By December 14, 2020

4 Ways to Build More Usable Web Applications

website usabilityUsability is an all-important part of any software program — be it a web app, website, or a mobile app. Software that’s easy to use always trumps software that isn’t, even if it doesn’t have as many features.

The basics of user experience (UX) dictate that your web app should be intuitive, easy to navigate, and responsive (adapts automatically to screen size), while also being aesthetically pleasing.

But there’s more to UX than meets the eye. That is, there are elements you can work on to further enhance your app’s usability and inspire user loyalty. After all, 88% of users are less likely to return to a website after a bad user experience and 90% have stopped using an app due to poor performance, so better usability translates to user retention and loyalty.

In this post, I’ll outline four key tips that’ll help you build easier-to-use web applications and hang on to users.

Create a Strong User Onboarding Process

User onboarding is the process of guiding new users to quickly and easily find value in your app once they sign up. Think of it as a welcome bridge between being a new user and a highly engaged one.

Onboarding is the first point of contact once a user signs up, and thus it can help create a strong first impression.

You see, most users today have short attention spans and little patience. They will quickly lose interest if your app is confusing or seemingly complicated to use at first glance. That’s where user onboarding helps.

User onboarding allows you to communicate the app’s value right away, boost initial engagement, and, ultimately, facilitate a positive user experience.

Here are a few best practices to create a strong user onboarding experience.

Keep the Process Short

The onboarding process should be completable within seconds or minutes. Your goal is to help users quickly get started with your app, not to make them experts.

Gamify the Process

Adding fun elements like progress bars and checklists will make the process more engaging and appealing for your users. As a result, more users will finish it.

Allow Users to Skip the Process

Ultimately, no matter how useful or well-designed your user onboarding process is, if users want to skip it, they should have the option to do so. Never force your users to finish the onboarding process in order to start using the app.

When you open a web app that has thoughtfully designed swipeable screens or a tour that neatly explains what lies in store for you, you can’t help but feel that the app was designed by a competent team and not a bunch of amateur developers.

Optimize for Speed

A fast-loading web application is a more usable web application with a better user experience, plain and simple.

Speed is one of the most pivotal factors that can make or break your website or app’s usability. Your modern users simply don’t have the patience to wait for your site or app to load, and they won’t hesitate to ditch if it doesn’t load quickly.

So, optimize your app for speed. There’s plenty you can do to make your app load faster, such as:

  • Compress images.
  • Minify CSS and JS.
  • Avoid unnecessary redirects.
  • Improve server response time.
  • Enable file compressions and browser caching.

Assess your current speed by running your website or app through a free tool such as GTmetrix or Google’s PageSpeed Insights to find out how it performs.

These tools will provide you with a list of recommendations that you can then work on to improve your speed. For example, you may have image files that are large and need to be compressed using an image compression tool. Or, you may have yet to enable browser caching so repeat visitors don’t have to completely reload the entire page every time.

Use the suggestions generated from these tools to understand which aspects specifically need your attention to attain optimal speed.

Incorporate a Chatbot

Time and again, your users will face hiccups and difficulties in understanding or getting things done. Or, they may have some customer service-related concerns.

Now, most modern users, especially millennials and Gen Z, seriously lack the patience to get answers to their questions (yet again, the need for speed!). If they need any information or assistance, they expect a near-instant response.

Having live chat on your website or app enables you to be there for your users when they need you. However, you or your team can’t be available online 24/7.

And that’s where chatbots come in: nifty virtual assistants that are also loved by users. They provide prompt answers to all FAQs, accurately recall usage and purchase history, and never lose their cool.

website usabilitySo, rather than having users fill out a form or wait for a response over email, they can simply type in their queries and get on-the-spot answers to commonly asked questions and concerns.

As a matter of fact, 74% of users prefer chatbots while looking for answers to simple questions, and in 2019 twice as many consumers were willing to engage with chatbots than in 2018, considering the bots to be “very helpful.”

Simply put, chatbots enable instant self-service for your users, which is crucial to creating an outstanding user experience. Here’s a great post on how to build a chatbot.

Make It More Accessible

Better usability also translates to building a website or application that allows all users, regardless of their physical or mental ability, to make the most of your product.

In essence, an accessible website or app is one that accommodates all users on all devices, no matter the physical or mental ability of the user.

And whether you like it or not, accessibility is mandatory. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to digital properties too, which means your digital product must be readily usable by people with disabilities (such as the visually impaired).

That being said, accessibility is important not just to avoid ADA lawsuits but also to improve your user experience. With approximately 26.9 million adult Americans having some kind of visual impairment, it’s likely that you’re cutting out a considerable chunk of your user base if you overlook accessibility.

Here are a few steps you can take right away to make your website more accessible:

  • Ensure sufficient color contrast on every page.
  • Create a descriptive alt text and caption for all images.
  • Include closed captions for videos (if you have any).
  • Make it keyboard-friendly (usable without a mouse).
  • Write descriptive anchor texts for hyperlinks.
  • Devise a coherent content hierarchy (using subheadings H2, H3, and so on).
  • Write descriptive labels for form elements.
  • Publish an accessibility statement stating your target level of accessibility.

For websites in particular, if you want to ensure the highest level of accessibility, consider using a web accessibility tool like accessiBe that’ll assess your site and help ensure that every element is fully ADA compliant.

In a nutshell, better accessibility translates to a better user experience for everyone and more credibility as a business.

Your App’s UX Is in Your Hands

Whatever app or website you’re building, you’re likely going to find a competing version of it on the internet that you think is “better,” perhaps in terms of features, appearance, or pricing.

But by having a strong user onboarding process, lightning-fast loading speeds, chatbots for self-service, and better accessibility, you’re on your way to rendering a top-notch user experience, which is how you differentiate yourself from a sea of so-so competitors.

Take these four tips into account when building your next website or web app, and you’re sure to build one that inspires superior engagement, loyalty, credibility, and word of mouth.

About the author

Gaurav Belani

Gaurav Belani is a senior SEO and content marketing analyst at Growfusely, a content marketing agency specializing in content and data-driven SEO. He has more than seven years of experience in digital marketing. He likes sharing his knowledge in a wide range of domains ranging from ed tech, e-commerce, startups, marketing to human capital management, and much more. His work is featured in several authoritative publications. Connect with him on Twitter at @belanigaurav.