The Optimal Website User Experience
Recently I have for the first time been involved with website re-design and creating valuable on-site directions for site visitors to improve the user’s online experience. My professional background is not too tech-heavy therefore I started by looking at the psychology of online users to gain an understanding (in the deeper sense) why someone is visiting your website and what the motivations are for doing so.
I came across the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who is best-known as the architect of the notion of ‘flow’, as well as being one of the leading researchers on ‘positive psychology’. His theory is that people are at their happiest when they are in “flow” mode. In other words the condition where motivation, attention and the current situation meet resulting in a kind of productive harmony or feedback. The challenging part for us marketers though is to create the right conditions for individuals to achieve this state. The art though is to strike the right balance between the skill of the performer and the challenge of the task level. If one or the other is too easy/difficult ‘flow’ will not occur. So how can we transmit that to a website? To increase the likelihood for your visitor to experience the flow state try to remove unnecessarily distractions from your site. Reason being that once the visitor is in the ‘flow’ he/she has to ‘automatically’ block stimuli that are interfering with the task/purchase/sign-up engagement. Therefore we ought to help users not to get distracted.
Optimizing for the ‘Flow’ Notion
Just imagine you are an e-commerce website (where your main focus is to sell) it might be worth considering removing the navigation panel during the shopping cart phase of the site’s payment stage in order not to distract them with unnecessary features. Other online examples would be to
1) Establish easy achievable goals through your website e.g “Sign-up for a FREE account now” or “buy shoes now”
2) Give your visitor an idea of the journey required to achieve this goal e.g “ 3 easy steps ”
3) Make them aware ‘where’ they are in the process, giving them orientation and reward them e.g “you’re now one step away from new shoes”
Once you have achieved that it’s worthwhile to provide your visitors with follow-up engagement to help them understand and reinforce the steps and elements that lead to experience the ‘flow’ notion. An example would be 1) here are your new shoes 2) you know what you want and how to get it 3) here’s a discount voucher for your next purchase.
Identifying Your Visitors Online Persona
When planning your website there are hundreds of things to consider: colour schemes, site architecture, tab names, features, flash, widgets…… the list is endless. First of all you have to ask yourself one question: who is my traffic? Having the answer to this question means having won half the battle. Ask yourself questions about your typical visitor, is he/she a decision maker for a corporate organisation, are they blogging yummie-mummies, or a small business owner? This will help you to get an idea what your visitor is like, theoretically speaking.
Now that you have a ‘rough’ idea of why your typical visitor’s visits your site and his/her motivations behind that you should start analysing their online personas/personalities to enhance their usage experience.
The 4 Online Personas
Individuals can be segmented into 4 online personas. Creating marketing personas of website visitors is a powerful technique to for helping increase the usability and customer centricity of a website as part of a user-centred design approach.
* The Competitive Persona: they need to be logically convinced that you can satisfy their need, they are also fast buyers. They like to be the first ones to have things others don’t. Therefore you have to proof your competence. Do this by telling them briefly and in short what your organisation is about, your commitment and how you can fulfil their needs. On your landing page list your competitive advantage in bullet points, as this group does not want to waste any time.
* The Spontaneous Persona: this category is impulsive, fast and emotional. Personality and new features are likely to appeal to them. In most cases they just have to like you to lead to a conversion. So you should highlight why you are different showing your organisation’s personality. If you are innovative show them why and they are likely to like you. Provide them with product comparisons and testimonials as they are likely to shop around. They are usually seeking immediate satisfaction (instant access, express delivery) meaning that your landing page should include bullet points, burst and other features that call out important information. Key is not to burden them with information, give them brief descriptions, a clear call to action and a short buying process.
* The Humanistic Persona: their purchase decisions are usually pretty slow and highly impacted by the relationship they have with an organisation. They are people-centred, so show them your organisation’s ‘human voice’. Show them your organisation’s human side and introduce your team on your website possibly with photos and bios. Tell them what you’ve done for other customers. Link them to your blog so they can stay in touch with your organisation. Your landing page therefore should provide views of your products from a human perspective, tell them how others have used the product to fulfil their needs. Ensure to place trust elements such as testimonials, case studies, reviews, etc. This group is happy to share their brand experiences with others.
* The Methodical Persona: tend to make logical but slow purchase decisions. To appeal to their conservative nature you should show them your previous work or testimonials. They are most likely to value company facts, qualifications gained, awards won, etc….Offer them case studies and research conducted by you to gain credibility. Give them a clear outline of your mission and how you’re living up to it. Let them know your company’s history and show them your experience.
Understanding the difference is an enormous advantage, I hope you got some ideas on how to design and decide on content features for your website from the above in relation to your website’s personas. Focusing on personas will help you to move away from your organisation’s individual feeling to guide the design decisions. Ask questions like: would my site visitor value this feature? What are the visitor’s expectations? Apart from that you should also review your site’s Analytics this will help you to learn and better understand your website’s visitors.
Build Trust and a Community
In order to get your visitor to convert they have to trust you. Trust doesn’t necessarily come easy these days, just think of all the credit card scams and unsavoury characters online. People who are not too familiar with the online world get easily suspicious when it comes to submitting personal or credit card details which is not ideal for us as we are after conversions. Therefore it’s your job to making them feel at ease when they are on your website. This can be done by a combination of language and design on the site as well as offering them trustworthy payment methods such as PayPal.
Optimizing your Website’s Social User Experience
Okay, so you might have a fancy website but if you haven’t included social media in your strategy you are likely to miss out. Your site’s branding and design should be consistent across all social media outlets so that people recognize you immediately. Customers are looking for ideas and suggestions to help them overcome challenges. So use your site to help them connecting with others! Grant them direct access to social media sharing by properly placing social badges on your site, and who knows a viral might not be too far off the map.
Motivate your Audience to get involved
Encourage your audience to contribute to your website, this will make them feel part of the game and valued. You could run a competition, individuals who ‘produce’ something for you automatically have a stake in your success – it’s a win-win situation where the contributor gets free exposure and you on the other side get free content. This will make them feel involved and they are very likely to come back to your site to see what’s new.
So what have we learned?
* Design your website to convey your user’s optimal emotional engagement to increase the chances of your visitor achieving the ‘flow’ state. Make it neat and ensure not too include irrelevant features which might distract them.
* Do your research and identify your typical visitor’s characteristics, what do they want to get out of your website?
* Identify your audience’s online persona and start optimizing your website according to their needs. The competitive and spontaneous personas can be defined as fast traffic, meaning they are looking for easy and quick solutions. On the other hand the emotional persona can be converted through emotional messages.
* Build trust and a community. At the core of the human psyche is the need of involvement and feeling valued. Create a forum where visitors can interact with you and others.
* With social still rapidly growing you have to offer your visitor the chance to share content and features with their peers. Find out about their preferred social networking channels and embed these on your site.
* Give your audience a call to action, to contribute to your website. Not only will they feel valued but they’re likely to come back more often to see what’s new.