Modeling and designing your website’s user experience means attempting to understand all aspects of the user’s online and offline interaction with your company, and how the site is perceived, learned, and used in order to make informed decisions that will improve your users’ experiences.
Designing a great user experience or “UX” sounds like a tall order, but this post will provide you with some of the resources you’ll need to create content that will meet visitors’ expectations.
Web writing, Web design, and blogging consultant Lorelle VanFossen said in a recent presentation, “Every user experience journey begins with the words ‘I want…’, ‘I need…’ or ‘how to…’” Users will pursue a relationship with your organization while looking for answers to a want, need, or problem.
In her July 2011 presentation at the Word11 Prefix online conference, VanFossen laid out three UX pillars for website content:
- Identify the needs, the wants, and the how to’s— The first step to UX design is identify what your visitors are looking for from their experience with your website. This requires research – it’s important for you and your designers not to rely solely on your own opinions and preferences. Talk to some trusted clients, conduct surveys, consult with subject matter experts, and do whatever else is needed to understand your visitors.This knowledge will help you identify your target audience and articulate your user goals.
- Find the key sources, and platforms— UX design requires some sleuthing to find out about the competition – what websites are luring in your potential visitors and how well they answer users’ needs.It’s also important to note that the Internet has a complex topography, and you must identify wherediscussions are happening. They could be happening on blogs, Twitter, forums, or mailing lists, so make sure you look at all possible platforms.By knowing what the current discussions are about and where they’re happening, you can identify competitors’ strategies, evaluate what topics are most popular so you can join the conversation with your own content – especially if you can identify content that is being overlooked.
- Look for the gap and fill it— Once you know about your target audience, its goals, and what options they currently have, examine what competing websites are doing. Analyse their strengths and weaknesses, and determine the areas in which your website (and your organization) can complete, and in which ones it cannot.You should be able to find a gap between what your target audience expects and what is currently available to them. This will help define the UX challenges to solve. For instance, if the competition is all competing on price, you can engineer a UX that emphasizes quality, customer service and support, product knowledge, or anything else that differentiates you.For a small business that competes with larger corporations, this could be emphasizing the benefits of “local” or direct access to the owners. An independent burger joint, for instance, could discuss the locally sourced tomatoes and lettuce it uses, or show pictures of the business owners visiting a local farmers market to buy choice cuts of meat.
Finding your niche often involves asking yourself what the competition is not talking about.
Make your touch points count
Your website is a major point of customer interaction or “touch point”, but it certainly isn’t the only one. Roll your UX research into all your touch points. From an initial phone call to the payment of your invoice, there are various “touch points” with customers in a typical business relationship. VanFossen says “Touch points are the dots on the map of their journey, where they encounter your business.” She says, “These are the moments where you connect, and have an opportunity to create a relationship.”
UX Magazine suggests coming up with at least10 touchpoints. Examples include sending a birthday card, or calling every month or quarter to ask how business is doing. These touch points are all opportunities to make a connection. One touch point we tried to perfect is our outgoing phone message. Call 416-410-3266 when you have a chance and let us know what you think of our (hopefully friendly and fun) message!
On our website, we thought an important touch point was ourContact Page. Instead of a generic number, we added all the people in our office to show how accessible (and friendly!) we are. We even had our ladybug help people find out “How do I get here?”
Website UX design can have a profound impact
A great example of a business that was able to change its online UX is outdoor sports and clothing store REI. A main part of the in-store REI experience is that employees can offer customers expert advice. Initially, the REI website didn’t offer the expertise provided at the brick-and-mortar store, which led customers to look elsewhere on the Web for product advice and reviews.
Recognizing this, UX designer Samantha Starmer helped translate the in-store experience into the online experience. by integrating expert advice and reviews into product pages. The site now includes dozens of online how-to articles and videos from REI’s vast pool of outdoor knowledge with timeless advice on topics like how to fit your backpack, and even more modern lessons like how to go “geocaching”.
Recreating the experience of having an expert on-hand while shopping online helped transform the UX at rei.com, making visitors more confident in their purchasing decisions, and reinforcing the impression that REI knows its products well, are focused on quality, and providing customers with the information they need.
For a small business touting the expertise of the owner and his or her availability, you could add an “Ask Bob” form. You could even integrate a live chat feature into your site using Google Talk or though a hosted service like Live2Support, or RealChat.
Gauging the effect of UX design
There are a variety of tools that you can use to identify user goals and gauge the quality of their UX. A simple way is to use tools like Google Analytics which provide statistics on your site’s visitors. Google Analytics can be used to help determine if your website is meeting your business goals, and it can be set up to show traffic changes over time. It can also specifically help track conversions, search traffic and keywords used, traffic location, and the effect of social networks.
The regular use of an analytics tool, along with a heavy dose of clever analysis, can help you make informed decisions on the direction of your UX design.
Make sure that you benefit too
The hallmark of a good UX is that customers get what they want, what they need, and you get what you want. You have to make UX choices that don’t just satisfy visitor needs, but ones that also meet your organization’s goals. For instance, you could make it easy for visitors to get valuable information by giving away your knowledge in a whitepaper or report for free, but you lose an opportunity to gain a lead. Instead, try providing a Call To Action (or CTA) form that gives your knowledge in exchange for the visitors contact information. Good UX means that everyone wins.
Have any UX challenges or experiences you want to share? Please let us know!
We’ll be covering more UX topics on Online Friendly, and Kobayashi Online is always available to help you align your website UX and your specific business goals.