By Sharon A.M. MacLean
I’m hearing this lately: “Our website isn’t performing…we don’t get any leads…prospects never contact us, let alone customers.”
The message hits close to home for many businesses. Website owners often think the conversion of site visitors to full-fledged customers happens automatically–just because they’ve hired a website designer to launch their digital property.
In 1997, my magazine’s first website performed much like a print brochure. Read: old school. After seven or eight iterations over the next 12 years, we had yet to publish a blog, link with Facebook or host a PayPal account. We weren’t able to accept advertising, register for special events, or engage subscribers; Twitter was eight years away from driving followers to the site.
Thank goodness we had the prescience to build and maintain a database of about 5,000 fans.
In those early days, ecommerce was in its infancy. Amazon had launched their first site on July 5, 1994, while retail giant Marks and Spencer was opening its online doors for the first time – becoming an early ‘bricks and mortar’ entry into the world of credit card commerce.
My own next big web experience came with an investor-backed portal that provided marketing services to wellness experts such as family physicians, dentists, psychologists, nutritionists, and personal trainers. The website drew on big talent from IT engineering, graphic design, social media, live streaming television, web radio, and content creation.
There was a lot of ‘making it up as we went along’ combined with tried-and-true methods for sales and marketing. The concept had merit, yet, we rarely tested copy and there was no time to ask about our visitors—what they liked and disliked, their online habits or purchasing behaviours. For example, Google analytics allowed us to track visitor activities but we did not know who they were and why they behaved as they did.
The missing piece was knowing more about the website’s user experience—affectionately known today as UX.
Those who work on UX (called UX designers) study and evaluate how visitors feel about your website. Such things as ease of use, perceived value of services offered, and efficiencies are tested along the way.
UX designers also look “under the hood”. For example, they might study the checkout process to see how easy—or frustrating—it is to make a purchase. They also pay close attention to Web forms.
UX is relatively new. The term “user experience” was coined by Dr. Donald Norman (pictured above) best known for his books on design, especially The Design of Everyday Things. His message? Systems that ask the user to carry out many tasks must be regarded as a walk in the park: pleasant and without potholes.
Business owners thinking about ecommerce websites risk big losses in revenue by neglecting the user experience. Please trust me on this one.
UX AND USABILITY DIFFER
By the way, user experience and usability are not the same. UX tells us how a visitor feels about your website system. Did they love their experience? Usability is about how well the interface works.
Of course, usability is important. Yet, it’s the human considerations such as psychology, information architecture, and attractive design that also play major roles.
3 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT UX
There are often two types of website visitors today– those who know what they are looking for and those looking to be inspired. Like window shoppers. Here’s how UX contributes to both sides of the ledger: expense and revenue.
USER SURVEYS: A UX designer interviews existing and potential users of the system to gain insight into what would be the most effective design. Because the user’s experience is subjective, the best way to directly obtain information is by studying and interacting with users.
WIREFRAMES AND PROTOTYPES: Based on their findings, UX specialists might develop wireframes showing different layouts as well as prototypes presenting higher-fidelity devices. A nice touch, especially when you’re thinking about incorporating, say, expensive live streaming.
USER PROFILES AND PERSONAS: A thorough understanding of your audience enables UX specialists to develop experiences that reflect the voice and emotions of potential clients. In my estimation, this is the only safe way to go. Otherwise, the train you want to build won’t even even leave the station.
CAN YOU AFFORD UX?
Small and medium-sized businesses often carry out much of their own sales and marketing activities by themselves. If there’s a budget for their website, the focus is more on the build process and less on planning, research and analysis. Companies with small budgets will be driven more by the launch of the final product.
LARGER COMPANIES WITH MORE COMPLEX INITIATIVES–AND TIME
Digital designers can supply anyone with a website template–fast. Adding a new element to the process will extend the timeline. It’s the advance thought that benefits website owners by saving costs down the road in revision phases and missing the mark of delivering a good experience for their users.
A useful website caters to researchers as well as to window shoppers. We want clear navigational links, solid search tools, and stimulating content with good images for clients and prospects to do business with you.
Life-long communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a traditional print magazine over 21 years for business people. She now applies her enhanced knowledge in digital marketing to the needs of her clients and believes in the value of combining the best of both worlds.