So often when looking at how to make a website better, it can be easy to get distracted and think only about the ways to drive more traffic. You can get lost in SEO projects or technical improvements to site speed and structure. It can be easy to sail past creating a better experience for the user (although site speed definitely contributes to this.)
Good marketing is empathetic towards the customer. Your site is no exception to this. You need to think about your site from the customer’s point of view. Look first at where it might be letting them down.
Often you can make small changes to a site that make it easier for potential customers to use. When they get the information they want to consume they will be more likely to take some kind of action. Any change you want to make will require looking at the user experience first.
Improving Your Website Through User Experience
The first step for improving your website is to create a good user experience. You need to build a streamlined website that delivers what what the user is looking for. If you can do this it will be a success.
“User experience (UX)”, according to usability.gov, “focuses on having a deep understanding of users, what they need, what they value, their abilities, and also their limitations. It also takes into account the business goals and objectives of the group managing the project.”
In short, it’s about how you can create a valuable experience for the user that delivers what they are looking for.
A good user experience should follow a similar pattern in most cases:
- The user arrived at your website
- Scrolled through it
- Got what they wanted
The first requirement for great UX is to fulfil the users needs. Good UX does this with simplicity and elegant design. At the core of UX is ensuring that you are providing value to users. This value can be split into multiple facets, which Peter Morville represents through his User Experience Honeycomb.
I prefer to divide this honeycomb into two groups: those that affect the substance of your site (covered here) and those affecting its form, or structure (this will be covered in Part II). The two are not mutually exclusive, but I think this is a logical way to split them.
These are the content elements of your site that add value to the users time on the site or form the content hosted on it.
Valuable – Brand Values and Distinguishing Your Website
What Is It?
Morville maintains “your site must contribute to the bottom line and improve customer satisfaction.” Your website is the online representation of your company. It should go further than just satisfy the customer or generate revenue. It should represent your business, its values and mission both in design language and tone of voice.
When a user arrives on your site they should experience what is unique about your brand. They should get an understanding of your values and mission. This doesn’t mean that you have your values and mission plastered over the entire website. However, they should come through in your visuals and copy to give the right user the feeling that this is the place for them. This is best explained through the examples below.
Questions to Ask
- Does my site clearly represent the brand?
- Does it represent our mission statement and values?
- Could my site be easily confused with competitors?
- Does my represent our customers?
Examples to Follow
Patagonia’s main goal with their website is to drive users to purchase. However, the site also represents their brand values really well.
Patagonia’s core values are grounded in sustainability and taking an active stance on environmentalism. Even their criteria for the best product rests on function, repairability, and, foremost, durability. In this way, they can limit the ecological impact with goods that last for generations or can be recycled so the materials in them remain in use.
They represent these values on their homepage with a beautiful video that grabs their visitors attention, while also clearly demonstrating their environmental stance. The current video is a trailer for a feature-length documentary about America’s public lands and the fight to protect them. Their second menu item is Activism, which again, points to their values as a company.
The site is a great example of usability. It has a simple navigation that allows you to shop, learn more about environmentalism or read content.
The site illustrates the importance of simplicity of design. It doesn’t give users too many options while, at the same time, clearly communicates the values of the brand. I really love this site and think it’s a great example for most of the different facets of design. As far as representing the company values, this site is one of the best at clearly communicating what it stands for. If you buy their products you are also buying into their values.
Adobe‘s core values are rooted in “creativity for all, empowering digital businesses, imagining tomorrow to give our customers an edge.” When you land on their homepage nearly all these elements are evident through their content.
Their current competition to design Lady Gaga’s poster speaks to this idea of democratising creativity. The first image, “The future of photography. Here today.”, points to their values of “imagining tomorrow to give our customers an edge”.
Again, there aren’t too many options here. The site presents itself in a succinct format with a menu that breaks the site into different user groups.
What Is It?
There are so many sites out there so you need to ensure the time users spend on your site is worthwhile to them and is useful.
You need to ensure your content, product or service is presented in a way that adds value to your site and to the person viewing it. Part of winning over customers online involves giving them what they are looking for.
Things become more complex when there are multiple, varying items users are searching out. Sometimes they may not know what they are looking for at all. This is where the structure of your site is so important. It needs to guide the user to what they want to find, or didn’t know they needed.
Questions to Ask
- Does my website satisfy users requirements?
- Is it adding value to my users?
- Does it create an appetite for more? Will it get them to return for more?
- Is it useful enough to sell my product?
Examples to Follow
Monday.com does an excellent job keeping its website condensed and organised, while delivering the user all they need to know to encourage trial.
People who land on Monday.com are likely looking for a resource management tool and Monday.com efficiently shows theirs in use. Sometimes users will just be looking for a product to solve their challenge, so it’s important that product is clearly demonstrated.
If Monday.com’s main user base consists of people who need a way to manage people or teams, they quickly demonstrate the value of their product on the homepage.
Digital Photography School
Digital Photography School is a “website with simple tips to help digital camera owners get the most out of their cameras.” It’s a straightforward site that clearly gives amateur photographers exactly what they want. Its usefulness is evident.
Digital Photography School is clearly laid out with simple navigation to what you might be looking for.
The content and how useful it is sells the courses as users develop from requiring simple tips to needing intermediate guidance. They aren’t giving all their content here, but providing just enough useful information to get you hooked and into their sales funnel.
Desirability – Presentation and Alignment with your Audience
What Is It?
Your image, identity, brand, values and other elements of emotional design will play a pivotal role in making your brand or products desirable.
- Patagonia uses emotive imagery that promotes adventure, as well as their focus on environmental activism. This grand imagery represents the company’s massive ambition to effect change in the world, and speaks to people who search boundless adventure.
- Monday.com’s website design is clean and minimal, which is a representation of how their product streamlines team management. This simplicity in design is something the user desires in their day to day work life, and the association can create desirability.
Questions to Ask
- Do you create desirability for your brand with your target audience through your image, identity, values, brand, messages, visual language, content, and products/service?
- Does your brand strike an emotional chord with the right user?
- Is this desire infectious? Will they want to pass it on to friends and family?
- Does it create enough desire to sell my products?
Example to Follow
Both Patagonia and Monday.com are great examples of creating desirability with their target markets image, identity, brand, etc.
At the time of writing this was the homepage for the Irish version of the Reebok site.
What makes Reebok’s website stand out from its competitors are the beautiful visual elements you’re hit with when you land on the homepage.
It’s a stand out UX with messaging and imagery that conveys that they are a fresh, trendy brand. They deal with a customer who likes to see themselves as fresh and trendy (I’m one of them :P). This alignment between what the brand stands for and how the consumer sees themselves, makes the brand and products desirable.
You can get the right consumers to your site who align themselves with what you stand for and what it means to buy your products, without creating a desire for your products. To create that desire, you need to have a website that leverages the right visual language and content. This is vital to persuade them to purchase. Reebok achieves this perfectly (while researching this blog I ended up buying a pair of shoes advertised on the home page! :0)
What Is It?
On the face of it, this is a fairly straightforward element. Credibility speaks to how trustworthy your site is. The rise in fake news has us all questioning how trustworthy online sources are so it’s vital your site and its content look the part.
Someone sees your ad, they click on it, now they’re on your site. They don’t know you. For all they know you could be a front defrauding people of their money. So, what makes you credible enough for them to hand over their card details?
The Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab (SPTL) through the Web Credibility Project investigated what causes people to believe, or not, what they find online They found that 46% of people say a website’s design is the number one criteria for determining website credibility.
Customers form a first impression about your website in 50 milliseconds. There’s no conscious thought to form this opinion. It’s purely visual. An emotional reaction to the design of your site.
Credibility will be influenced by many other factors on and off your site, so here’s an expansive list of things you can do to make your site more credible. For the new visitor, however, the design of your website is vital.
Questions to Ask
- Does my brand, identity, content, and/or service build trust for the user?
- Is my website designed appropriately for my audience?
- Will users have the right emotional reaction to the design?
- Are my visuals compelling enough to convince my audience that this is a trustworthy site?
Examples to Follow
PayPal is a well recognised brand and likely earn much of their credibility from their site.
Recently there has been an explosion in this market with competition from new apps like Revolut or Venmo. In addition we have the ability to pay using Google Wallet, Apple Pay and Facebook. Many of these sites focus on a more social aspect of payments, splitting a meal out with friends for instance while PayPal focuses more on professional payments, or payments that are less likely to occur around social situations. You’ll pay for your holiday accommodation but not your meals with their platform.
The design language builds credibility with this type of user due to a simple and straightforward design and experience. There’s nothing unnecessary on the site and the minimal colour pallet and imagery develops a professional look. This allows PayPal to express that they’re a secure, reliable and credible solution simply through the presentation of their design.
Credibility can often be about living up to the user’s expectations – how they would expect your site to appear depending on the market your in. A site selling fruit juice isn’t going to be expected to have a professional design like PayPal.
Aside from providing a service, one of the main aspects of my job is working with people. I think it’s important for potential clients to see who they will be working with, so on my own site, I use my portrait throughout. This builds credibility and trust and it’s also why I have my client reviews at the top of the homepage.
I use vibrant colours because I deal mainly with young businesses and startups, so this tends to fit that space well.
The Bottom Line
One strand that runs through all these points is knowing your customer. You’ve likely been given this advice before, but it’s absolutely vital to the success of any communication outlet. Whether it’s your ads, your emails or your website.
When you invest in researching and understanding your customer, you will begin to really know them and what will motivate them to purchase from you. This will allow you to become empathetic towards their needs. You can really only design a website for your customers if you have this understanding first. Once you do, you should be able to build a high converting site for them.
In part II I look at the functional elements of the user experience and the importance of building a structurally sound site.
Interested in Marketing Strategy?
In my experience, developing a marketing strategy is fundamental to understanding your audience and business. This is the basis for creating successful communications.
I have developed a complete guide on creating a marketing strategy for your business from the ground up. It will guide you in creating your brand values, mission statement and messaging to deliver on your business and marketing goals.