
- How easy is it to find your organization’s contact information, donation form, blog, or another main page that a visitor might be looking for?
- How long does it take to complete an action, like making a donation?
- Is your website easy to use and navigate, or do issues like broken links and poor mobile responsiveness make it a frustrating experience?
Questions like these are a great starting point as you begin reviewing your own website for potential improvements. However, there’s one element of UX that stands above all others in terms of importance: speed.
How fast your website loads is the very first UX indicator that could cause users to abandon your site before they even fully land on it. As internet users, we’re more impatient than ever, and we’ve come to expect a lot from the sites we engage with. Studies have found that 40% of users abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load, and even a delay of one second can drop conversions by 7%.
Simply put, if it takes visitors a long time to 1) access your website and 2) complete the action that they came to complete, you’ll see higher abandonment rates across your site.
At Cornershop Creative, we specialize in web design for the nonprofit sector, so we understand what the top nonprofit sites need to accomplish and what donors are expecting when they visit. We’ve seen firsthand the difference that even small UX improvements can make on a site’s ability to engage and convert donors, so we wanted to share a quick crash course on how to speed up the UX of your own site. Let’s dive in.
Basic Components of Fast UX
All sorts of factors, from design elements to page load time to SEO (search engine optimization), can have huge impacts on your website’s ability to attract and engage visitors. The statistics mentioned earlier illustrate the importance of fast load speed, which is where we’ll start first.
Page Load Speed
Your website must load quickly on any browser, desktop or mobile.
The generally accepted ideal load speed sits around two to three seconds or less — anything longer and you’ll likely see larger and larger numbers of visitors bounce away. It’s essential to be familiar with the two most common contributors to slow load speeds:
- Large files. Large, high-resolution images, headers, animations, and other embedded visual files that need to load at the top of a page can seriously slow down your website. Website plugins can help you automatically cut back on duplicate files that might be clogging up your image library, as well.
- Redirect chains. Chains of redirects between outdated URLs increases load time by bouncing the visitor from page to page, and it can even make them (and their browser) feel that your site can’t be trusted.
Page load speed is one of the biggest components of strong user experience, especially as more web traffic moves onto mobile browsers. Think about it: how long are you typically willing to wait for a page to load on your smartphone when you’re trying to look something up or casually browsing? With the current necessity of digital-only engagement, load speed should be the first place you look when improving your website’s UX.
Barriers to Engagement
This component of fast UX involves the actual barriers to entry that you may place on your site. Whenever you add new elements to your website that users will directly engage with, think carefully about how exactly they’ll impact UX.
For example, requiring users to log in with a username or password is one barrier to engagement that sites will deliberately include for important security reasons. Users’ security should always be a top priority, but make sure that your own site’s login process is streamlined. The best way to ensure that visitors will have a positive experience and find what they need is by making it easy to enter your site and quickly engage with your content.
Consider Amazon and Google, two web giants that prioritize making it easy for users to get started with their services. Amazon’s one-click purchase buttons and Google’s SSO authentication tools are both great examples of how removing unnecessary steps like an extra login or data input can streamline user experience.
Design can also contribute to a faster, high-quality user experience on your website. Of course, “web design” encompasses a number of different topics and specific elements. As they relate to fast user experience, there are three main contributing factors to think about:
- Navigation. Sites that offer strong user experience anticipate their visitors’ needs. Clearly-labeled navigation bars across your site and intuitive landing pages that don’t distract or bombard users with irrelevant elements are good starting points.
- Simple visuals. Minimalist design tends to perform well online because it’s less likely to distract or confuse visitors looking to quickly find information or complete a task on your site. Plus, using simpler layouts and fewer (but high-quality) images will improve load speed.
- Information placement. Websites should anticipate what their visitors are looking for, like contact information, and feature it in an intuitive spot. For instance, nonprofits can provide embedded donation forms to make the giving process easy and fast for visitors who will be more likely to donate while they still feel emotionally motivated.
These elements of web design can all contribute to a faster, more positive user experience, and they’re some of the first places that webmasters can begin to easily make improvements themselves.
Building a Faster User Experience on Your Site
As mentioned above, there are plenty of ways to speed up your site’s UX without the help of a professional web designer. Consider these additional tips:
Pagespeed Insights and Google Analytics
Google’s readily available tools are a perfect resource for staying on top of the quality of your website’s user experience.
Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool is invaluable for a number of reasons, namely because it determines the time it takes for your site to load on both desktop and mobile browsers. It even indicates specific problem areas and offers optimization tips. Remember that load speed is central to user experience and increasingly important for Google rankings, too.
Google Analytics provides insights that can be crucial for your website’s overall health and performance. Most importantly, the platform makes it easy to track your abandonment or bounce rates, the first indicators of slow load times and poor user experience. Then you can look deeper to find specific pages that perform poorly and target your improvements in smarter ways.
Templates and Caching
Both of these techniques involve saving time and streamlining processes as you build your site and as your users engage with it:
- Create custom templates to use whenever creating new content on your website. By creating a template for a generic campaign web page, you’ll save time and ensure a more cohesive experience for users across your site. A template built with a streamlined layout and fast-loading elements will take the guesswork out of the process as you launch and promote new campaigns.
- Caching involves directing a user’s browser to save parts of your website that it already downloaded from a previous visit. This means your website will load much faster when the user returns to that page, which can result in a substantial improvement in user experience. Caching is more complicated to implement than other UX solutions, though, so do your research on the exact settings you can configure in your own content management system.
Streamlining aspects of your website on both the backend and user-facing side whenever possible can help to generally improve its user experience value.
We’ve touched on the importance of avoiding huge image files above. However, websites still need to include high-quality, attractive images to create engaging content. A full wall of text is unlikely to interest a casual browser, for instance.
Compressing the image files on your site will help you strike the right balance between offering attractive visuals and keeping file sizes low to prevent slow load speeds.
Keep image file size in mind when creating new content, and use tools that help you automatically compress images as you upload them. Platforms like WordPress often come with this feature built-in. New image formats like Google’s webp image format can also help ensure that you’re offering high-quality visuals without sacrificing valuable storage space or the user experience.
With the current importance of digital engagement, it’s more important than ever that websites prioritize creating fast user experience. Pages need to load quickly, offer immediate ways to engage with content, and tell your nonprofit’s story swiftly and compellingly.
By using a few important resources, exploring additional tools to adopt, and building better habits, it’s easy to start enhancing your nonprofit’s site to improve its UX value! For a thorough audit or professional-grade improvements, working with a nonprofit consultant specialized in web design will often be your best bet for long-term value.