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The Optimal Website User Experience (Part 2)

5 June 2012 BY

Last month I wrote about my experiences on how I recently for the first time had been involved with website re-design and creating valuable on-site directions for site visitors to improve the user’s online experience. In my first post I talked about the ‘Flow’ Notion, Identifying Your Visitors Online Persona, The 4 Online Personas, Trust and a Community and Social User Experience.

This is part two of my learnings in which I will be talking about looking at your competitors, mobile and devices, perceived affordance and the differences between offline and online customer experience management.

Find Out What Your Competitors Are Doing

Once you’ve figured out who your visitors are it might be worth to take a leave out of the marketing book and start doing some surveillance on your ‘enemies’, namely your competitors.

Search engine surveillance

Go and perform some search engine surveillance on competitors especially if they have done their SEO homework. On their website the title of the pages will be related to the content seen by visiting the URL. This is useful to generate content ideas for yourself as well as potential titles you could use in an amended practice to rank a tiny bit higher. If that doesn’t prove to be helpful you should try keyword searches to see results related to your service/product which will give you new keyword opportunities to be taken into account. Simply use Adwords type in the domain name and collect the keywords your competitor domains rank for both in SEO terms as well as PPC.

Their websites

Check out their websites and find out how they are dealing with user interactions and collecting personal data or enquiries. Do they use submit forms? Or are they just providing an email address to get in touch? Also go and see the market leader’s website and gather ideas and inspirations.

You are unique

You must not forget though that you are not in business to be like any of your competitors! Some of the stuff your competition does might be great but other features might not be, so stay true to yourself! Think about the old phrase “if your friend jumped off a cliff, would you follow?” Your site has to truly reflect what you are about including all your branding and messaging in synergy. Consumers are more visually engaged than ever before with instant web access therefore your design strategy has to be handled as an on-going business investment!  In the digital era we can’t afford to copy-cat others.

Mobile Growth, Device Explosion and Compatibility

It’s no secret that mobile usage is on the rise with more and more people using their mobile devices to access the web. Designers can no longer ignore the significant growth of mobile usage and always have to consider how websites will perform on mobile. So when designing your website you have to decide whether a native app, web app or one website that auto-scales to mobile screen sizes is better suitable for your customers’ needs. Lately it became apparent that responsive layout is a well perceived. Meaning that users across a wide range of devices and browsers have access to a single source of content, laid out to be easy read and navigated with a minimum of re-sizing, panning and scrolling. Responsive layouts are a great option if you are on a smaller budget. However, one thing is for sure mobile has emerged to be a key business strategy enabler and brands have to jump on the bandwagon to offer their customers the ultimate digital experience as expectations are high.

Additionally, the explosion of e-books and tablets (don’t just think iPad) has lead to a major challenge for developers and designers needing to know and be familiar with multiple devices in order to check compatibility. We not only have to embrace mobile but also smaller tablet forms such as the Kindle and the Nook tablet instead of the iPad as cheaper versions are currently flooding the market. Keeping up with these constant developments is essentials. Good web design for your online outlets is a necessary part of your larger web marketing and user experience.

Perceived Affordance

The cognitive scientist Don Norman conducted extensive research on the theory of perceived affordance in design. What is meant by that is that when someone visits your website for the first time do they immediately know how to use your website? Nowadays there are plenty of visual effects built into user interfaces, for instance rounded corners and drop shadows helping to create perspective and ultimately guide the user towards taking a specific action. At the core of  Norman’s theory is the importance of user experience management. His practice has been adapted widely and is becoming more and more essential for online marketers.

At this point I’d like to take a closer look at one particular example: Google. I’ve heard so many people going on about how great Google’s interface is ‘it’s search page is so spare, clean and not over crowded with other stuff’. But is that really true? Partly yes because its main function and purpose is to do one thing and that is search. Therefore anyone can make a simple looking interface if the system does only one thing. However, if you wish to do one of the many things Google is offering you first have to figure out which of its broad offering you want to use followed by figuring out how to use it. These attributes though cannot be found on the homepage because they are hidden away in various places meaning that extra clicks and operations are required for those simple tasks, only if you remember how to get to them. Therefore the question is whether Google’s design and layout is really that straight forward and transparent?

Customer Experience Management Offline vs. Online

The other night I had an amazing dinner experience in a local restaurant. Later that night I did some research on that particular establishment and in a matter of minutes I’ve found its official website, its Facebook site and its Twitter handle. But to my surprise the restaurant’s digital assets only partly reflected the essence of the dining experience. This was due to the fact that the look, copy, colours and feel were very different to my actual experience so I started to wonder if these digital assets were actually run by the restaurant’s employees! How could their online assets be so deeply at odds with the actual restaurant experience itself? Thanks to a host of digital missteps I ended up wondering if I had actually overrated my dining experience as the brand obviously didn’t reflect any branding continuity at all.

Developing an interactive customer experience should therefore begin with collecting data on 3 overlapping experiences:

  • Analyze your brand’s existing digital assets (website, mobile, social media channels, etc) and ask yourself how your visitors are experiencing your digital assets
  • Once you have done that you should move on to find out what might be wrong with them
  • Followed by uncovering what customers are consciously and unconsciously seeking from the experience

Once you have come to understand the mechanics of the customer experience you can align your digital channels to accurately reflect and even enrich the best attributes of the literal environment.

So What Have We Learned?

So, after extensive research and a lot of work, what have we learned? Here are some key findings

  • Go and find out what your competitors are doing to gather ideas and inspirations for your own online presence
  • The popularity and growth of mobile, e-books and tablets presents us with the challenge to consider how websites will perform on mobile and other devices. So when designing your website you must consider how well your layout responds to various screen sizes.
  • User experience should be at the core of your website design efforts. Simply ask yourself the following question: When I see something for the first time on a website, how do I know how to use it? Therefore your website should be easily understandable for first time users in order to offer them a satisfying online user experience.
  • Your brand’s offline and online presence has to be in synergy reflecting your attributes throughout otherwise your audience won’t take your brand credible.

Read part one of “The Optimal Website User Experience here.

Image credits: Matt Humphreys

AUTHORED BY:
h

Clarissa is a bilingual Strategic Marketing MA graduate with rounded experience in a number of key marketing disciplines including social media, project management, research and business development. Clarissa is Marketing Graduate at Linkdex.
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