Consumers are drivers of trends. They may come from different places and cultural backgrounds, but 2020 gave everyone a common experience. From this experience, universal behaviors and preferences emerged that are now affecting trends in web design and development.

Where Digital Trends and Consumer Expectations Meet

In August 2020, former Target executives who are now based in Minnesota looked for ways to help local retailers market their products. Taking into consideration health and safety concerns, they decided to create a web portal where local customers can shop from small retailers in the Twin Cities.

Chris Walton and Anne Mezzenga were not the only entrepreneurs in Minnesota who worked with web designers and developers to launch their websites as soon as possible. E-commerce sales in the U.S. rose from $598 billion in 2019 to $861 billion in 2020 (and that’s with 46% of small businesses in the U.S. still without a website).

But launching a website or e-commerce platform is only the first step. What’s next is enticing customers so that they will meet you halfway. When you can meet your customers’ expectations with a user-focused website or application, that’s when your buyer-seller relationship can blossom.

So on to the next step: what do online customers want these days and how do they influence web development trends?

What Online Users Look for in Websites and Apps in 2021

1. Dark mode or night mode.

Mobile internet use has been on the rise in the last decade. Americans spend an average of 5.4 hours a day on their phones reading articles, skimming social media, watching videos, playing games, and doing all of these in the dark, just before going to bed.

Unfortunately, the blue light that mobile phones and other handheld devices emit are detrimental to eye health. With prolonged exposure, the retinas may be damaged severely enough to affect eyesight.

It’s not just at nighttime that people like to use dark mode. Many also use it as the default setting for their mobile devices (so they are on “night mode” all day) because it reduces eye strain and helps save battery life.

Android phones can implement dark mode universally on a phone. This means if you downloaded an app that supports Android’s dark mode, it will automatically adopt this setting if you turn it on your phone. YouTube, Twitter, Messenger, Google Maps, and other mobile Google applications are examples.

Facebook also had a dark mode option until very recently; it caused a hilarious uproar on social media when users realized Facebook no longer supports dark mode.

What does this mean for websites? Seeing how Internet users are very appreciative of dark mode capabilities, it can also benefit your website to make the same adaptations. It's unpleasantly jarring to dark mode users when a “day mode” webpage suddenly lights up their screens. For some, this can be reason enough to leave your website and look for other sources that won’t hurt their eyes.

Don’t give people reason to leave your website before they can even decide if you have what they’re looking for. Consider working with your web developer to integrate dark mode into your website, if you haven’t already.

2. Websites that look, feel, and function like apps.

Performance and usability contribute a lot to a website’s success in ranking on Google Search and converting visits into sales. The main reason is that performance and usability enhance a visitor’s website experience. If a website is fast and visitors can easily find what they need (whether it’s information or service), they’ll stay longer and may even explore the rest of the site.

Many factors affect performance and usability. Platform-specific or native applications can improve both.

With that knowledge, today’s web development companies created progressive web apps or PWAs. These are native apps and front-end technology that can maintain a website’s performance and usability at high levels regardless of the device through which they are viewed or the quality of Internet connection.

What other benefits do progressive web apps bring to the table?

  • Websites that use PWA standards are incredibly user-friendly.
  • PWA websites look, feel, and work like mobile apps.
  • Visitors can still explore a PWA website when the Wi-Fi is weak, and even when they’re offline.

Starbucks’s website is an excellent example of this. Even when viewed on a desktop the website shows a minimalist design made up of sections with short, descriptive texts and straightforward CTA buttons. Starbucks PWA allows users to access the menu and add orders to their cart even while offline.

Thanks to PWA, the number of Starbucks’s daily active users grew twice and desktop orders soared to almost the same rate as mobile app orders.

If your business model is similar to Starbucks or if you see the potential for increased online conversions if your website speed and user experience (UX) factors improve, then you should definitely talk about progressive web apps with your website designers and developers.

3. Websites that read well and load fast on mobile devices.

Sixty-six percent or about 5.22 billion people use a mobile phone. Mobile internet connectivity (also includes tablet users) has now reached 8.02 billion.

Even if you trim these staggering numbers down to a more realistic population respective to your industry, the point remains that being accessible to mobile users has to be a priority, otherwise you’ll miss out.

To recap: mobile searches exceeded desktop searches as early as 2015. Google, recognizing the trend, changed its indexing priorities and announced that it will crawl and rank the mobile versions of webpages. All other ranking factors being constant — page loading speed, content quality, uniformity of structured data, time spent on-page, on-page activity, bounce rate — mobile-friendly websites have a better chance of ranking higher on Google Search compared to non-optimized sites.

Desktop-optimized websites can still appear on mobile search, but they are unlikely to convince visitors to stay longer than necessary. The pages are difficult to read and navigate on a small screen: the text is tiny and users must drag the page from left to right to read every single line, for starters. These make for a very unpleasant on-page experience and can cause visitors to leave the site.

You don't need a survey or a case study to know that if given the choice between a mobile-friendly website and an unoptimized site, visitors will most likely choose the former.

4. Single-page websites.

The appeal of single-page websites (SPWs) is similar to PWA sites.

  • They load fast - SPWs upload a much smaller volume of content and data compared to traditional websites with tens or hundreds of internal pages.
  • They are user-friendly - Visitors only have to scroll up or down to explore the entire site. This is also a good exercise in polishing your branding and marketing message since you have a limited space for content on your site.
  • They are very easy to navigate - If the page gets too long for leisurely scrolling, you can ask your web developer to add tabs or quick links above the fold that will bring visitors directly to the section they indicate.

Since everything is on the same page, it’s usually a good idea to keep the layout simple and the content easy to digest. Of course, a minimalist website design and minimal content also look good on a smaller screen, which is a bonus for the increasing numbers of mobile internet users.

Creating single-page websites is also an advantage for website owners, designers, and developers. They take much less time and resources to make compared to multi-page websites. Websites that aren’t content-heavy or do not require frequent updates are ideal for SPWs.

For those smaller sites, this is format is a win-win: for the site with limited content, it satisfies the preferences of internet users today and it saves you time and money to create it.

5. Single-page applications (SPA)

Conventional, native mobile apps are pretty much like websites: they have a home page and internal pages, all of which need to reload when you re-enter them. The loading time is often only a few seconds, but as we know about web-based consumers, every second they have to wait for is one second too long (and that can have financial repercussions on the brand or company, as well).

SPAs satisfy Internet users’ need for speed and ease of use.  

  • The HTML, CSS and scripts of an SPA are all loaded when visitors first enter the app. As the user scrolls down or up, the app only has to transmit the on-page data through the servers. The result is a smooth, highly responsive app that doesn’t depend on constant client-server communication.
  • Users can still enjoy full functionality even if they have poor Internet connection. An SPA will send a request to the servers only once then caches all the data locally. So if a user’s connection slows down for any reason, the app can still work.
  • SPAs are easier to build and optimize. Besides the fact that it needs minimal coding and content, SPAs allow teams to focus on their expertise: for back-end developers to work on the API and for front-end developers to design a user-friendly interface while keeping the spirit of the brand intact.

Examples of SPAs are Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Pinterest, and Netflix.

6. Helpful chatbots that don’t waste people’s time.

PWAs, SPWs, and SPAs — Internet users love them not just because of the speed but also because they satisfy the people’s increasing preference for “self-service.” Basically, the less that customers need to interact with customer support, the better their impression of a website or application will be.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that customers want a perfect website. Rather, they want to be given the tools to try and solve problems on their own without having to talk to a real person at customer service. Chatbots are instrumental in meeting this expectation.

Chatbots have existed long before now, why are they having a resurgence in popularity?

Probably because they are now more conversational and strategic. Before, most chatbots only asked one question (“What can I help you with?”), redirect customers to a form, ask them to fill out and submit their concerns or inquiries, then end the interaction with a generic message (“Wait for a reply from our customer support.”).

Chatbots do more now:

  • Answer questions quickly - Instead of making customers do the work and send their questions, the chatbot can provide a list of FAQs. Customers can click on a question and get the answer in seconds. Speed and convenience: again, two things that are important to consumers today.
  • Nudge customers further down the conversion funnel - You can design a chatbot to guide customers in sending payments or claiming refunds. Yes-or-no questions or instructions on what the user should do next (e.g., “When you’re ready, click the button below to finalize your payment.”) can lead customers through process from start to finish without any human interaction. If you were looking for ideas on how to nudge customers, these chatbots are excellent examples of interactive self-service features.
  • Give customers control in the buyer’s journey - Chatbots can satisfy people’s increasing preference for self-service (a shift that started as early as 2018). Nothing annoys customers more than when they call customer service only to be told to check the app or website for instructions. If this is indeed the answer to an inquiry, customers will receive it better if it comes from a chatbot on the website instead of a customer service agent on a long-distance call.
  • Provide customer assistance 24/7- Chatbots can cover some ground for businesses on off hours or are busy attending to other business matters. You can make better use of your time by getting on the phone or live chat only when a concern must be addressed by a human.

Explore Possibilities

If you are considering a website update in the near future, now would be a good time to go back to the drawing board and consider possibilities and new directions for your website or app. Identify which user/customer trends matter the most to your company and explore the ways you can use them to bring out the best in your products and services. More importantly, work with a trusted web development company that can bring this vision to come to life.

Roger Sievers
Sievers Creative
Roger Sievers started freelancing in 2004, he started a marketing company which became Sievers Creative in 2010. He started the business to offer small to medium sized businesses, all of the skills of a big city marketing agency at a cost local businesses could afford. Since then Sievers Creative has grown to a team of 8 and serves hundreds of clients in the region.

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User Trends to Consider in Web Development