The Importance of Your User Experience

UX or Bust

by Lawrence Smith & Todd Gordon

Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes is nothing new from a sales and marketing perspective. So given that customer focus is old hat, why the hullabaloo about UX?

Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes is nothing new from a sales and marketing perspective. If there were Ten Commandments of Marketing they’d read a bit like this:

  1. Know thy customer
  2. Know thy customer
  3. Know thy customer
  4. Know thy customer
  5. Know thy customer
  6. Know thy customer
  7. Know thy customer
  8. Know thy customer
  9. Know thy customer
  10. Know thy customer

It’s a little repetitive, but you can’t fault it for effectiveness.

So given that customer focus is old hat, why the hullabaloo about UX?

We might be going out on a limb here, but one reason so many agencies are jumping up and down hollering, “We’re UX experts us!” is that UX actually is a bit of a novelty from a digital perspective. Customer needs have not always been at the heart of the website development process. Innovative technology, clever design, search engine requirements, and corporate ego. Yes. But customers? Not so much.

A Bit of Background

We started building websites out of sheer frustration.

In the noughties we found ourselves working on digital projects more and more. We approached digital projects as we approached any project. We established measurable goals. We found out as much about your customers as we could. Then we considered how to communicate with them as effectively as possible to achieve your goals.

But we couldn’t find a digital partner who approached website development from an effective communication perspective. We worked with some very talented web developers, technical whizzes, and great designers who made beautiful sites. But when we asked them to participate in the UX process, because that’s what it was, even although we didn’t call it that then, they looked blank. So we learned how to build websites ourselves, started doing things the way we wanted, and our sites started getting better results.

The Business Benefits of User Focus

Taking a UX driven approach to your website offers you tangible business benefits

Improve the Effectiveness of Your Site

Research firm User Interface Engineering gave people money to buy specific products from e-commerce sites with that product for sale. 70% of shopping attempts ended in failure! Poor website design meant people either couldn’t find what they were looking for, or couldn’t complete the purchase. Poor user experience costs companies lost business.

Taking a UX approach to your website development should increase ease of use, successful conversions, user satisfaction, and reduce user error.

Reduce Development Costs

Focusing on optimizing UX at the development phase is more cost effective than reverse engineering an existing website to be more user friendly.

IBM released a whitepaper in 2008 that cited stats from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to show that “because the cost of fixing defects increases exponentially as software progresses through the development lifecycle, it’s critical to catch defects as early as possible. The costs of discovering defects after release are significant: up to 30 times more than if you catch them in the design and architectural phase.”

Websites may be a more responsive medium to correct than software. However the basic principle holds true, which is that it pays to plan properly. Proper planning for a website includes a thorough understanding of what your customers need from your website. Allowing budget for UX research at the start of website development project can help reduce your costs significantly in the long run.

Increase Revenue

A good website experience makes a happy customer. Happy customers are more likely to become loyal customers. Loyal customers deliver better ROI. There’s a compelling argument for taking a UX approach for a better return on your digital investment.

Management consultancy Bain & Company’s Harvard Business Review article E-Loyalty: Your Secret Weapon on the Web describes how analyzing e-commerce across a number of industries showed that “increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%”

Improving user experience on your website can increase sales or conversions, website traffic, referrals and customer retention. It also gives you an edge over less user friendly competitors.

How Does User Focused Development Work?

A user experience driven website project involves your website users in the design process. It’s as simple, and as complex as that.

The level of user involvement in your digital project will be informed by your budget, resources and timeframes.

However the beauty of taking a UX approach is that there is always something you can do to improve the digital experience for your customers, no matter how small your budget, or how tight your timelines.

The rest of this article outlines the various ways in which a user focused approach can help you improve your website for your customers.

Research Phase

Discovery Meeting

Gather everyone involved in the project together to discuss your customer needs, establish measurable goals, and review usability of your current site.

This meeting is vital to get any project off on the right foot. Giving this meeting a specific UX focus encourages a customer focus from the very start of the project.

You need all your stakeholders and key decision makers to attend. This meeting requires significant research and preparation beforehand to be meaningful.

Stakeholder Interviews

Interviews with people who interact with your customers every day, are a useful way to flesh out your understanding of your customers’ needs, questions and frustrations.

We find this a good way to measure an organization’s understanding of its customers. All interviews of this nature take time so can be challenging for projects with small budgets and tight timelines.

Competitor Review

Review your competitors to learn what they do to deliver a superior customer experience, and ask yourself how you can do things better.

Customer Research

This could take the form of:

  • Interviews or focus groups
  • Surveys
  • Contextual research in your users’ own environment

Gain detailed insights into your customers, and their relationship with your brand, products, competitors, and your current website. This can also help you develop personas for your customers.

Detailed research requires an investment of time and budget. Less detailed research like surveys can lack depth and accuracy.

Analytics

Evaluate data from your current site to understand who visits your site and what they do online. This helps you identify trends in your user behavior, and helps you develop questions for further research. Can help identify strengths and shortcomings in your current websites.

Analytics only give part of the picture. Ideally, you’ll combine them with usability testing for a fuller picture.

User Activity Tracking

Gain a fuller understanding of what people are actually doing on your current website, and why. Identify what they like and dislike using tools like:

  • Heat mapping
  • Eye tracking

Click tracking tools can tell you exactly what people are doing, but not why they do it. Best combined with customer research to get a full picture of the reasons behind user online actions.

Design Phase

Information Architecture

We create the site map for your new website using the information from the research phase.

A good site map makes information easy to find by structuring information to answer your customer’s needs and queries efficiently. A site map doesn’t generally outline user journeys, or user tasks. Best produced in conjunction with a customer experience map.

User Stories

User stories describe tasks your customers come to your site to solve and walk you your users’ interaction with your site, to obtain a speedy, successful resolution of their need.

User stories are excellent for large complex websites, and for e-commerce. They help streamline conversion processes and design an effective website that meets your users’ needs.

Content Development

The whole point of your site is to deliver the content your users want, swiftly and in a way that engages your customers and makes them feel good about your brand. Developing quality digital content can, and indeed should, take as much time as designing and building your site. Often it takes much longer.

Digital design is driven by your content, not the other way round. So ideally, you would write and collate copy, documents and imagery for your site, before starting work on your wireframes, or your website design.

It’s easy to underestimate how much time developing good user-friendly content takes. Content may require testing, especially calls to action, instructions, and key conversion points.

Wireframes

Wireframes show the framework of a site showing navigation, content, and interactive areas. They’re the next step after user stories, and are best designed in a highly collaborative way, and explore layout options and clarify thinking on how structure can improve usability.

Design Development

Digital design uses visual communication to enhance user experience of the site, and clearly highlight the journeys users should take. You can explore different ways to enhance the user experience visually at the beginning of a website project.

Interactive design tools like InVision can make your designs interactive enough for customer testing, focus groups and prototypes.

To be meaningful digital design needs to be done after spending time developing information architecture, user stories, and wireframes.

Prototypes

Prototypes are interactive models of your site. Building key portions of your site creates a platform for usability testing and allow you to identify and resolve user issues before you go live. You need to allocate time and budget, for testing, analyzing the testing results, and edits to incorporate feedback. For detailed guidelines on user testing read our article on Why User Testing Matters.

Testing Phase

A/B Testing

A/B testing is comparing variations of key pages to see which performs better. It allows you to test the effectiveness of different calls to action, page layout, images etc.

User Activity Tracking

User activity tracking using heat mapping and eye tracking compares your old site with your new site, and validates the changes you have made to design, navigation, page structure and calls to action.

User Case Testing

User case testing gives users specific tasks to complete, and asks them to describe their experience as they go, logging bugs and collecting feedback. This is a good way to quickly test key areas of the site.

However, you gain an understanding of how people rate specific tasks, not how they rate the website as whole. Giving users a task to complete means they engage with your site with very specific goals, which is not always an accurate reflection of reality.

Usability Testing

  • Internal testing
  • External testing using crowdsourcing
  • Customer testing
  • Focus group testing

Gain a fuller understanding of how people use your new website and what they think of the experience. The scale of this testing can vary depending on your timeframe and budget.

Requires time and budget to be allocated. Recruiting appropriate test groups can be challenging. Artificial testing environments can influence user behavior.

About the Authors

Lawrence Smith

Lawrence Smith

Development Strategist

The constant evolution of the online space inspires and teaches me new things every day. It also creates new business opportunities. It’s my job to leverage digital change to help you create success for your business.

Todd Gordon

Todd Gordon

SVP Digital Marketing & Media

Everything and anything digital at TimeZoneOne comes under my purview. I deliver digital strategies and solutions that help meet your business goals.

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