Life lessons from a Startup Entrepreneur

By Deepak Pathak

Is your website user friendly? How thinking about buses can help set you apart from the competition

german bus munichGerman buses in Munich are really cool. They are designed to be ultra user friendly and give the user the easiest experience.

So when I was a new comer to Munich, I never had any fear of getting lost when getting from one place to another. Let me explain how I used to make most of my journeys.

Munich has a central travel website run by the transport hub MVV. A user can go to this website, change the language to English and enter their start point, their end destination and the time they need to be there. They then click send and receive a map with full written direction telling them which bus or underground train to catch, which platform to be on, what time it leaves and even walking directions from your end station to your final destination.

So, now I get to my bus stop to find a electronic sign above it. This sign tells me when the next bus will arrive (it even adjusts for delays), what the bus number is and what the end destination is, so I know it will go in the right direction.

I then get on the bus using any of two entrances (one at the front the other other in the middle). I have a prepaid travel ticket (which can be purchased from numerous machines around the city) and simply use a self stamping machine to validate the ticket. If by chance I do not have a ticket I can pay the driver, but their system is designed to help the buses leave stations as quickly as possible.

On the bus you will constantly hear a pre-recorded tannoy announcing the name of each upcoming stop alongside electronic signs with the same information in written form.

Their system is designed so you are never stuck at a stop wondering why the bus has not arrived and you are never confused as to which stop is next. So, together with the MVV directions site you can easily navigate to anywhere in the city with minimal stress.

I would have no hesitation getting anywhere in Munich and perhaps I even started to enjoy exploring new areas on my own.

Now just compare that to my home city of Birmingham. They too have a website which gives you directions, so all square so far.

UK BusThen you get to the bus stop and find there are rarely any electronic signs. You have to rely on written timetables to discover if the bus is running and whether it is going in the right direction. Not a huge deal but a slight inconvenience.

Once on the bus, you all have to enter from the same entrance so queues are formed and it can take some time for everybody to board. Again not a deal breaker but slightly less convenient.

Lastly we have the deal breaker. Buses here do not have any visual display telling you either which stop you are at or which stop is next. Even myself, someone who was born here often has issues trying to work out which stop is next. Just imagine what it must be like for tourists.

Both bus services provide the core service, which is getting people from A to B, but clearly one is designed with user experience in mind whilst the other clearly is not.

I can tell you from personal experience that I avoid buses in my home city unless I know the route whereas in Germany, even as a foreigner I would happily adventure anywhere.

Your website is exactly the same.

If you are not thinking about the user experience when you design your website or blog, then you may end up being like a UK bus – providing the key information but not in a user friendly way that helps make it a great experience.

When ever I meet somebody who has been to both Germany and the UK, we will often enter into the same conversation. They talk with great fondness and even recommend the German pubic transport system for it’s usability, whilst they never have the same regard for UK buses.

You similarly want people to speak with fondness about not only your content but also your usability as this is one simple consideration that can set you apart from the competition.


Here are some key questions you should be asking to help make your user experience a positive one:

What is the best page for your users to see first on your site?

Your site or blog may do many things or have lots of content, so it is very important to think about the first page that users will see on your site.

Some of my traffic comes through search engines, but that is often direct to the page that contains the information they are looking for, so nothing needs changing there.

Some other comes directly to my site because of a recommendation. Perhaps it would be better for me to set up a page prominently for new users to start there. That way I can have all my best content in an organised manner to help newbie’s navigate my content and to keep them coming back in the future.

At times I will do promotions leading back to my site. I should not simply allow them to hit my homepage, but should set up a page optimized to ensure they quickly understand what this site is and helps them to get started. I should design a landing page to help these user obtain the best experience from my site.

You have to think about why your users visit you site and design pages to help them on their first visit. If you have no idea about what would help your users then simply ask them! You can use surveys for quick feedback, or if you do not have great traffic then you can use online forums to ask people their opinions. People love to give advice, so make best use of it.

To many people will NOT automatically know what your site is about and where your key content is. That is, unless you help them.


How to tell people what you site is about

How will people know what your site is about?People can get to your site in any one of a number of ways.  Sometimes they get to your site via your other content (video’s, Podcast’s or perhaps a guest post), in which case they will have a good idea of what your content is about.

Other times, they may come from non description recommendations (links to your site with bad or non existent descriptions of your content) or long tail keywords from search engines (long ‘sometimes odd’ phrases for which your site unexpectedly ranks).

A big source of traffic currently is Twitter, where your site is recommended in under 140 characters – not much space to really inform people what your site is about.  The increase of mobile messaging also means that people will get to your site in the future with just a simple link, again meaning that visitors may often have little idea of what your whole site is about.

All this makes it makes it very important to define what your site is about quickly. You header, your site name, your tagline or even the menus should help sum up the content of your site within a few seconds. This both helps people to understand what your site is about and of course gives them an incentive to delve deeper.

You will notice on this site that ‘Venture To The Top‘ has varied meanings so it is important for me to sum up the site in other ways. Here I use the tag-line (short sentence under the site title) and my menus as a key guide to the type on content on my site.

I also ensure that I add something to the end of each article which directs them to a page which lists more content (for example my Make Money Blogging page). This link is very important as it takes them to a page with a list of many other articles on my blog. These articles are listed in a structured order so that any user clicking on that page will have a great idea of my content.


How will your users plan their route around your site?

You really have to think about how users will navigate around your site. Once people land on your page, where will they go next, or perhaps more importantly how can you help them go to where you want them to go next?  A good blog or website has structured content where the user flows seamlessly from one piece of content to the next.

The user should not have to think, ‘what else shall I look for?’.

An easy way to accomplish this is firstly to have content summary pages. These are pages which list multiple articles based around a similar theme. The content is structured and easy for the easy to find what is relevant for them (see an example on my make money blogging page). Of course you link this ‘guide’ page at the end of your articles, in a way that encourages the user to click the link. Look at the way I do not simply list links in my articles, I integrate them so that users know throughout the articles that there are other pages they must read before leaving my site.

Another great and perhaps simpler way of achieving this is to add links to other articles below your current content. There are lot of plug-ins that will do this automatically.  I use a plug-in that is integrated into the theme (or skin) of my website.

Here is a quick real life example: 

A user has just reached my site for a phrase that has little relevance to my content: ‘how to improve human rights?’  Most will think that this user would simply leave my site immediately, but what if I was to tell you that same person ended up reading over four pieces of content on my site without even viewing the homepage once. Simply because they were lead from one piece of content to another. It also seems that they have re-tweeted one of my articles too. All from a user that had no real intention of finding my site in the first place!


How easy will it be for users to ask for help?

how will users get helpIf you are selling a product online then a help or ‘ask questions’ page is ultra important.  If your potential customer has a question but cannot find a way of obtaining an answer, then that customer is most likely to be gone.

It is also important for blogs to have a feature where users can interact or ask questions based on content. An easy and inbuilt way to do this is of course the comments section under the article. Be sure however, to reply to any questions readers have as this will help you gain loyal readers and give you a chance to clarify misunderstandings within your text.

Some people prefer to turn the comments sections off, because they believe an empty looking comments section reflects badly on them. Whilst that may be true, your objective should never be to hide the problem, rather to improve things on your site so that users are encouraged to comment more often. 

Make sure you have a way for readers and customers to ask questions. It is a huge trust and loyalty factor.


Other considerations to help make your website user friendly (I will cover these in detail via upcoming posts):

Lay your content out in an easy to follow manner. This means using headers and titles to divide your content. Using pictures to help guide the users eyes and to use colours and bullet points to highlight key information quickly.

Make sure the page loads fast. This means ensuring that your pictures on your site load fast (often helps to keep them small). It also includes checking your site is optimized with speed in mind.

I will cover both of these topic in detail in upcoming articles.


What will help your website be a German bus or a UK bus?

The key takeaway from this article is to always start planning your site with the user experience in mind. Do not simply out stuff up because YOU think it’s useful, think how it will be useful to users. Flipping the thinking can have a huge effect on user experiences.

German buses are efficient because they have the user experience in mind, whereas UK buses, whilst completing their core service obligation, were not build focusing on the end user.

If you like this article be sure to leave your feedback below and take a look around this site for more great guides to help improve your business.



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