Newsflash: your business needs an internet presence. Even if your business doesn’t sell a physical product, clients and customers still need a way to find out who you are and how to contact you.

It’s relatively easy to create a website with a drag-and-drop builder like Squarespace or WordPress, but in a webinar moderated by our COO Gabrielle Raymond McGee, designed leader Regine Gilbert challenged our community to go deeper. A user experience expert and assistant professor at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, Gilbert encourages anyone who is building a website to approach it from a user experience perspective. Broadly speaking, user experience, or UX, refers to every interaction a visitor to a website or app has with that product. “It’s concerned with all the elements that together make up an interface: layout, visual design, text, brand and sound.”

There are professionals who dedicate their entire careers to user experience. Gilbert thankfully breaks down this topic into useful tips for entrepreneurs who don’t have the luxury of a whole web team behind them.

The user comes first.

“We may do some of the things our customers do, but we’re not our customers,” Gilbert says. She emphasizes that business owners need to put themselves in the place of a user in order to understand what their website needs. Listen to your customers and interpret what they say carefully; that will guide you as you develop your site.

Align your website or app with the seven principles of user experience.

In her webinar, Gilbert cites the seven principles of UX. Every site or app must be useful, usable, findable, credible, desirable, accessible, and valuable. Don’t be overwhelmed! You likely have the tools to meet these already.

Useful: “‘Useful’ focuses on user experience and scannable content,” Gilbert says. “Let’s be real. Nobody’s reading these days.” Consider organizing text-heavy pages using headings so users can scan to find what they need quickly (kind of the way we did on the page you’re reading).

Usable: This principle focuses on clarity. Is it clear how your site should be used? Gilbert likes to use forms as an example of site elements where usability can often be an issue. “That’s something that is not useful: when a user makes an error and they don’t know they’ve made an error. If they did something wrong, let them know exactly what they did wrong.” She also says that a user should always know where they are on your website and it should be easy for them to get back to where they were before.

Findable: Findability refers to the information itself on your site. Is your content organized in such a way that it’s easy for a visitor to, say, find your returns and refund policy? Make sure the navigation on your website is clear and that every page is connected to another. “You don’t want people to be digging,” Gilbert cautions. Decide what kind of navigation menus your site needs. It’s also probably a good idea to add a search feature.

Credibility: If your business is in the beginning stages, you probably haven’t gotten major press attention. That’s ok! “Clever copy and user reviews can lend your site credibility,” advises Gilbert. Come up with a great tagline that explains your expertise in your particular space and listen to your customers.

Desirable: Why should someone visiting your website care about your product or services? “You need to tell a story,” Gilbert explains. “The stories that we tell are so important: the stories that we tell about who we are as entrepreneurs, the stories that we tell about our business. If we’re trying to get funding, we have to tell a story.” Your story should resonate on an emotional level. What do you want potential clients, customers or investors to feel when they do business with you?

Accessible: Not only should your site be easy to find, but it should also be easy for everyone, including those with disabilities, to access. “As small business owners, it is your responsibility to make sure that you have an accessible website because it’s considered a public space,” Gilbert says. Remember that many visually impaired people use readers to access websites or enlarge fonts. Choose a high-contrast color scheme for your website and make sure that text doesn’t overlap when someone zooms in. (See Gilbert putting the accessibility principle into practice during her webinar, where she used a real-time closed captioning feature).

Gilbert urges entrepreneurs to remember that website accessibility isn’t just a nice-to-have feature. Businesses can find themselves subject to lawsuits if their website doesn’t meet certain requirements outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. She recommends that business owners use the WAVE accessibility compliance checker tool, available at webaim.org.

Valuable: Now that you’ve communicated how your product or service should make users feel, you have to show its value. Why is it something that will add to their lives or make something easier? You can demonstrate this with an exciting animation of your product or you can keep it very, very simple.

Gilbert uses Craigslist as an example of a site that’s high-value and low-tech. “It looks the same way it did in the nineties. However, it brings great value to people and that’s part of why it hasn’t changed.”

Now, get building

While it’s easy to focus on the slick design elements in your chosen website builder, Gilbert stresses that a good user experience starts with good information. “This is why I say content should always come first. You should be able to lay things out and organize them and make sure that your users can understand them, that you can navigate them as well.”

Before you rush to hire a web developer, challenge yourself to build your online home.  “I say everyone can do it on their own.”

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