Designing With User Technologies In Mind

When building, redesigning, or maintaining a web site or web application, it’s important to understand the technology visitors will use to access the site to create the best user experience possible.

So what do you need to consider? Although there can be many factors at play, here are the key questions you should answer:

  1. What browsers are used to view the site?
  2. What devices are used to access the site?
  3. What screen resolutions are commonly used by site visitors?

Browsers

Most of us web developers have a tendency to get pretty excited about using new coding techniques and technologies like CSS3 and HTML5, but it’s important for us to consider what browsers the site visitors will be using so we can determine whether those techniques are appropriate or not.

If you find that your user base primarily views the site in recent browsers, then you may have more flexibility with new technologies. However, if you find that a significant portion of users are accessing the site in older browsers, you’ll need to make sure that they can complete all functions without any major drawbacks.

That doesn’t mean that the site has to look identical in all browsers however. Many web developers commonly employ a technique called progressive enhancement. This coding technique allows for users in recent browsers to see the site design as intended (with enhanced design elements) without negatively impacting the experience of users in older browsers in a significant way. Enhancements might include design elements like rounded corners, gradients, or drop shadows.

There are many desktop browsers that support progressive enhancement techniques including Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer 9, and Opera. Internet Explorer 8 and lower usually do not get the benefits of such enhancements.

Most mobile browsers tend to have good support for progressive enhancement techniques as well, including the default Android browser, Safari, Google Chrome, Amazon Silk, Opera Mobile/Mini, and many others.

Devices

Understanding what devices your visitors are using will help you engage with them more effectively. There are many devices that allow people to hit the web in addition to computers, including tablets, phones, and gaming consoles. Most computer users access the web in a similar way, with a keyboard and mouse, but don’t forget that there are some users who rely on screen readers to recite the content of the page to them and who navigate by keyboard only.

Tablets and phones are “tap” devices, meaning that users interact with web sites using their fingers. For these devices, it’s typically helpful to create larger tap radii for links and to avoid displaying critical content on mouseover or via right-click.

Because there are many different ways to access a web site, it’s important to design and develop with accessibility in mind. You should always aim to make your site accessible for your target audience and their expected browsing devices, but not at the expense of impaired users.

Screen Resolution

With users accessing the web on phones, tablets, PCs, laptops, TVs, and a seemingly endless number of devices that come in all shapes and sizes, there is, likewise, a seemingly endless number of screen resolutions that you must consider while developing a site.

PCs and laptops tend to have resolutions equal to or greater than 1024 x 768 pixels, although you may still see a few users running at 800 x 600 pixels. 1024, though possibly the lowest desktop resolution that you’ll need to really consider, is still rather popular and has held a significant portion of the market share for many years. You should, in most cases, consider that to be your base and confirm that your site is usable at those dimensions.

Phones, tablets, and netbooks bear further consideration. If your user base includes a number of mobile users, you may be able to improve usability significantly by applying a different layout or styles optimized for smaller sized screens. CSS3, widely supported by recent mobile browsers, offers an elegant solution of applying different styles at different browser sizes and is often the preferred approach.

Bringing It All Together

Understanding how users experience your site or application will allow you to serve them better and, ultimately, improve overall customer satisfaction. The easiest way to gather data on browsers, devices, and screen resolutions is via Google Analytics, which offers reports for all three. I highly recommend that you review these reports to get a better understanding of your users, especially if you are considering a redesign for your current web site and to close it out, here are some nifty screen shots of those reports:

Browsers:

Devices:

Screen Resolution:

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Getting Started with Google Analytics

Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful asset for marketers, site administrators, and business owners, but with a seemingly infinite quantity of data points, graphs, segments, and reports, it can be completely overwhelming.

At Algonquin Studios, we encourage all of our clients to sign up for Google Analytics because of its many benefits and because it’s free–it really is a no-brainer–but that’s just the first step. Once you’ve signed up, then what?

Step 1: Understand Your Web Site

In order to use Google Analytics successfully, you need answer one big, general question about your web site:

What is the purpose of your web site? Why does it exist?

At this point, there’s nearly universal agreement that if you run a business, program, charitable organization, or pretty much anything else, you need a web site. But why? Are you hoping to sell products, promote to a larger audience, or just make it easier for people to find your phone number? There could be any number of reasons and you may have many, but, in order to get the most out of Analytics, you need to understand what they are.

It’s also useful to identify your target audience. What group of individuals are you hoping will access your web site? Doctors, grandmothers, hockey players, men in general? Try to be as specific as possible.

Step 2: Identify Your Goals

Let’s say that you’re a partner at a law firm and you’ve identified that the main purposes of your site are generating leads and reinforcing your firm’s reputation. From there, you can identify the following goals:

  1. Build interest by providing information about services and related content.
  2. Capture leads (via email or phone).
  3. Reinforce qualifications through firm history and accomplishments.

Step 3: Pick Your Measurement Tools

At this point, you can determine the data points and reports in Google Analytics that will help you measure the success of your site. These are often referred to as Key Performance Indicators or KPI. For example, here are some indicators that could be useful to your sample law firm:

Time on Site/Page – Since many of your goals are related to your site visitors reading content, you can examine how much time they’re are spending on your site and its individual pages to determine if they’re actively engaging with that content. It will be especially important to review the time spent on the pages you’ve deemed most crucial to your goals of building interest, capturing leads, and reinforcing your qualifications.

Bounce Rate – Another indicator that will show whether users are actively viewing pages and continuing to interact with your site is Bounce Rate. Your bounce rate is the percentage of visits that only include one page view. A low bounce rate indicates that your visitors are viewing several pages before exiting and implies that they are interested in your content and and engaging with it in a meaningful way.

Visitor Loyalty – If your law firm is attempting to reinforce its qualifications, you may expect to see a high percentage of return visitors. Strong visitor loyalty implies that your content is engaging and can help strengthen your position as a trusted resource. However, a high percentage of new visitors implies that a lot of potential clients are viewing your site. In general, it’s healthy to have a mix of each visitor type.

Keywords – The Keywords report identifies the search terms that drove users to your site from Google or other search engines. While returning visitors will probably access your site directly or search for your firm name, new visitors may be searching for services that you provide or for a firm in your geographic location. If you’re not seeing the results you expect, this indicator may show that you need to adjust your content to include better search terms.

Location – Geography-based reports and segments allow you to see where your users are located. This can be particularly important if you are targeting users from a specific area and may even influence your traditional marketing initiatives.

Step 4: Set Targets

Once you’ve determined which indicators will most accurately help you to measure success, you should set appropriate targets for each goal. These targets may be for a day, week, month, or longer, or they may even be for a specific time of the day.

Determining what your targets should be may not be easy at first, but you’ll get a feel for it over time. The key is to have a  goal number to work towards and compare against. The actual numbers are less important than the trends you’re seeing in the data.

Step 5: Identify Segments

If you want to take it a step further, try identifying any segments that could be applied to make certain reports more valuable. For example, you could segment the Landing Pages report by Keyword to see the keywords that are driving users to your top entrance pages.

Step 6: Review Your Data Regularly

There are many ways that you can utilize Google Analytics to measure your data. You can set up Goals, Alerts, Custom Reports, Advanced Segments, or Filters. You can even create reports that are automatically emailed to you on a regular basis. Or you can simply log into Google Analytics and review the default reports, focusing on the KPI that you’ve determined are important.

The key is reviewing your data on a regular basis. You can evaluate the success of your goals by measuring your KPI for a given period and then comparing them against past performance. Remember to focus on the trends, not the actual numbers.

Step 7: Adjust Your Site as Needed

As you review your data, you may identify areas of your site that need to be updated to improve user engagement or search engine performance. Ideally, you’ll see trends that reflect site growth and success, but you’ll need to set aside time to review the data and update the site on a regular basis.

Conclusion

Google Analytics can be a powerful tool, but to get the most out of it you need to know where to begin. Understanding your site and setting goals will get you on the right track. Then, you just need to pick your key indicators, set your targets, and get analyzing. Easy, right?

If you are new to Google Analytics, I highly recommend checking out Google’s educational library, but you should also consider just logging in and getting your hands dirty. It may seem overwhelming at first, but if you stick with it, the rewards will be well worth it.