Everyone could benefit from making their site more visitor-friendly. User experience matters. Here are a few examples to illustrate why.
Scenario #1a: Users can’t find what they’re looking for on your site. The content on your site should be quickly found by your visitors and without a hassle. You don’t want your visitors spending half of their time on your site looking for content because they may then spend less time absorbing that information and more time remembering that they had a bad experience. Consequently, navigation or organizational frustrations will likely cloud their perceived value of your site.
Now consider scenario #1b: A particular visitor read and enjoyed some content in a section of your website. He left your site without bookmarking the section’s main page because he didn’t have the time to do so. (This happens to me. I don’t bookmark every informative page I find, and even if I did, I may not want to spend the time to search my bookmarks for that page.) Upon returning to your site, the visitor uses your site navigation to quickly find the section he is looking for. The process used to find that page was fast because your site’s navigation was clear and well though out. The user didn’t have to think about the various ways information on your site could be organized, choose the one that made most sense to him and then try to navigate through the site accordingly – a hit or miss option, to say the least. Instead, a logical organization scheme (information architecture) was provided and the user’s navigation was seamless — and therefore positive.
If the site owner wanted to know whether the returning visitor came from another site, a search engine or directly (i.e. clicking a bookmark in their browser or typing the web page’s address in their browser), Google Analytics and/or cookies could easily help.
Scenario #2: Your on-site search functionality doesn’t return accurate/comprehensive results. Imagine that a visitor to your site, after reading and enjoying your content on a particular topic, returns to your site in search of a specific paragraph on a specific page. The visitor does not remember how she found that particular page or article, and tries to use your on-site search functionality (the search box usually on the top right of the pages) to locate the content only to become annoyed and frustrated when that search functionality returns no relevant or close results. There are many reasons why your site’s search functionality failed, maybe you’ve embedded that content in a picture or in an Adobe Flash file – so it’s not crawl-able by external search engines or your site’s internal search functionality. Or maybe the search-feature itself is a poor one and its keyword search and retrieval capabilities are weak.
In addition to your site’s search functionality, the user could have attempted to use the browser’s own search functionality which will only search the page that the user is currently on. (The browser’s search functionality can usually be invoked by the Find command in the Edit menu.)
If you are using Google Analytics, and SiteSearch is configured, you can see reports of everything that visitors search for (and analyze the bounce rate for each search phrase). Google Analytics, by itself, cannot report when visitors employ the browser’s search functionality.
Hopefully these scenarios will tempt you to consider UXO (user experience optimization), and its benefits to your visitors and your word-of-mouth advertising reach.
The hardest parts of a website re-design or improvement are the aspects of the site that are not immediately visible. We can all form a quick opinion on the look and feel of a site, but critical aspects, like usability, navigation and user experience, are harder to assess. The way a visitor can and does move through a site shapes their experience on that site in a significant way. It is not enough to make a site clean, informative and aesthetically pleasing, the controls and navigation must be intuitive and clear as well. Page organization under category topics must be logical and functional. Once the user has found the desired information, they must be able to easily navigate back to the start, or onto related pages.
It is often difficult for designers and developers to assess the usability of a site, as they tend to be over-familiar with the design and the back-end, and have never been a true user of the site. When implementing a re-design or new navigation, have colleagues and associates test the site for these navigational and usability issues, and take their feedback seriously. Watch how they navigate through the menu, and how they use features of the site to find desired information. Then, if you must, give up some design high ground, and modify your structure to give your visitors the smoothest possible experience!
Search is becoming ever so popular, as we have seen a great migration from tradition media to internet search. The numbers are in and people have shifted their buying habits and research to the online medium in droves. There are an abundance of websites to choose from when conducting a search. Yes, we’ve said it many times, it is very important to have your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy and your Search Engine Marketing (SEM) strategy in place to make sure you show up, but, if that’s all you do, you’ve only gotten your customer to your doorstep. What are you doing in order to get a prospect to then come in, take a look around, and feel excited and comfortable enough to actually buy something, or want more information about your product or service?
If you haven’t given thought to what prospects do once they get to your website, or if you are using analytics and aren’t sure why your bounce rate is so high, I would look at the obvious question… what pages are you sending your prospects to? I would then most certainly conduct testing of the landing pages your prospects arrive at on your site (or your doorstep). You want to make sure that your landing pages are attractive and give your prospects a clear call to action so that you aren’t missing your chance to show them what you have to offer!
Google AdWords has a very nice feature, called Website Optimizer and through this tool, you can very conveniently conduct a controlled test of your landing page’s effectiveness. Google Analytics has a great reporting functionality that works in conjunction with the Optimizer tool in order to run reporting and analyze which pages are performing better. What good is a test without analysis? You may be pleasantly surprised what you perceive is effective and what your prospects are actually reacting to! Since they are the ones that buy your product, let them help you determine what they want from you when they visit your site.
There are various approaches to testing landing pages, whether you decide to conduct an A/B comparison, or if you want to conduct a multivariate test in which you test various layouts of the same page. Whatever type of test you decide, do your research first. There are a multitude of articles that you can find that give advice. Make sure you plan ahead, test out pages that are popular enough to be visited (or your test will take an unreasonably long time to conduct), run the test long enough to capture adequate data, and of course, make necessary changes to the website.
Like anything else in marketing, conduct tests often, because buying habits and trends come and go. Conducting a test once satisfactorily doesn’t mean it will continue to be effective in the future.