What is user experience? It is a concept that recently I have been wrestling with myself. When I first started out blogging I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be researching, let alone thinking about things like user experience. I am a pastor. I think about whether or not when people attend the church, they enjoy the services, get what they came for, and leave feeling uplifted and encouraged in their walk with Jesus. Wait!!!!! That is user experience! The same concept that I do naturally with the church I pastor is what I need to create with my Christian blog.
The importance of having a rich user experience
User experience in your blog is very important. It can mean the difference between gaining a follower and getting your site demoted. When I was young we used to tease my grandmother because she was quite the talker. We would say there was 3 forms of communication. Telephone, Telegraph and Tell Marceil. In a very real sense the same can be said for how someone experiences your website. What they do and how they react will have an effect on how popular your website becomes. If they have a good user experience, then they will be more likely, depending on how much of a talker they are, to promote your website to others, both with verbal and non-verbal signals. We as Christian bloggers who want to get our message out to the world need to pay attention to this and promote a good user experience so that they will in turn promote the message that we want to get out.
It is not enough just to be a Christian blog, nor is it enough to just have correct doctrine. Do you go to every church that says they are Christian? Do you go to a church just because they teach your beliefs? I would bet (and I can because I come from Vegas!} that you discern what is a good church for you based upon things like how friendly the church is, whether or not they have children’s ministries if you are a parent, if they preacher doesn’t bore you to tears, and if they have good music. Those are all user experience types of things. The same type of metric needs to be used with your Christian blog.
Verbal signs of a good user experience.
- User interaction is a good sign concerning the user’s experience with your website. Blog comments, emails, prayer requests, and donations are all a sign of a good user experience. If they engaged with your content and commented on your blog, that shows that they enjoyed the content. (barring the occasional troll that just wants to flame you.) People who send you emails with questions or issues they are dealing with also show they are enjoying being on your website. It shows a level of trust. Donations are a big sign of a good user experience to the point that they want to support what you are doing. Nothing is a bigger thumbs up than when a person puts their money where their mouth is.
- Social sharing is another sign that people have a rich user experience. If a person likes your content enough or their time on your website enough to hit the like button for Facebook, or the thumbs up button on Stumbleupon, or bookmarks your site with Digg or Delicious, it is a sign that your content was really enjoyed. (Now there are some unethical webmasters that manipulate this sign by buying Facebook likes and Twitter tweets on Fiverr.com but they can’t do that forever and if you have great content, then their shoddy content that they have to buy likes for will eventually fail.) Giving people a good user experience and then encouraging them to share that experience is what Christian blogging is all about.
Non-verbal signs that your user’s are having a good experience.
- A low bounce rate is one sign that users are having a good experience. If people find your site and read more than 1 page before going away it is a strong signal of a positive user experience. This is the classic definition of bounce rate. Someone who reads more than 1 page of your website. However this metric in and of itself is flawed. It doesn’t take into account other factors. Maybe the person found the information they were looking and needed to go no further. Maybe you led them to the information they were looking for. And maybe they just wanted to read your latest post because they were a fan and had read your other posts. All of these things would be a good user experience but still fall into the classic definition of a “bounce”. I believe Google knows this and although Google analytics uses this metric, I believe that they look at other factors as well before determining a good user experience.
- Time on site is another non-verbal sign as to whether or not people enjoy your blog. If they spend a good amount of time reading your article, then they must be enjoying it and the preacher has not bored them to the point of hitting the back button and escaping out the back door.
- Where they go to from your website is also another test of whether or not they enjoyed your website. If they bounce right back to the search results that can be taken as a negative sign. If they go somewhere else then that could mean that you had a positive influence on them. Without giving away my own personal secrets, I would like to encourage you to look at your website and figure out some way to keep people from hitting the back button to the search engine they used to find you. Besides, if they leave your site to go to another, and then hit the back button and return, you no longer have a first time visitor, but a repeat customer. That is a huge sign of a good user experience. People do not return to a church they do not like.
Evaluating your user experience potential
I recently went through my website and did some evaluation based on the correlation of what I know makes a good user experience in church vs. what I see on my blog. Here are my tips.
- Nobody likes something that looks amateurish. Even though I am not an accomplished webmaster or web designer, I can improve my site to look professional. That was one reason I switched from the Blogger platform to WordPress. I still have a ways to go and as soon as I can afford it I am going to improve my header, and a few other areas.
- Nobody likes it if the preacher is always late. The same goes for your website. If it takes until Jesus returns for your website to load, they will go someplace else.
- Nobody likes being manipulated. Whether it is in church or on your website, if you abuse peoples good graces it will annoy them. So things like pop-up ads, attempts to keep them on the page with pop-ups that say “are you sure you want to leave” or links that open in new windows are subtle attempts to keep them on your page or make them do something. Give people the right to choose what they do. They will love you for it.