Chances are good that you have visited a journal website that was so easy to use and provided such a seamless readership experience that you bookmarked the website for future visits.
This type of experience is an example of great UX design – a facet of web design that is a key driver of digital strategy. Teams of engineers, designers and digital marketers spend countless hours outlining a user’s web journey and testing how to create the very best experience. A fast, intuitive and user-friendly website doesn’t happen by accident.
UX design is an integral part of the journal publishing strategy and can lead to increased article usage, longer on-page time and fewer site exits or bounces. Adopting best practices for your journal website is key for attracting and retaining subscribers as well as growing the reach of your journal’s content.
What is UX Design?
Before we tackle UX design best practices and tactics to help enhance journal readership – it’s important to clearly define UX design. According to Hubspot, a leading digital marketing and lead generation technology company, UX design is the process of increasing a user’s level of satisfaction with a product or service by improving its functionality, ease of use and convenience.
When visiting a journal’s website, users want to find the right information with ease. This, in turn, creates a positive experience and can help convert users into loyal customers who will trust your website and its content to provide valuable information.
Quality UX design serves several purposes. A primary purpose is to keep users on your website for a longer period of time and create an experience that drives them back more frequently. A positive website experience can lead to an increase in visitors, page views and article downloads. Furthermore, the longer a user stays on a website, the more likely they are to convert to a paid subscriber or society member, purchase a pay-per-view article, cite the journal or sign up for new content alerts.
Why UX Design is Important to Scholarly and Scientific Journals
In the increasingly digital world of scholarly publishing and communications, the journal website is now the face of the publishing operation. Creating a site layout that is easy to navigate while facilitating the discovery of information with one or two clicks can make all the difference. The right UX design strategy will keep users on the website longer improving page views, advertising impressions and article downloads. The wrong UX design strategy will leave users feeling frustrated, likely leading to more page bounces and quick exits.
You may be thinking, “Isn’t UX design really only necessary for large, commercial sites with a strong eCommerce presence?”
That’s definitely no longer true. Every website, no matter the amount of content or traffic, should adhere to UX design best practices. This includes mobile-first design, fast page speeds and intuitive and simplistic site navigation.
Does your journal’s site follow these UX design best practices? If the answer is no, then it may be time to rethink your website strategy.
Journal UX Design Strategies and Tactics
With great UX design, one doesn’t necessarily see it; they experience it.
There are many factors that go into UX design. From design and aesthetics to mobile responsiveness and page speed, publishers and digital strategists have a lot to think about, manage and implement.
UX design experts continue to emphasize mobile responsiveness. While the majority of journal website traffic still comes from desktop computers, more and more people are beginning to use their mobile devices to search and find scholarly research information. How many times have you pulled out your phone to search for an article? Or used your tablet to read the latest issue of your favorite journal? Having a responsive website improves the overall journal experience because it allows the content to be accessible wherever the user may be.
Responsive websites are no longer a luxury but a staple within the digital landscape. Most modern websites are now built using responsive design methods. If your journal’s website hasn’t been updated within the last three to five years, you run the risk of losing quality users and engagement due to out-of-date UX. Updating your journal’s website to be responsive can increase organic traffic from search engines, such as Google, and provide users with a more simplistic view of your journal website.
Where is your most important content displayed on the journal website? Is it on the home at eye-level or do you have it “below the fold” – forcing users to scroll down to find that article link, purchase button or new content alert sign up?
There are many factors to consider when deciding where content should be placed on a website. Each journal is different and represents a unique audience. What’s important to one group may be different than another. Take the time to fully understand your readership and target audience. This will allow you to design a site that meets their specific wants, needs and scientific objectives.
However you design your website, be sure to test each page in both mobile and desktop formats. This means testing the website on different smartphones, tablets and mobile devices as each may display your site in a slightly different manner. Your site may look great on an iPad Pro tablet but terrible on a Samsung Galaxy smartphone. Just because a site is mobile responsive, doesn’t mean the content always displays in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
A good example of this challenge comes in the form of web images. If you are featuring large, eye-catching images on your home page, you may be pushing vital information down towards the bottom of the website. This forces the user to scroll down a number of times before finding the information or link they are looking for. To combat this challenge, many webmasters will hide large images from the mobile or tablet view. This gives readers a cleaner, more simplistic experience.
Usability or “user-friendliness” refers to the ease of access or use of a website. If a new visitor comes to your journal’s website, can they move through it with ease or is finding an article or specific journal information overly confusing? Creating a clear path to subscribe, submit a manuscript or download an article is the key to quality usability.
When analyzing usability, break apart the journey of the user for your website… where could the user get lost or bounce off the site? This is where you want to focus first. Improving usability is a continuous process, but fixing the most problematic pages or content sections will provide a greater return on your time.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Want your journal’s content to be easily discoverable? A solid SEO strategy is a great place to start. While SEO has been a key publishing tactic for some time, many journal websites still don’t follow best practices.
Your SEO strategy should fall into two categories: technical and content development.
On the technical side, your journal website should standardize document elements in HTML markup, utilize consistent URL structures that include page keywords or specific article titles and correctly implement 301 redirect pages pointing old pages to new ones. Additionally, Google will negatively rank your journal website if the site does not have an SSL certificate, is not optimized for mobile display or contains heavy, high-resolution graphics that slow down the site’s load time.
When it comes to content development, you want to be sure that your publishing strategy aligns with your SEO strategy. That means publishing content with the keywords and terms your audience is searching for online. If you want to rank highly for a specific topic, you need to publish quality articles about that topic.
When outlining your sitemap, think carefully about each section of your website, including the home page, informational pages, the current issue, archives, article page, search page and eCommerce page. How will a user get to each of these content sections? What navigational path will they follow? What keywords will they search for? What content do you need to publish to connect with these keywords?
Answering these questions will help you build a solid SEO strategy and lead to greater organic search traffic.
How long does it take the web browser to load your journal website? In today’s fast-paced digital era, users will only give your website a few seconds to load before they bounce to a different website or back to the search results page.
If you don’t know how your journal website is performing, there are a number of free tools you can use.
Test My Site allows you to enter your website URL and view a free website report. HubSpot Website Grader will grade your website based on performance and other technical factors. Google PageSpeed Insights will tell you how fast your pages load and what you can do to speed the site up.
In 2010, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) published standards for digital technology to ensure information is accessible to all people. To make your site more accessible, use ALT tags on images that include a detailed description of the graphic. ALT tags should also include SEO keywords so that Google can accurately index images in its search results.
Fonts, including size and type, color contrast and line length all fall under accessibility. Read more about the requirements from the ADA website. Failure to include these could possibly result in legal action.
Complying with Google Scholar Requirements
Adhering to certain Google requirements also fall under the category of UX design.
Google Scholar has specific requirements for both individual authors and journal publishers. If Google Scholar can’t index your website correctly, it will not be listed with relevant search terms on Google Scholar.
Many of these requirements are automated by the leading online publishing platforms, including Allen Press’ Silverchair platform. Some of the major Google Scholar requirements include:
- Display articles in PDF – this helps Google Scholar crawl and index article pages. PDF files must have searchable content via the search functionality of Adobe Acrobat Reader.
- Show abstracts – Google Scholar uses abstracts in the results display. Positioning the full abstract towards the top of the article page is vital to be indexed and ranked.
- Configure meta-tags – a proper tag needs to be added to the content for Google Scholar to index it properly. Incorrect tags may result in the journal article being indexed incorrectly and not showing up in the search engine results.
How Allen Press Can Help Improve Your Website’s UX Strategy
Allen Press is a leader in scholarly and scientific publishing and is dedicated to helping society publishers grow content dissemination and enhance discoverability. With our new partnership with Silverchair and team of digital marketing, design and publishing experts, we can help improve your journal website’s UX as well as create a comprehensive digital publishing strategy.