How to improve the site's performance in five steps

Published on in UX Design

How to improve the site's performance in five steps

This post is a follow-up on the work I did for Wood Republic. I worked with the furniture business earlier this year. I redesigned their site, focusing on improving the customer experience and making it easier for website administrators to add content. You can find out more about it in my case study.

They had a terrible site’s speed score, making it unusable for the visitors. Site’s performance also matters when we talk about accessible design. Fast loading time takes into account those who have a slower internet connection and overall leaves users less frustrated when waiting for all content to appear.

Although there are still areas that we could improve during the next iterations, the new site is a significant step forward.

Below are the steps I took to improve their site.

1. Content first

Well-structured information architecture helps users reach their goals faster. It supports them in navigating through the site without having to search for a desired piece of information. People can find the information they were looking for quicker if we present content clearly and straightforwardly. We should tailor our design for the content that helps the users understand our digital service.

What I did for Wood Republic

When I was working on the redesign, I was lucky to have all the content already on site. I’m one of those people who prefer not to use lorem ipsum or other types of content fillers, if possible. When we use actual content in the right context, user experience and interface design is more user-focused. Concentrating on the words and the messages we try to communicate through the website, sets the purpose of the site on the right track. I focused on making the current content pages easy to read and made the essential pieces of information stand out.

Wood Republic blog wireframe

2. Think mobile

Designing for mobile devices first, and using progressive enhancement to display extra features as the screen size grows, is great when it comes to web performance. Enriched interfaces and functionality are often redundant when people want to access a service on the go. Quick response time is more critical.

What I did for Wood Republic

The majority of Wood Republic users access the site on mobile devices. I had to make sure that the page load, site navigation, interactive elements and overall performance is doing well on small screens. By putting these requirements first, I improved the site’s quality and made users’ experience more enjoyable. I removed heavy scripts, load different images on mobile screens, use WordPress image size property to crop media and make content easy to read on portable devices.

Wood Republic site on mobile screens

3. Focus on users’ needs

Internet users might forgive some of the design or development mistakes that digital experiences have. However, they tend to leave the service if it’s slow, unresponsive or difficult to navigate. Frustrating user experience will very likely discourage people from coming back.

What are your users’ needs? You won’t know until you ask. User research, interviews, usability testing, are the best ways to define the pain points. When your service follows the user’s requirements, it’s more likely to have features that facilitate them reaching the goals. Nothing unnecessary.

What I did for Wood Republic

We have two different user groups at Wood Republic: site visitors and site administrators. During the last redesign, we took a look at the Google Analytics account to verify what issues should be our priorities. The Wood Republic team also observed that users were mainly completing their purchases by emailing them directly. I worked on improving the user experience and customer journey. We decided to conduct usability testing after the launch. Sessions are to come in November and December.

The second user group was probably not the most typical when talking about usability, but equally important. Site administrators explained how they day-to-day job works, how they usually update content and add new products. It was proving to be very difficult and time-consuming to manage the company’s website. Changing WordPress theme made massive improvements to their workflow. It also allowed us to remove heavy plugins and decrease the site loading speed.

4. Make your service accessible for everyone

I shouldn’t have to explain why inclusive design is vital for a digital service, no matter from which perspective you look at it. Everyone should be able to access a site or app without feeling excluded. A service should have accessible design and development included in the project scope, whether it’s an MVP or a later iteration.

An accessible site is easy to navigate with a mouse or keyboard and works well on a touch device. It has a good content structure and uses semantic markup. It has a high contrast ratio between text and background colours and sounds logical when a screen reader reads out content.

What I did for Wood Republic

I reviewed the text colour contrast of different colour combinations from the extended Wood Republic palette. I tested the site with an iOS screen-reader and on different browsers and devices, including the emulators (I frequently use Browserstack for testing).

Inclusive design principles make a lot of development decisions more natural because you have an accessibility lens that helps you prioritise the criteria.

Wood Repulic pop up window screenshot

5. Test it

Testing a digital service is the best verification tool. It covers usability testing and talking to your users, but also using different software to check the performance. When we plan, design and build the digital service, we get very familiar with the flow and navigation. It’s almost impossible to spot anything that might cause problems to the users. Verifying what we develop improves users’ experience and helps reduce future maintenance costs.

What I did for Wood Republic

Site administrators were reviewing the changes to their custom Wordpress theme on our staging site. They were updating content and adding new products. Their regular feedback helped make continuous improvements to the work they do taking care of the company website.

We are now preparing for the usability testing for November. I’m looking forward to it because I love talking to users.

Conclusions

Five is not a large number; it’s a good list of steps to start with and refer back to at later iterations. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t implement all of these suggestions at once. It often takes time to plan future work and set correct acceptance criteria. However, I believe every little action has a positive impact.

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