We all know how important the user experience is on your website, since the purpose of a website is to engage your visitor and to interact with them. This may sound simplistic, but is very difficult to do it well. All you have to do is do a search on “Internet Marketing” and there are over 41 million potential results on Google – which tells you that there is perhaps a need for this kind of service. The difficulty for many website owners is where to go to get the best advice.
The web experience is still a one on one non real time interaction. That is, the website needs to anticipate what the user needs are and deliver that “real time” when the user lands on the website. This of course is the crux of the matter, how do you design for the user experience and how do you know that it is optimized?
This blog addresses the many different components of developing your web strategy:
For all of these entries there is a common theme of user focus and planning as critical success factors. Currently I am pulling all of this together into a book which should be available in the new year.
Enough of the pitch!
Measuring the user experience (usability, web metrics) as well as optimizing your web exposure ( social networking , Search Engine Optimization) are all predicated on the fact that your website has been properly planned and designed for your target users and will enhance their user experience. If the website is not focused or accurately represents the organizations goals and expectations from the website, then no matter how much effort is put into marketing, the website will not reach its potential.
The answer is that you have to design your website for the user experience that you want. This design is really the strategic plan, not the look and feel or information architecture at this stage. Starting with the look and feel will only be frustrating and creates confusion that ends up wasting time and spinning your wheels. To be successful requires serious strategic planning, project management and a web design plan before any coding takes place.
So what is required to design for the user experience?
- Sound organizational objectives ( usually in the form of a Vision/Mission statement)
- Well defined objectives for the website as it relates to the organizational objectives(stakeholder inputs, competitive analysis)
- An understanding of the current customer experience (web metrics, first impressions, usability analysis)
- User discovery ( workshops, persona development, user feed back)
- A strategic website plan ( how to meet your targeted users needs)
- Information architecture ( what and where your information is found on the website)
- Site map ( paper flow, wire frame, usability testing of mock up )
- Website design ( look and feel, technology, features)
- Validation ( usability,user testing,refine)
- Launch (business measures, user feedback, ongoing tracking of key performance measures)
One cannot just toss all of this over the fence to your web designers ( seeif you do the chances are your website will be disappointing and costly if you need to rework the site. Planning the right way will ultimately pay back significant financial rewards from a cost and time savings.
Good web designers, either internal or external to your organization, excel in bringing your web presence to life, that is what they do and give them a free reign to build the best website, but they can only do this if they have an intimate understanding of your business or organization and the perspective of the owners. This can happen only if you spend time and effort developing the web strategy, involve the web design team in the discovery process and be prepared to manage the project (from start to finish.
To summarize, the user experience will be positive on your website only if you plan and design the website to optimize that user experience. The results will follow and if you have an effective measurement process in place, you can then improve on that experience. The bottom line is that you have to develop your web strategy and design your website in anticipation of the users needs thus providing the desired user experience. Follow through with usability testing and user feedback to optimize this experience.
Peter de Gosztonyi is a web strategy developer and information architect for Zanka Consulting He has developed user experience web strategies for both small and large organizations.