Is your website underperforming? Before you spend money on more marketing, consider improving the user experience first and optimizing your site’s architecture. User flow optimization is an excellent way to make any site better while maintaining the user as the focus.
What is User Flow?
Before you can discuss how to improve user flow, you must first understand what user flow is. Basically speaking, user flow represents the path taken by a website user to complete a specific task. This task can be sales focused, such as purchasing an item, or it can be less obvious, such as page views on a particular page. When looking at user flow, developers analyze its efficiency by tracking the flow of actions from the entry point to the final task.
User flow diagrams are deeply tied to the user experience. When considering these types of flows, designers and developers think about:
- The goals of the user
- The values of the user
- Information needed by the user to complete the identified task
- Potential hesitations or barriers for the user
While the concept is straightforward, actual user flows can be quite the opposite, because there is often more than one way to reach the desired action on any website. These different paths are modeled as flow charts with nodes representing major navigational paths. These flow charts can illustrate potential leaks – areas where users abandon their tasks, never reaching the desired action.
It is important to point out that user flows differ from site flows. These types of flows also represent movement through a website, but they are not modeled around an action. Instead, they give developers a bird’s eye view of what is going on inside. Instead of guiding the user, site flows help with information organization and project estimation.
Why Improve User Flow?
Optimizing user flow involves numerous techniques that make it easier for users to move through various points of contact. Because user flows illustrate the steps taken by a user to complete a task, optimizing user flow can help increase website conversions. It also helps improve the user experience of a web-based project by better aligning the goals of the user with those of the business.
User flows are often utilized with sales (or conversion) funnels. By nature, funnels are designed to shrink, so there should be fewer users at the bottom of the funnel than at the top. However, when that loss of users is more significant than expected, there may be a leak in the website user flow.
These lost users not only impact the user experience of a site, but they also represent missed opportunity – negatively influencing the efficiency of a site. Improving user flow, therefore, makes the user happy, while also focusing on the needs of the business.
User Flow and SEO
Many people overlook the importance of user flow for search engine optimization. Although the two have very different approaches, the desired results are the same. User flows help increase the time spent on a page, reduces bounce rates, and encourages return visits. Additionally, many user flow techniques, such as optimizing page speed, are also SEO-optimization techniques.
There are many direct SEO benefits to focusing on user flow. Firstly, an optimized user flow increases the chances of a positive user experience which may also directly impact domain authority. Flow charts also show SEO-specialists which content resonates with users the most so that they can more effectively leverage that content. While many SEO managers may not immediately recognize the value of user flows, they will appreciate a well-optimized one.
10 ways to improve user flow
There are many ways to improve the user flow of a website – both before and after you build. These ten user flow techniques can help sites successfully complete their goals, whether it is selling a product, or subscribing to a newsletter.
Before you Build
Many user flow techniques can be optimized before building a site. Whether it’s creating a funnel, or selecting graphics, it’s the little touches that ultimately keep users moving through your site.
- Focus on the funnel
As a designer, it is very tempting to start planning how the site will look before you thoroughly consider how the site will work. It is essential, however, to resist this urge and think about the needs of the business and the habits of the user first. Working from this frame of reference, it is easy to create conversion funnels that ensure your website aligns with the needs of the business as well as the user. Funnels provide a framework for user flow so that designers can focus on creating.
- Shorten your content
While written content is vital to any website, too much of it can be a bad thing. Keeping content short, especially on pages that feature a call to action, can help improve website user flow. Users often become overwhelmed if exposed to too much content, and may miss the point of what they are supposed to do, therefore shorter is better. If there isn’t enough content to fill the page, get creative with the font size.
- Use good graphics
Having less content often makes it harder to drive users down a funnel, but written content isn’t the only way to create an engaging environment that encourages users to click around. Graphics and icons can fill the gaps written content leaves behind, by guiding users in the right direction. To improve user flow by using graphics, choose visuals that align with the brand throughout the site. These visuals help remind users why they are there and what they should be doing.
How a website is laid out makes a significant impact on how users interact with it. These design tips help improve website user flow.
- Keep it above the fold
The area above the fold is what users see without having to scroll down. It is always safe to assume that a user will not bother to scroll down. Therefore, when designing a website page that includes a call to action of any sort, keep that content above the fold so that users are more likely to see it.
- Help your Users
Many website funnels lead to a form, however, if that form is not designed well, users may leave before successfully filling it out. Perhaps the questions are confusing, or they can’t find the submit button. Thankfully, this “user flow dead-end” is easy to fix. Help users finish the flow by utilizing early error checking or adding tooltip hints during the design process.
- Load pages quicker
There are entirely too many websites on the internet to expect any user to wait around for a page that does not load. Of course, slow loading pages are not always due to web design – the user may have a slow connection. However, there are techniques that help increase the accessibility of a site, regardless of the user’s bandwidth. Create fast-loading pages to keep users from exiting due to impatience.
- A/B testing
If you are creating a website that focuses on conversions, you’ll want to A/B test your designs to see which ones users respond to best. This type of testing is time-consuming, but if done correctly, it can produce useful predictions into what users prefer. Unlike other user flow techniques, A/B testing does not directly improve user flow; instead, it answers the question of which techniques work best. While this alone will not optimize user flow, it can be used with other strategies to determine the best approach.
Make it Better
Whether you are improving an existing website or building one from scratch, there are a few methods for optimizing user flow that are perfect for after a site is built.
- Analyze Google
If your site isn’t performing the way you’d like it to, you may want to consider starting with Google. Although Google Analytics is a favorite tool for internet marketers, it can also help web developers with optimizing user flow. Because your current website user flow provides a wealth of insight into what you might be doing wrong, analyzing it should always be the first step toward improvement. This article explains how to use Google Analytics to improve user flow.
- Focus on the failures
Although user flow and user experience are two distinct topics, they remain intricately linked. Many times, by simply focusing on the user experience, you can also improve user flows. On some websites, user flow is blocked by un-engaging or unconvincing content. In other scenarios, flow comes to a screeching halt due to technical issues. This is where a focus on the experience of the user, rather than merely the flow, will come in handy. Use tools like Apteligent to improve the user flow by minimizing negative user experiences.
- Gather feedback
Ultimately, the user decides whether to interact with your website; therefore, it is essential to consider their feedback when optimizing user flow. There are a few ways to do this. One way is simply asking your users through your own methods or services such as UserTesting. Another option is hiring a UX expert.
Written By Jenn Marie
Jenn Marie is a freelance copy writer and internet marketing strategist based out of the Seattle area. A true tech evangelist, Jenn previously helped individuals utilize the full potential of Dell, Microsoft and Amazon products. She now focuses on building authentic online presences for small businesses and entrepreneurs through her company, Jenn Marie Writing & Marketing. Find her on LinkedIn