A website is like a TV show, with you as the producer, station and actors, and your site visitors as the viewers. If you don’t plan your website with this mindset from the start, you could find yourself with a brand new website that fulfills all your desires… but not those of your site visitors.
Leaving your website has never been easier for Internet users. There are plenty of websites competing with yours on the Internet. Search engine results are becoming better at picking good sites that relate well to web searches and better Internet connection speeds make closing and opening sites like blinking – finding one of your competitors’ websites is now quick and very easy.
1. Figure out your site visitors’ needs
Your website should provide information that fulfils the immediate needs of your site visitors. This is the basic underlying principle behind usable website design, so let’s repeat it one more time: Your website better give information that serves up the immediate needs of your site visitors.
OK, now we’ve got that clear, we have a problem: Your goals for your site are probably different from the immediate needs of your site visitors… Uh Oh.
Let’s illustrate this problem, and its solution, with the example of a house painter. Their immediate goal is to get visitors to contact them and ultimately get them to do some paiting work. Their site visitors are probably interested in getting house painting work done (if not, why are they on this website?), but it’s not their immediate need when they arrive at the website.
The immediate needs of the site visitors’ are things that answer questions like:
- Can I trust them?
- Are they any good at what they do?
- Will they get the job done?
Before the website begins to sell to its site visitors, it has to answer their questions and put their fears to rest. This is fundamentally important, so one more time: Before the website begins to sell to its site visitors, it has to answer their questions and put their fears to rest.
The longer term goal is to contact the company and ask about painting a house. The short term goal is one of building trust from a “stranger”.
In the case of this house painting company, they could provide a portfolio, client testimonials etc. Can you think of any other information they should offer?
2. Create a communication flow
Now we’ve figured out what our site visitors’ immediate needs are, we need to create a communication pathway, like a road map, that your site visitors will travel on your website. The path(s) will initially address their concerns and needs and then gradually nudge them towards completing your goal for them. To implement this plan we’ll have to:
- Figure out what types of people will use your website
- Work out what you want each of these groups to do while on your website
- Identify the information you’ll need to give them to make this happen (and in what order)
- Sort out elements that might put them off achieving this and fix them as you get feedback
From this, you’ll be able to create a series of website pages as your building blocks and an idea of how they might fit together. You’ll then be able to develop exactly what pages are most important to include on the website and how to group these pages together.
However, some folks will need more information than others, so you’ll always need to provide additional choices of continuing on the information flow or simply go to the goal you’ve set for them.
Let’s go back to the website of the house painting company, an information road map their site visitors might go on could look something like this:
- Painted testimonials
- Company background
- Staff bios and experience
- Good painting tips
- Contact us
The house painting company’s ultimate goal is for site visitors to contact them and ask about their services. Wherever users are in this flow, they must be able to easily and immediately jump straight to the contact page at any point.
You’ve probably already seen this in action. You arrive at the homepage and there are two or three large links (often in the form of boxes) giving you some basic information and requesting that you click on them to take you into some other part of the website. You go to that page on the website based on your specific interest, read the information and then choose where to go next. And this keeps going on, until you either quit or complete the desired goal of the website.
3. Usability testing
Once the website roadmap has been created, it’s time to test it out. Testing will return money ten-fold. Also, what you “think” and “want” in terms of structure needs to go on the shelf for a little while here. “Liked” and “Revenue Generating” are two different things.
If you don’t do any usability testing you may find out too late that the structure of the website doesn’t make sense once the website’s actually up and running. This can and has happened and it leaves you with two choices: redesign the structure or make a new website – neither are attractive options.
The most common objections to doing usability testing are:
- Sounds like those things only big sites do!
- It’s too expensive!
- It’ll take too much time!
- I don’t know how to do it!
No, No, No! Usability testing at this early stage, is incredibly cheap, quick, informal and easy to do. Really, don’t get nuts. Get five people to look at the plan/site map of the website and ask them:
- What’s the point of this website?
- If you were on this homepage, where you would click? And where after that? Why?
- Is everything here to allow you to make a decision? (Click or leave) and why?
That’s it! As long as these five people roughly fit into your customer profile everything should give you the data you need. If there are issues, themes will typically show themselves. It’s been shown that having just five people for a usability test will uncover 80% of the usability issues of the website. This may cost you some service discounts, a couple of dollars or just beer. However, it will likely save you headaches in the future.
So, now you have a website plan. You also have a leg up on your competition if you implement a thought out process prior to starting a build.