If you have a business, your website is considered an extension of your brand and product/service. As such, your website design can have a huge impact on what your users think of your company and whether they will return. The first thing to know about web design is that it should be created with the end user in mind. Every company or organization has a target audience – sometimes, they know who this is but it’s not reflected in their web design. Solving this disconnect can vastly improve site engagement and the overall user experience.
In the pre-development phase, you may be tempted to base your website design on what you find appealing and pertinent to target users. However, when you’re providing a product or service to the public, that’s who you should always keep in mind in all processes. As such, you will need to better understand your users and craft your design around them.
User and Industry Research
Think of this step as your foundation for creating your website. Without knowledge of your audience, you can’t create a positive user experience that will both meet their needs and encourage them to come back. Knowing your target user means knowing his or her pain points, areas of interest, motivation for visiting your site and more. Here are some tips on gathering this information:
- Go straight to the source: Qualitative and quantitative surveys can give you great insight into how your users will behave on your website. Through this, you can also discover their expectations and frame your website accordingly. Interviews via focus groups or face-to-face conversations can be costly and difficult to coordinate. However, they are highly beneficial to understanding your target audience. They can validate or disprove assumptions you may have about users’ habits and motivations, and highlight some themes to focus on.
- Examine the competition: Competition is always out there with businesses and while many see it as a disadvantage, they can be a great resource. Assuming you have a very similar target user, you can do an analysis of your competition’s website and how successful it is. Take note of what makes them successful so you can begin to implement it into your own website.
- Do keyword research: While a company may have an ideal user in mind, that may not match up with who will actually be accessing their site. Keyword research does four key things: identify your audience, their interests, their needs and their search habits. Down the line, keyword research can also be great for your website’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to increase organic traffic toward your site.
Once you complete this information-gathering phase, you should have a good idea of your target users’ lifestyle and what they will be looking for on your website.
After your research on your users and the overall industry, you can now build your user persona. This is a representation of your target audience segments, which will be used as reference for designing the website. It serves designers and developers but also other members of your team, from marketing specialists to the sales managers. When everyone is on the same page in regards to who the target audience is, it promotes cohesion and consistency throughout all areas of your brand.
When creating the user persona, you should build several profiles to reflect different types of users, including personal and professional information as well as behavioral traits. For instance, one user accessing a university’s website may be a student who is already familiar with the site, while another user may be exploring it as an option for their college career. Both users should have a positive user experience that can meet all their needs without friction.
Anyone who uses the internet has experienced going to a website and hitting a roadblock. Maybe you can’t find the information you expected, or perhaps you feel it’s poorly labeled. In this case, some highly-motivated users might stay on the website but most will go elsewhere to fulfill their needs. Many companies may not know where these roadblocks are—this is where information architecture comes into play.
This practice evaluates all the content you plan on including on your website, from category labels to descriptions and more. It requires a great understanding of what the user needs and a plan for what you want to emphasize to your target audience. Once you’ve created an information structure for your website, you must test it out with users in case biases and incorrect assumptions have negatively affected how users travel through your site. Some research techniques include:
- Card sorting: During this process, participants organize labels in various categories based on their own criteria. This helps uncover users’ preferred structure so that it can be mirrored in the design on the website. Say you own a company that offers tutoring lessons. You might assume users would want the lessons organized by age group. During this test, you might find that most users organize them by topic. Keeping this new information in mind, you would structure your website and categories based on your results.
- Tree testing: It’s used to evaluate how findable topics are on a website without the help of navigation aids. A great website should be easy to use while still being visually appealing. Once users hit a roadblock, it puts them in distress and increases the website’s bounce rate. Through tree testing, you can discover where and why users may get lost on your website. Thereby, increasing users’ motivation to continue through the flow of the website targeted specifically for them.
Only once you’ve done extensive research on your users and tested various behavioral patterns can you move on to the following steps of developing a website. One of the most important things to keep in mind throughout this entire process is that testing never stops. You should always seek to know your users better and improve your processes to enhance the user experience. This requires constant testing of various strategies to optimize the design and content of your site.