Web visitors don’t want to hunt around your site to find what they need. Don’t make them.
Before you even begin a website redesign, you should answer several questions to help you get it right. From my years in website user experience and design, I've whittled these down to three key questions, and also mapped out a scientific way to go about answering them:
1. Who visits your website?
First, you need to know the profile of the people who visit your site. If your intended target market isn't currently on the site, you'll need to revisit your online marketing efforts. Knowing who is on the site will help reveal the mindsets of those visitors, and how your design can support their goals. Tailoring your website to their objectives might result in different paths from the home page, each serving content differentiated for user needs. For example, the Wells Fargo retirement website has three paths for exploring information based on your age range, and stage of saving toward retirement. Demographic information about your site visitors can also influence design decisions. If you serve an older demographic, for instance, the website should have options for increasing font size for easy reading.
2. What do your website visitors look for?
Many companies incorrectly optimize their websites for the content they have, rather than aligning their web content around what customers need. A classic case of this is automotive manufacturer websites. Consumers consistently want more information on future technologies, future vehicles not yet on the market, and car comparisons to older model years. But many automotive companies continue to plug only current model year content, leaving a large portion of site visitors dissatisfied. When setting your web strategy, find out what information online visitors are seeking—and then shape the content strategy around what users need.
3. Are they able to find it? If not, why?
Your site may offer the information users need but–if it's poorly organized–they will never find it. In studies we've conducted at my digital research consultancy, AnswerLab, we found on average 30 percent to 40 percent of site visitors are unable to find all the information they're seeking on a website. Common causes: poor navigation, unclear link names, site errors, and technical issues. Consumers don't like to have to play around to uncover the information they need. Eliminating basic usability issues can increase online acquisition and retention efforts dramatically.
Grasp the current experience on your website
To answer these three key questions, and set the strategy for your entire website redesign effort, consider using what we call an "intercept survey."
Here’s how it works: Upon reaching your website, users receive an invitation to answer a few questions about why they’re visiting. After completing their intended tasks on your site, they answer a few follow-up questions about the overall experience. The survey is extremely short—around 10 questions—so you can keep customers focused on the task at hand. In addition to gathering profile information, surveys like these often measure ease of use, brand impression, and the ability of the site to drive key calls to action—like talking with a doctor, visiting a dealer, contacting the company, or signing up for more information.
By running the survey again post-redesign, you'll then be able to confirm if the project had an impact, and gather additional insights to inform future improvements. In work like this, we recently found a pharmaceutical company had improved its online satisfaction scores by 15 percent simply by moving the links to important drug information to be in a more prominent place on the website.
And, of course, evidence of improvement in customer satisfaction and brand impression motivates everyone involved.
AMY BUCKNER CHOWDHRY: Amy is chief executive and co-founder of AnswerLab, a digital experience research consultancy in San Francisco. In 2011, Amy received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Woman Award. @amybuckner