For your small business, the way in which users experience your website is a critical factor for turning them into happy, paying customers. Big businesses already have a leg up with their strong brand awareness, loyalty, and of course, deep marketing pockets. While you may not be able to compete with their reach and spend you can compete with them by implementing a simple, intuitive user experience on your website.
Big company websites often try to provide information on everything they do or sell in as many places as possible. After their committees, focus groups, branding directors, marketing departments, and sales teams get involved, their sites often become a colossal nightmare for visitors who are simply trying to find relevant information. In the end the websites are cluttered and provide less than obvious paths to information. Luckily for you, most big businesses get it wrong and this is the opportunity you can leverage to your advantage.
Here are a few steps you can take to set yourself up for success and trample the big dogs.
Step One - Hire the Right Design Agency
The first thing you should do is hire the right design agency. This is an agency that not only has a successful track record but is a good match for your company. This agency will be your partner for several years, and quite possibly more, so be diligent during your meetings. Call references and listen to your gut.
Here are some key factors that you should consider when evaluating an agency:
Vision - do they understand your business? Did they show genuine excitement or interest during your discussions? Did they provide ideas about what they might do to enhance your website and digital marketing strategy?
Company culture - are they interesting and enjoyable to be around? Do their company values align with your own?
Wins - do they have solid wins that positively affected their client's bottom line? Are they proud of them? Can they show an increase in visitors, engagement, and overall conversions?
Design - are their designs creative and inspiring? Do they follow current design standards but mix in innovative and unique ideas? Keep in mind, a beautiful design doesn't mean a great user experience.
- Cost - do they talk openly about their costs and do they align with your budget expectations? If an agency can't provide you general cost ranges upon request then be ready for unexpected costs and surprises later on.
Step Two - Stay Focused on Primary Goals
After partnering with a great design agency, your next goal is to ensure every conversation and decision is centered around your primary goals. If you have an e-commerce site, your goal is to sell product. If you have a service business, your goal may be to get online appointment requests or drive more phone calls. If you have not-for-profit organization, your goal may be to receive donations or register new members. Whatever these goals are they need to be front and center in every conversation you have about your website.
Typically, these primary goals will translate directly into CTA's (calls-to-action). They might take the shape of buttons, forms, custom graphics, or simple formatted text. When a user visits a page on your site your goal should be clear and obvious.
Step Three - Follow Best Practices
There are many studies centered around user experience and what does and does not work. This changes over time, especially as the world adopts new technology at a blistering pace. But don't let this scare you away. Although the devices we all use regularly change, the basic interactions with information stays more or less the same.
We still click links or buttons. We still fill out forms. We still click to read more. We still scroll through a gallery of images. We still watch videos. We still leave comments or share content.
The biggest difference now is that we have to think beyond just a keyboard and mouse and assume that a large percentage of our website visitors will be on a device that fits in their hand. This is where responsive web design comes into play and is no longer optional.
You may not be a designer but you can read. Take a few minutes to read a few key articles on user experience that will help you better understand how a user will interact with your site and what you should look for as you discuss the designs (desktop, mobile, and tablet), calls-to-action, screen-flows, audience, etc. A good design agency will guide you through this process but the better you understand best practices the more you can contribute to that conversation and the more usable and intuitive your site will be.
Here are a few articles on user experience:
Usability & User Experience - Smashing Magazine
Ten Laws to Design By - 3.7 Designs Web Consultancy
9 Small User Experience Details Most Websites Miss - ux movement
The Art of Questioning as a UX Skill - ux movement
Following these three steps will allow you to build a more useable and intuitive website. When visitors have a better experience they are happier and when visitors are happy (and not frustrated) it's much easier to convert them to customers.