It's easy to underestimate how far a few small tweaks can go to improving your website or application's user experience. In this post, I'll share one example of how a UX audit led to increased user engagement and member signup for one of our clients, The Neurosurgical Atlas.
The Neurosurgical Atlas is an online educational resource devoted to advanced microneurosurgical techniques. The website is curated by Dr. Aaron Cohen-Gadol, Professor of Neurosurgery at Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine. We’ve been working with Dr. Cohen since 2015 as his web development partners for The Neurosurgical Atlas, providing ongoing website maintenance and updates over time, including improvements to the site’s user experience.
We recently focused our efforts on a brief UX audit (sort of like a “UX check-up”) as a proactive measure to look under the surface to identify specific areas of user friction and come up with targeted solutions to hand over to our developers for implementation.
User Experience Research
UX Audit Objectives
The Neurosurgical Atlas includes a comprehensive collection of videos, images, webinars, and documentation related to neurosurgical treatment. It’s a leading and trusted source of information in the field, capturing roughly 18,000 sessions and 9,000 users a month. While all the content on the website is provided free of charge, the Volumes section does require signing up for a free membership. Starting out, we were aware that there may be issues surrounding signup, and there could be an opportunity to generate more memberships.
With a cursory glance at Google Analytics, we saw that around 3,000 of the 9,000 site visitors a month were new visitors (about a third), but the new member signup rate felt slow at about 300-350 new members each month. We also noticed that the Volumes content was the most popular content (which, as mentioned previously, requires a free signup), and we continued to speculate why more new users weren't signing up. Was there a language barrier (only 25% of users were from the US)? Were there sign up roadblocks on mobile devices (50% usage was on mobile)?
User Surveys & Personas
We surveyed active users, receiving close to 500 responses. Based on their feedback, we developed provisional personas to continue to shape our understanding of users. Current members consisted mostly of surgeons looking to brush up on procedures before an operation or students looking for more exposure to surgeries.
The next step included direct observation of how users interacted with the website, specifically during signup. We used Mouseflow to record user interactions, track form conversions, and review sitewide clicks and heatmap data. After watching recorded sessions of people trying to access the restricted volumes content, we began to see some patterns. There were a few issues preventing users from signing up and accessing content. From a lack of clear messaging to a cumbersome signup process, we were able to pinpoint specific areas for improvement.
User Experience Recommendations
As a general rule, we know that most users don’t read content fully. They scan and scroll. We saw that there was a lack of consistent, concise instructional messaging across the site, and users were sometimes unaware they needed to sign up to access content. In certain cases, users who clicked on a link to access content were directed to login page without explanation or context (or even a link to sign up).
We redesigned areas with messaging (and added messaging where it was needed) to clarify the process and drive users to sign up. We also used buttons when possible instead of light blue text links for a more prominent call to action. Now, when a user is not logged in and tries to access restricted content, they will be brought to a page with clear callouts and instructions to log in or sign up.
The signup process was also cumbersome. The form was long and didn’t have clear error messages. We observed that some users scanned the entire length of the form and then quickly left the page. On top of that, when a user completed signup, they often didn’t know they needed to verify their email before accessing content, leading to more frustration.
To solve this, we created a quicker signup form. We removed all of the extra questions, only keeping the required fields for name, email, and password. We also removed the unnecessary step of email authentication, so now users are immediately logged in upon signing up.
We also found that the top of the homepage (extremely valuable space) was greatly underutilized. It's the first page most visitors see, but the design failed to clearly present relevant and useful information. It wasn't clear where to focus or what to read. There was too much emphasis on the photos in the slider and not enough messaging for context.
We redesigned the top of the homepage (utilizing color, typeface treatment, buttons, and spacing) to draw more attention to the Volumes content and how to access it through clear messaging and call to actions.
After we implemented our changes, new member signups nearly tripled. Now about 30% of new site visitors are signing up (compared only 10% of new site visitors signing up before we had implemented our changes). Along with increased membership, there's also been an approximate 10% increase in the average number of sessions per month. Based on our research and observations, we were able to recommend solutions and make adjustments that eliminated confusion and roadblocks for users trying to signup and access content. It only took a few targeted modifications to improve the user experience and drive desired results.
“The team at Foster Made is beyond extraordinary and amazing. As a neurosurgeon, I have very high expectations for perfection and they satisfied all my requests and beyond. I have worked with other companies on the same project before meeting Foster Made and there is absolutely no way one can compare the superior work of the Foster Made team to those of others.”
- Dr. Aaron Cohen-Gadol
Advancing a website is an ongoing process. It's important to monitor a website's user experience on a regular basis and allow space and time to refine specific features. Performing UX audits from time to time reveals user pain points that need to be taken care of immediately as well as those to address in future site iterations. In this case, improving signup was our first action, and we know from survey responses that improving search will be our next priority. It's important, especially in light of increasing member sign ups, that we continue to ensure the website serves its users well. Small tweaks here and there all contribute towards improving the overall user experience, which has a significant impact on the success of the website.