Two days ago, I was commissioned to conduct a UX/UI audit on a multilingual website. The site was well-designed and didn’t have many flaws, except for one. And it was a glaring one. But not as glaring to us “normal” readers.
Let me explain.
User experience (UX) is how users engage with your website. An audit uses a variety of tools, methods, and skills to analyze this user interaction by looking at a variety of factors, such as engagement metrics, messaging, page code, navigation, usability, site security, etc.
Remember, SEO relies not just on the quality of your content but also on the quality of your user experience. So you need to ensure that your content is easy to read and understand, and that the site on which the content appears doesn’t impede that experience.
When I conduct an audit, my goal is to try to understand the customer journey at the top of the funnel, and flag any bottlenecks and snags that can negatively impact that experience.
A poor experience leads to higher bounce rates, lower conversion rates, and greater user frustration — which often lead to bad reviews and complaints that affect not only one’s reputation but also lower search engine rankings.
Based on the audit’s findings, I make educated recommendations on how to tweak and optimize the website, which will hopefully translate into better business performance and higher ROI.
How do I conduct audits?
First, I look at the site’s analytics where I can gauge the site’s performance overall, such as bounce rates, page sessions (how long do people stay on the page), and behavioral flows (where people land and go next).
If the client has heatmaps (using a tool like Hotjar or CrazyEgg, which I highly recommend), this is a big plus. I can see what elements are clicked on, how people scroll through the site, and what people see in various browsers and on different devices. All valuable data.
Next, I do an external analysis. I do this from four different angles:
- Visual/manual: I go through the site myself and test everything, both on my desktop and on my smartphone. I click on stuff, fill out forms, see every page, and take screenshots of each issue I catch.
- Web.Dev: I use Google’s audit tool, which uses PageSpeed Insights and its new Core Web Vitals that are critical for UX and especially SEO.
- SEO Tools: I use three sets of tools, mainly SEM Rush, Ahrefs, and Moz, which will conduct site audits looking for UX and technical SEO errors.
- WCAG Tools: finally, I use web accessibility tools like Wave and SiteImprove, both of which have Chrome extensions, to find accessibility errors and warnings, and check the site against accepted standards.
Back to my client.
After looking at their site, I discovered that, while the site was beautiful and well-designed to the average eye, there were a number of issues behind the scenes that may cause havoc for a large number of people.
One of them was poorly identified language attributes. While that might sound simple to you, but to a multilingual site being read by a visually impaired person who uses a screenreader, it may render the site useless.
The audit also found elements that were broken, blocked, or disabled, such as the inability to zoom in or increase font sizes, or shifting elements (such as rotating sliders) that hid page elements and made them unusable.
(By the way, please stop using rotating above-the-fold sliders. They are terrible. They’re also proven to hinder UX and reduce conversions, too. But I digress.)
Another is the contrast. When the contrast between text and background is low, it’s harder to read — even for the average user. Split-tests show that, when you increase the contrast, you increase conversions, too.
Finally, there was the issue of landmarks.
What’s a landmark? They are elements on the page that help reading. They can be frontend (visual) or backend (code). Landmarks are critical in providing a comfortable user experience for all users — and not just for those with a disability or impairment of some kind.
Landmarks are visual anchors that help drive the eyes into the content. They orient the reader on the page and help them navigate it. For example, a user can jump from element to element, either with the “tab” key on keyboards or the screenreaders’ previous/next functions.
But not all landmarks are easily recognized. That’s why it’s important to:
- Add landmarks on the page;
- Label the landmarks appropriately;
- And properly nest the landmarks in order.
The latter is important.
That’s what W3C code validation does: it helps to identify code structure, making sure elements are labeled according to acceptable standards but also nested properly as to not confuse screenreaders and other tools.
For example, my client’s site had H3 and H2 headings appearing before the page’s H1. This creates confusion while jumping from heading to heading.
Bottom line, adding landmarks are important. Even for the average user. They provide eye gravity, create visual anchors, and above all, stop the reader from scanning and scrolling (and hopefully pull them into your content).
When reading a physical book, it’s easy to focus on long paragraphs, without any breaks, images, headers, or bullets. But online, especially when using tinier mobile devices, long paragraphs are harder to read. Users are also more easily distractable, and they’re more poised to skip and scroll.
So add images, headings, highlights, boxes, and of course, bullets.
In short, add landmarks to your content.
Be careful, however. Too many landmarks can become counterproductive. Use too many and they all become one big blur of sameness, which will invite users to scan again, defeating their purpose.
(There’s one marketing expert I follow whose newsletter I enjoy. Her content is amazing. But her newsletters are so garishly busy, without any whitespace, that I get headaches trying to read her content. Don’t do that.)
But of all the landmarks you can and should add to your content, the best ones are bullets, particularly lists. They’re the easiest to read, too.
If a sentence has a list of three or more elements, turn the sentence into bullets. It’s easier on the eyes, breaks up the copy, and provides those landmarks.
People love lists. You’ll notice that some of the most popular articles online are those that provide lists or have numbers in their titles/headlines.
Some articles are pure lists (often called “listicles”). Some provide content that flows according to a certain order, and paragraphs or sections are separated by numbered headings. And others provide lists within the content.
Here’s an example. Here are top 10 reasons why lists work:
- People like numbers and lists, especially bulleted numbered lists.
- Numbers promise bite-sized, easier-to-digest chunks of information.
- Lists are short and sweet, and cluster similar ideas for greater impact.
- Headlines that list a number make a concrete and credible promise.
- Lists are specific and quantifiable, which convey greater authority.
- Bullets are easier to scan and easier to grab the reader’s attention.
- Lists are finite, so they seem pithier and thus more efficient to read.
- People remember numbers more as they “hook” ideas in the mind.
- Obscure numbers like 13 or 27 can catch readers’ attention better.
- And they often increase SEO as they attract higher clickthroughs.
So add landmarks to your content to help the user consume your content and appreciate your expertise. You will benefit in five ways (see what I did there?):
- You will increase dwell times (i.e., page sessions);
- You will reduce bounce rates and boost engagement;
- You will improve UX and create stronger SEO signals;
- You will raise conversion rates (both micro and macro);
- And you will create a positive impact (leading to greater trust, a more favorable reputation, and more positive reviews, too).