Whenever we ask web executives how important it is to improve their online customer experience, they reply emphatically, “Its critical.” But firms often flounder when working on site improvements. So, what can they do to get the most out of their websites? Forrester recommends the following 10 tactics for improving your website user experience.

Evaluate your site and determine users needs

1. Flex your web analytics package

A successful web analytics program can dramatically improve online user experience by separating fact from fiction. Focus your analysis on two key tasks:

  • Examine the actual behaviour of customers on your site. Web analytics software is the best tool for understanding where visitors go on your site, and what they do when they get there.
  • An ‘A or B’ test will let you know what your visitors prefer. By simply routing traffic to either a control version of the site or to a test version of the same pages, web administrators can observe which version performs best against critical metrics like conversion rates or lead generation.

2. Conduct an expert review of your site

Expert reviews are quick and inexpensive ways to determine whats ‘broken’ on your site. To conduct an expert review, first locate potential reviewers who can empathise with your users needs and then have them:

  • try to accomplish relevant user goals, and
  • look for well-known user experience flaws – for this, youll need a set of evaluation criteria, like those in Forresters Website Review methodology.

3. ‘Reach out’ to real users

  • Direct observation and interviews are both effective research methods to assist in determining users’ needs. There are also more creative ways, such as giving users diaries and paging them as a reminder to make entries, or leaving motion-activated cameras in a user’s home for a week to observe at-home behaviour.
  • Conduct focus groups to gather feedback on new concepts. This can be done in a discussion-based setting – i.e. while focus groups have the benefit of free interaction in ‘structured discussions’, moderators can help direct the dialogue toward specific topics and refocus discussion following any diversion in the conversation.
  • Survey the site users to find out whos visiting your site and why. It can also be an effective way to prioritise customer segments.
  • Test designs with users to uncover specific usability problems. Usability testing is an effective way to identify user experience problems that are unique to a particular group of site users.

Redesign your site

4. Focus on fixing usability problems with known solutions

The above methods help companies uncover distinct types of design issues. To make substantial improvements to your site in a short amount of time, first focus on well-understood design flaws with known solutions. For example:

  • make your privacy and security policies easy to find
  • improve text readability, and
  • help users recover from errors.

5. Adopt proven design methodologies and tools

There are two design methods that show repeatable success – ‘Scenario Design’ and ‘Personas’.

  • The idea of Scenario Design is simple: experience can only be judged based on how well it helps users accomplish their target goals. The ultimate objective is to present clear paths to essential content and function that anticipates what the users need to know and would like to do at each decision point.
  • Personas are models of user behaviours, attributes and goals, aggregated from observations or interviews of real users, and presented as a narrative about a single composite user with a name, face and occupation. Personas can help you create a shared understanding of your users.

6. Look to other industries for innovation

Web strategists need to keep a watchful eye on the competition, but should look beyond immediate industry rivals for innovative design ideas. You can narrow your search and focus on the best practices most relevant to your own business by:

  • listing your sites strategic objectives
  • compiling a list of online capabilities that support your strategic objectives and then determining specific capabilities that align with your objectives, and
  • focusing on industries that excel in each capability.

7. Ensure innovations are useful and usable

If you find additional functions that appear suitable for your site, run a quick ‘usability review’ to judge objectively whether it just seems better or it really is better than what your site already provides. Some examples include:

  • Rich Internet Applications (RIAs), which offer innovative ways to streamline complex functionality – you need solid design skills to know when to build them and how to get them right, and
  • Blogs, which can help you to humanise your organisation and build trust among increasingly sceptical consumers – but only when your blog visitors can tell who the authors are and what their relationship is to your company.

Ensure that your site supports your business

8. Bolster your companys brand

  • To ensure your brand is top of mind and accurately reflected in all design decisions, document your companys brand positioning statement in an accessible and memorable format that makes it easy for all web staff to reference and recall.
  • Provide both content and function that support your firms brand positioning. Also, be sure to incorporate elements like language, imagery, typography and layout that are consistent with both the intent of your brand positioning and the style of ads in other media.
  • Focus on supplying necessary content and function and improve usability to reinforce brand action.

9. Measure site performance against business metrics

Prior to initiating any additional projects, first measure the impact that site changes may have on the business metrics that matter most:

  • begin and end every project with business objectives
  • build ROI models: first, establish a baseline with current metrics; then estimate low and high improvement ranges for these metrics, based on industry-specific averages and anticipated benefits from site enhancements – youll soon have a realistic ROI model to help you evaluate potential benefits versus estimated costs, and
  • web redesign projects take time to produce benefits; however, most executives want results quickly – so scope projects for a six- to 12-month time commitment and target ROI in less than two years.

10. Design with other channels in mind

  • Conduct cross-channel usability evaluations. For example: Forresters Cross-Channel Review is an expert review methodology that evaluates user experiences with email, phone self-service and phone agents (see Figure 2).
  • Recognise the webs strong points – and its Achilles Heel. Websites can provide users with access to broad and deep information, deliver rich output and offer real-time responsiveness, but they cannot match a humans ability to offer in-depth advice. So, be sure to offer a link for users to contact call centres or physical locations for this type of help.
  • Measure customer traffic across website and call centres.