Building a customer-centric website: focus on the user experience

Generation Next Treasurer Andrew Dawson
Assistant Manager, Marketing and Advertising,
 Muncie Power Products

This article is featured in the November 2015 issue of Generation Next Edition.

Your company website is the most powerful marketing tool at your disposal, and this tool is often overlooked, taken for granted, and left outdated and stale.

The purpose of this article is to help you focus on the user experience while creating a process for the development of your website, generating an implementation plan, and understanding the steps for continuous improvement. Your website process should be broken down into four key steps: discovery, planning, execution, and evaluation.

Phase 1: Discovery

It’s all about the user experience.

Developing a website can be a daunting task, but it can become much easier when you understand and define the expectations of your users. This is the first and most important part of developing a successful website.

The discovery stage will be a long process and must be scheduled out. The goals of this stage are to identify your visitors, understand their unique expectations, review available analytics, and recognize any flaws of the current site.

Most likely you already have a pretty good grasp of what all of these are, but it is crucial to discover these flaws rather than to rely on your own assumptions. You need to understand very clearly why people visit your site and what they hope to find. It could be very different depending on the type of visitor. Way too often, companies develop a website based on what “they think” visitors are looking for, and how “they think” it should flow. Worry less about what you think and more about what your users are showing you they want.

Going through the proper steps to understand your customers such as direct conversations, conference calls and surveys will help you identify what areas of your current site need improvement. Accept the feedback and find ways to integrate what you learn.

Phase 2: Planning

Once you are confident you know your audience and have learned the key areas of focus for your site, it’s time to plan. Working with your designer, developer, and other team members, generate a site map and blueprints of how your site will lay out. Lay out everything. It is important to plan out all of the details during this phase to identify challenges upfront and work through them. This also gives clear direction of what is required of designers and developers.

The menu organization will be the foundation of your site and must be very clear and easy to follow. Avoid using any industry jargon within your menu and make sure you organize subpages in a way that makes sense to the user. If a user cannot quickly identify where to go, they will get frustrated and may leave – which may push them to your competitor.

Remember, the focus is on how the user interacts with your site. Your job is to create easy paths to navigate through it.

Phase 3: Execution

Since you have been including your designer and developer throughout the planning process, this step becomes significantly easier. You have a site map and blueprints of how your site will lay out and a plan of action to do so. The major goal here is to work with your designers and developers to make sure the site stays true to the original plan.

Make sure you are working with a designer who knows your brand and your audience. The goal of the site should not be to win a design award, but it needs to look clean, modern and consistent with your branding. It is also important to use a developer who is knowledgeable of your audience and up-to-date with current programming and search engine optimization standards. You do not want to invest all of this time and money, into a fantastic-looking website that does not function well or has errors in certain browsers or devices. If your designers and developers do not know your audience, make sure they invest time in discovery.

As you near completion of the website, there is one very important step that is often overlooked - testing and prepping. Make sure you build in time to test your site. Errors will happen, and the testing time is built in to identify and correct these before the site goes public.

You also need to prep your users on the new site. Your website may be fantastic, but it is still a change, and change can be difficult for users. Be proactive in letting your users know a change is coming and let them have access to the new site before it replaces the current one. Holding webinars or creating a video to highlight the significant changes to your site is also helpful. The more you can do to prep and familiarize your users with the site, the easier the transition will be.

Do not set a firm launch date – be flexible, and do not launch until the site is ready.

Phase 4: Evaluation

The last step in developing your website is to evaluate it. Remember all that discovery and planning you did? Time to revisit all of it.

Did you accomplish what you intended and stayed true to the plan that was created? Where have you veered and why?

Sometimes changing midstream has to happen and that’s ok, but make sure you and your team understand why. Take the time to browse the site as if you were a customer and remember the goals and plan that were initially created. Write down what you did well, and what can still be improved.

Finally, meet back with your team and develop a continuous improvement plan. Your website is never complete. You must continue to gain feedback, make adjustments, add new content, and create new functions for your users. 

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