Website magazine recently cited four ways that website design can be search engine friendly. The article provides detailed advice about losing clutter, creating visual hierarchy, speeding up page loading times and also having a responsive design. While I would never argue with the fact that sites should be optimized for search engines, this article left me asking: Who are we designing for?
With the amount of information about the latest and greatest things you can do to help your site rank higher in Google search engines, or all the tools you can install to increase your site’s conversion rate, it is easy to forget the primary user of your website. The primary user is not you and your development team, it’s your customers! What do they think of your website? How easy is it for them to use? Is there one page in particular that causes them problems? If you understand how your customers perceive your website, you can start to create designs and implement functionality that speaks to their needs. The challenge is gathering customer feedback in a meaningful way.
Gathering from Google Analytics
If you haven’t already installed Google Analytics on your site – do it now. If you have, you can use this free and powerful tool to gain a lot of insight about your customers and your content. Using the “Behaviour” Module of Analytics you can analyze how your customers view the content on your website.
Once you open Analytics you’ll notice a list of what I call modules on the left. Clicking on “Behaviour” opens to the “Site Content” menu. This menu allows you to put all of your content or even specific pages under the microscope. If you click “All Pages,” metrics present themselves in a table to the right such as the number of page views, the time spent on the page, the bounce rate, where your customers came from, where they went next and more. If you then go to “Content Drilldown” you can gather these metrics for each page of your site, which is visually easier than the “All Pages” section. Here is an example of what this table will look like:
Image Credit: Google Analytics
In the image above you can see that the pages are identified by their unique URL endings on the left and in the table these pages are ordered from highest to lowest page views. Looking across the table to the right where the bounce rate column is, you can see that the page with the most views also has a higher bounce rate than most other pages. This could be the first clue about content quality on the clothing page, or simply just be because this is a portal to all of the individual clothing product pages. The latter is more likely. If you dig a little further and click on that clothing page right at the top, Google Analytics will spit out the same set of metrics for each product page. Here is an example the data produced for products on the clothing page:
Image Credit: Google Analytics
Here in the drilldown of the product pages you can see that Boatneck Tunics are more popular than the Cropped Cardigan and significantly more so than the Top with Pintucking. The page views are an indicator of popularity and so is the bounce rate. Before you go banging out design changes based on your bounce rate though, stop and think critically. In some cases the popularity of one product over another could be a fad, a seasonal practicality or some other obvious phenomenon, rather than an indicator that this product’s content may be superior to others. That being said, if you see that Boatneck Tunics are a hot item, according to your Analytics data, then this could help to inform the front page banner designs or even other areas of your marketing efforts like a PPC campaign for this product.
If you have a website already, Google Analytics should be the first place you look to gather information about content according to your customers. Using the information described above you can figure out which pages have content worth emulating and learn which sections of your site customers spend most of their time.
Digital Data is Dreadful
I will never stop singing praise for Google Analytics because it offers invaluable data about your website, its traffic, its content and all of this is related to site design. However data can seem daunting to some, some don’t bother to look and others just don’t see any rhyme or reason to the numbers that are provided. Now what?
Not everyone is nuts about crunching numbers so it’s a good thing that there are some tools for the visual learners. If your marketing plan is not so clear or concrete yet and you’re just hoping to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t on your site as you move into its redesign, then there are tools that can get you started easily.
Clicktale is a well-known example of a tool that provides visual indicators of your customer’s behaviour on your website. For example Clicktale can show you a click-by-click map of your customer’s journey on your website. They can also show you a heat-map of your content to see where people click the most. Below is an example of one of Clicktale’s heatmaps:
Image Credit: Clicktale Mouse Move Heatmaps
In the visual example above you can see that areas that are red are the most clicked on. This could be as a result of practicality, meaning that the most useful pages are in this section of the page. Perhaps this means though that you could put your call to action in the upper left hand corner for example. Visual data is limited in what it offers, but it is still really useful for gaining a visual overview of your client’s experience on your site and which content is most clicked on.
What If You Just Ask?
There are many tracking and monitoring platforms like Analytics that provide a lot of insight about what your customers did on your site. However the opinions of your customers are lost in this context. You will never know why your customer only spent 21 seconds on the Top with Pintucking and 52 seconds on the Boatneck Tunic or why they clicked over and over on the second tab. Was it your website design and content that drove their decisions onsite or a matter of personal taste? Was the site simply not user friendly? You won’t know until you ask them.
Voice of Customer is a phrase that is tossed around the Marketing and Customer Management world often. Gaskin & Griffen et al of MIT define the Voice of Customer as “a term used in business to describe the process of capturing customers’ requirements. They also point out the benefits of Voice of Customer for product developers.
Certain companies specialize in Voice of Customer tools, which when installed on your website, prompt your customers to provide feedback about your website. iPerceptions is a Montreal-based company that specializes in Voice of Customer technology. Nicole Fortunaso, VP of Business Development at iPerceptions recently wrote on their blog about Voice of Customer feedback and website design. She says the following:
“When doing a site redesign or making site improvements, conducting a Voice of the Customer (VoC) study is a great way for agencies to gather customer feedback for their clients and prioritize the changes that need to be made to the site. The insights collected can then be used to make informed changes to their clients’ websites that will increase satisfaction, overall experience ratings and/or conversions.”
Nicole basically stole the words right out of my mouth here. The insights collected from Voice of Customer feedback should be used to improve the overall site experience and as a result should also result in a higher number of conversions. No one will argue that the customer is always right when it comes to face to face interactions, but I will argue that this philosophy should also translate online.
From Now On
For many, this post will not have provided any ground breaking information. Indeed what I’m saying here has been said before. The point though is that as new tools, SEO tips and social media platforms pop up and as new techniques for marketing emerge, the basics of website design can get lost in the hype. Don’t design for SEO, don’t design out of personal preference; design for your customers. Track the behaviour of your customers and ask them what they think. If you don’t you’ll never know and you’ll be designing in the dark. Designing for your customers and making sure usability and customer service is a priority on your website will be the most valuable asset your brand can offer.
About the Author:
Scarlett Jones MacKenzie is a content Jedi. She has worked in digital marketing and PR for the last 5 years learning how to create winning content strategies for her clients. Scarlett enjoys writing and sharing her knowledge and experience with the industry. Her latest discovery is wakame salad.