Whether or not the perfect website exists, this ideal vision should be the driving force behind every project you carry out. By Justin Cooke.
You probably think there is no such thing as a perfect website, and perhaps in the real world, there isn’t. But the idea of a perfect website should lie behind every project that you carry out. Over the past 11 years, we have worked hard to try and define what perfection looks like and to translate that vision into a way of doing things that is both robust and repeatable.
Perfect websites deliver great results
Above all else, the success of a website boils down to results. But the perfect result, of course, varies from client to client. It might mean acquiring loads of new customers, or converting more of them from lookers into bookers.
It might mean increasing a website’s average order value. Or it might be giving users such a great service that they can’t help but return for more – as well as telling everyone they know that they are your biggest fan.
Ultimately, however, results can be summed up in three crucial words – return on investment. If both organisation and website user get the right return on the time and money invested in making and using the website, then that is as close to perfection as you are ever going to get. A perfect website needs to meet the needs of the organisation it represents, and the way it will achieve this is by meeting the needs of the target audience.
Ten steps to perfection
To achieve ROI, there are some key principles that website commissioners and web agencies can follow. Here are the top ten commandments for building websites that work.
1. Understand what success will look like (and how to measure it)
Ask yourself how you will know if the website is successful and how will you measure this. Whittle success factors down to three or four key performance indicators (KPIs).
These KPIs are derived by talking to all of the stakeholders involved in the project and by looking at web traffic, customer website surveys, user testing the current website and examining web analytics and other management information. This enables you to build a complete understanding of exactly how the website is performing right now, and a clear sense of what needs to change.
For transactional websites, KPIs can be used to increase the average order value, conversion rate from start to end of process, or the number of visits by target audience. Recently, at Fortune Cookie, we have started using a KPI tool called Netpromoter which asks site visitors a simple question/ “Would you recommend this product or service to a friend?” Many experts argue that the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors provides the single most reliable indicator of an organisation’s ability to grow.
2. Get to know the audience
Understanding your users is critical to the creation of a successful website. This can be achieved by creating personas which act as a visual and mental model of the different types of people who need to use the website. Bring these personas to life and use them to test out user-journey ideas.
3. Plan the user’s experience properly
The user experience is much more than just old-fashioned information architecture. It’s a three-dimensional approach that has to be crafted around content and key user journeys. And it involves many disciplines: site structure, layout and navigation, design, branding, tone of voice, content and functionality.
Consider how users search, browse and interact with your site and ensure that it’s designed for them. User research is vital – online surveys, user panels, focus groups and current site analytics can all help identify current user journeys and entry/exit points. Customer personas are useful here too, to validate design decisions from the user’s perspective during the design process.
4. Build in a contact strategy
What messages do you deliver to your customer and when? A contact strategy can turn a customer’s experience of your website from run of the mill to brilliant. For example, emailing a user when they drop out of a process with apersonalised message demonstrates customer service excellence as well as making good business sense.
5. Seek to find, not search
Making a website findable is critical to its success – whether that involves users finding the most relevant web page in search engines, or finding what they are looking for within an instant of arriving at the site.
6. Design to delight
Once users have arrived, what they see must look and feel desirable – the goal is always to create a website to relish, return and recommend. The whole experience needs to engage the customer with your brand on every level – this is what I call immersive design.
For example, when designing a booking engine, consider how you can personalise the process for individual customers. At what point might they need help or be likely to abandon the process? Historical data will tell you where. Build in contextual and relevant promotional messages – either based on customer-provided data or online journey analytics or, ideally, a combination of both. It’s about engaging the customer and putting them in control of their journey, rather than simply offering a linear process.
Also think about your audience and what value and impact a graphical user journey can deliver. This can be a great way to deliver a truly multi-lingual message too.
7. Build in evolution
Bear in mind, too, that the experience needs to evolve over time. Gone are the days of the Big Bang launch. Phased delivery, validated with user feedback at every step, has proved to be much more effective, as you will be delivering only what your users want, rather than wasting money on every bell and whistle known to humanity. Don’t fall into the technology-for-technology’s-sake trap.
Start simple and add further functionality as needed, over time, according to what the website users are doing with your site. You are what you click.
8. Realign, don’t redesign
Completely redesigning a site can unnecessarily challenge existing users. Don’t be tempted to change things just for the sake of it – remember that “different” is not always better. Release the site in stages and watch what people do.
9. Make time for iteration
Test with representative users – ask them for their feedback and perceptions, as well as measuring actual interaction, behaviour and understanding. Talk to your customers and act on their feedback. But don’t be over-reactive: don’t lose sight of those KPIs. Don’t panic over criticism – take feedback seriously, but remember you don’t need to make every change, just the right ones.
10. Do it all over again
And when you have achieved something approaching perfection? You analyse, improve and test again – so you can do it even better. Be brave enough to remove functionality and especially content elements. Regular audits, competitive reviews and user research will ensure that you stay relevant.
Case study: Lawn Tennis Association – a website for champions
The vision for British Tennis is winning. The LTA aims to grow the sport and increase the opportunities people have to play tennis at all levels.
As part of a broad digital strategy, Fortune Cookie implemented theEPiServer content management system (CMS) to drive exponential returns on the LTA’s investment in digital, and to create a website that would capture the energy of the sport.
Fortune Cookie worked with the LTA to plan and build a site that would support a constantly evolving web infrastructure, with the flexibility to handle multiple media types and the robustness to cope with very high usage and rapid growth.
The results were: 19% increase in player searches; 167% increase in ranking searches; 148% increase in tournament searches; 20%increase in page hits; and 22% increase in unique visitors. Record highs for the site include 43,170 unique visitors and 510,000 page hits in a single day during the grass court season.
Colleen Higgins, LTA’s web communications manager, says, “Since we relaunched the site we have been consistently reaching new record trafficlevels. Critical to this was the strategic partnership with both our digital agency and our CMS provider.”