So, you’re thinking about redesigning your website? That’s exciting! A website redesign is a rare and special opportunity to evaluate and improve your website’s user experience (UX).
User experience is one of the smartest business investments you can make. Experience is brand. And customers are increasingly tough on companies that neglect it. We’ve worked with a lot of companies on optimizing customer experience through website redesigns, so here’s a view through the UX lens of five things you should keep in mind as your website project gets going:
01 Know thy users (and know that you are not them)
The single most important thing you can bring into a redesign is information about your users. You should be able to confidently answer the following:
- Who are you trying to reach?
- What are they trying to get done?
- What motivates them?
- What are their pain points?
- What problems do they have that you could help solve?
We have many clients come in contending they already understand their users well and can speak for them. We often find this isn’t exactly true. Unless you’re regularly speaking with users and validating website design and functionality choices with them, you are operating off unreliable information and increasing project risk. The best way to get dependable user information is user research. But it doesn’t have to be a big, expensive effort. There is always room for a budget-friendly research approach that will get you pointed in the right direction.
Here’s one idea you can try: find 3-5 people who you feel represent your primary target audience(s). Ask each of them the following questions:
- When you visit us online, what are you hoping to accomplish?
- If we were to redesign our homepage to perfectly serve you, what three things would you want to be able to easily do?
- What aren’t you able to do on our site that you wish you could?
At minimum, we recommend you start talking regularly to your customer service representatives about what they’re hearing. They are excellent, front-line resources that can provide invaluable customer insights.
02 Organize and label your content based on how your users think of it
One of the quickest ways to sabotage user experience is to make it hard for people to find things. Many companies unknowingly do this through poorly implemented information architecture (IA), a.k.a. how your site content is organized.
When we work with clients on IA, we hammer home that the way you think about your content, products, and services may not match how your customers think of it. You will be more successful if you cater to your customer’s mental model versus your own. Consider a sporting venue. Employees might use the term “concessions” to describe what attendees would expect to find under “food” or “restaurants.” It’s a nuance of terminology but it can make all the difference.
Here’s where research and testing comes into play again. We employ research techniques such as card sorting and tree testing to organize your site in a way that’s more meaningful for your visitors. When you make it easier for people to find things and accomplish goals, that’s a good experience, and leads naturally to increased brand loyalty and customer retention.
03 Become mobile-obsessed
The internet is mobile. Most of us have a powerful little computer on our person at all times, and that has made online experiences fluid and multi-channel. These days, most transactions aren’t linear. Customers interact with brands through multiple interactions over time, and across multiple devices.
So, as you’re heading into a redesign, think “mobile first.” This is how we prefer to design sites. When we can, we plan the interactions and content on the smallest screens first, and then move up to desktop. The benefits here are significant. First, we guarantee we’re accommodating the most important interactions on the smallest, most restrictive screens. Second, those real estate constraints force us to radically prioritize what’s included. That ultimately makes the desktop version better, cleaner, more usable, and more laser focused on goals.
04 Don’t sacrifice usable for pretty
We appreciate a beautifully executed website as much as the next person (maybe more, because we know how much skill is involved). Not only does artful presentation boost brand, it increases credibility and encourages users to stick around. But a site must also be useful and fast. Aesthetic design should never come at the expense of performance, speed, and usability.
Think of something ubiquitous, like an umbrella. You have expectations of how an umbrella works. When it’s raining, umbrella aesthetics are secondary. You need one that opens smoothly, keeps you dry, and closes easily once you get to your destination. You can have the most gorgeous umbrella in the world, but if you can’t figure out how to open it, or it doesn’t protect you from the rain, it has utterly failed you. Successful website designs strike a healthy balance between usable, quick to load, and eye-catching.
05 Prepare to never be done
This last one sounds like a downer, but it’s true. Redesigning a website is like hiring a landscaper. You can have a professional design your yard, purchase and plant the most beautiful flowers and shrubs, and tweeze every weed in sight. It’s going to look great for a couple weeks. And then what happens? Entropy takes hold.
Website redesigns are exciting, and they’re absolutely a fresh start, but think of them as the start of a journey. By all means, relax and celebrate for a bit after a site relaunch, but don’t get complacent. A truly effective website requires constant weeding and pruning. The next step after launch is to immediately focus on optimization and refinement. This means staying in touch with your users and your data. Attention to Google Analytics, continuing user interviews, and ongoing talks with your customer service team are all good tactics here. Or, you can partner with an external firm who can put all that on autopilot for you.
Optimization is a critical part of managing websites because it’s so impactful. You'll find that some piece of functionality is in the entirely wrong place. You may discover that some tiny piece of nondescript content is sabotaging your conversions. Prepare to be surprised on a regular basis. Websites are never done, and it’s part of curating your user experience to stay vigilant and unsatisfied with the status quo. Once you do that, you’ll discover that incremental redesigns can happen regularly and, as you see those small changes moving the needle in the right direction for your customers and your business, you’ll have all the more reasons to celebrate.