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Create and Serve Accessible Content to Your Audience

How might you change the content on your website if your audience was likely to view it while under great stress, in 90 seconds, on a mobile device, off the highway in a gas station bathroom?

Nonprofits helping domestic violence and sex trafficking survivors face this challenge. They must ask:

  • Does this homepage image slow the site’s download speed too much?
  • Are the phone links one touch to call?
  • Is the text easy to read when the reader is rushed and stressed?
  • Is the most relevant content unmissable?

Fortunately, the extra time spent meeting the needs of this audience likely creates a better experience for all who visit the site.

Parents avoid jostling sleeping babies in strollers, delivery people easily push their rolling carts, and travelers can smoothly wheel their bags to and from the sidewalk.

Walk in your audience’s shoes

Though you care fervently about your content, it may occupy only a small (hopefully important) moment in the busy lives of others. Here are some ways to make those moments matter for more people.

Lower your expectations

I’ve conducted or watched hundreds of usability tests in my career, asking participants to perform tasks on a website, app, or other digital system. It’s stunning how much people miss, skip, and/or ignore even when I’m paying them to complete the tasks while our team watches. Increasingly, audiences’ attention seems scattered even when they focus.

Use the inverted pyramid style of writing to get important ideas first in your copy. Choose easily understood graphics. Produce short, to-the-point videos.

Prioritize and provide extra care for special audiences

You should know which persona(s) your content is for and which persona group is your highest priority. When I worked on a domestic violence-related website, we always prioritized the survivors’ needs. Yes, we hoped donors and others would get our messages too, but they were less important user groups.

Providing a trauma-informed website or reaching English as a second language (ESL) learners requires more attention than normal. Think carefully about your audience members. in What is unique about them? What do they worry about? What language and words do they use among themselves? Are they marginalized in any way? This is where accurate, data-informed personas can help you remember goals, behaviors, mindsets, and context.

Ensure that everybody on your content team understands the nuances of the audience. For example, a trauma-informed website would be careful to avoid using potentially triggering photos or videos. An app catering to a large ESL population would use direct phrases, not idioms. The more your team understands the audience and relevant context, the more likely your content will succeed.

Plan for everyone if necessary

If you work for the government or a hospital – or any other business serving the general public – you may be thinking, “But everyone is my audience.” You may find yourself needing to plan for a huge range of people and their needs.

Past thinking assumed that accommodating about 80% of your audience was sufficient. But that’s still one in five people turned away by your content. Will you tell the boss, or will I?

A more modern and inclusive approach suggests that if you cover your extreme cases, you’ll take care of everyone.

Again, your personas come into play here. Do you have a persona that represents the user group with poor vision or shaky hands or low technical understanding? Do you also have a persona for a young software engineer with high expectations? And can you keep both in mind as you develop content?

Find people in that audience group

You need to speak with people with representative goals and situations. If that’s impossible, you may have to use people as proxies who know the group well. It’s not ideal, but testing with people with some relevancy is better than not testing at all or testing with co-workers.

Standard usability testing with tasks and questions related to content tells you a ton. This is a perfect place to start with your website or app. You also can test a competitor’s content for direction and to avoid missteps

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