Knowing your user is paramount when it comes to web design. Understanding the needs of your user can be the difference between someone converting or not, and creating a positive brand perception vs a negative one.
In this blog, we will cover UX and the customer journey, touch on how to research the customer journey and the benefits of taking these into account when it comes to your website. We’ll then finish by looking at some simple dos and don’ts to bear in mind when building your site and taking the user into account.
What is user experience (UX)?
User experience is anything that affects your customers’ interaction with your website. It’s involved in everything your site features, from your main pages to even the smallest of elements within those, and whether your customers can successfully navigate these.
Good user experience is seamless, doesn’t result in any negative emotions and rooted in understanding your customers' needs and the best way for them to reach your desired outcomes.
It’s also about asking questions: “what does my site need to include to get my customers to convert?”; “which design elements do I need to include?” and “how can I make those better?”. Frequently asking yourself these types of questions will help you to create a better website with a more enjoyable experience, as they focus on optimising the site for your user.
The ultimate goal is an experience that encourages your users to visit your site again and tell others about it.
What is a customer journey?
A customer journey is closely related to user experience but explores the full experience a customer goes through to get to your desired outcome (the end goal). It’s the series of steps involved and the touch points Depending on how your customers access your site, every scenario needs to be accounted for.
Identifying these scenarios will help you understand if any pain points or roadblocks are present between different pages and your end goal which may prevent them from reaching it. If these are present, it’s about planning and creating a better user experience that results in a more successful customer journey.
Why do understanding UX and customer journey benefit web design?
To be able to move your user through your site while getting them to hit the right touch points and navigate smoothly is the ideal. You get to subconsciously answer all the questions they have before they even know what they want to ask.
Giving them a pleasant experience will make them want to come back, spend more money with you and interact with your business more.
How to research and visualise your customer journey
Analysing the right data to help you understand the journey that your customers go on is very important. It helps you to understand how your users interact with your site and when they drop off.
If you use an analytics platform like Google Analytics, some of this data may already be available to you. For example, with “Behavior Flow”, you can quickly analyse how users accessed your site and where they dropped off.
However, for something more detailed, you may want to consider a solution like Hotjar. Hotjar is a powerful tool that lets you examine how users navigate through your site with “heat mapping”.
With move and click heatmaps, it details all the elements your users’ interact with and displays these in a hot/cold layout. The ‘hotter’ an element is, the more it’s being interacted with.
This helps you quickly identify which page elements are working for you and which are not so you rectify any glaring user experience/customer journey issues.
Hotjar also provides a real user testing feature which can be another useful way of researching your customer journey.
Real user testing
Real user testing is where you set up real-life situations and scenarios on your website for real people to navigate through.
As a website owner, this is the closest you can get to seeing how someone goes through your site. This is because all tests are recorded with screen and audio recordings for you to watch and listen.
I already mentioned how Hotjar provides this but other tools are available too, like usertesting.com. These have a database of users ready to go and likely the easiest way for you to have a go at real user testing.
Competitor analysis will help you to compare how your others in your industry have dealt with tricky areas of their sites. You can even use it as a source of inspiration for simpler items, such as how they’ve positioned their signup forms.
Before starting your competitor research, you need to have an idea of what it is you want to improve. You should hopefully have a feeling for this from all the data you have already collected.
Start by simply going through your competitors’ websites on different devices, such as mobile and desktop, as content can be displayed very differently. Document your findings, whether that be with notes, screenshots, screen recordings or any other way that you find useful. Personally, I like to take screenshots while making annotations, documenting what I like and dislike. Something as simple as this always sparks ideas and ways I could improve design elements.
When undertaking competitor research, it’s important that you don’t fall into the trap of copying almost everything and removing what makes your site unique. Yes, use competitors as a source of inspiration but use it as a basis to improve it even further on your site. Take the data you have already gathered and tailor your inspiration to suit your customer’s needs.
So now you have all your customer journey data, let’s look at some classic dos and don’ts to follow alongside your findings from your user journey study.
Dos and don’ts of good user experience and customer journey
Including calls-to-action (CTAs)
A call-to-action is just that, where you present the user with a prompt, i.e. “the call”, to engage and perform a specific action. CTAs go hand-in-hand when sculpting your customer journeys as they’re the features that will get your users to your end goal.
An effective CTA is created by good design and engaging text. Whenever you’re prompting your customer to navigate to another page or convert somehow, you need to ensure your CTA stands out.
From a design perspective, that means using contrasting colours to your site’s palette, positioning correctly on the page so it’s visible and using sizing and styling to make it stand out even more. From a text perspective, it means avoiding standard text like “click here” and using something more engaging.
When used intelligently, animation can be a great feature that can boost your site’s user experience. It’s fun, can make your website flow more naturally and, in some cases, makes it more intriguing and pleasing.
Let’s take Google’s “Your Plan, Your Planet” microsite. The animation used here is really engaging; you just want to click around and see what happens next. The importance of sustainability is serious, but it’s nothing new, especially across the web. Lots of pieces of content explain the importance of reducing your carbon footprint but Google uses animation here to convey it in an original way.
With the fun animations, you’ll likely take in information much better.
However, it’s important not to get carried away with animation. In some cases, over-using animation can make your user experience slow and frustrating, especially when you have to wait for an animation to load before continuing further through your site.
Sections of block text
Text is great to provide context and value, but large sections of it can be daunting. Who reads all of that anyway?!
Users want their content as fast as possible so think of better ways to communicate large pieces of information. For example, using tables, flow charts or other visual aids - anything to break big pieces of text up - to prevent users from reading through reams and reams of text.
This makes the process of taking in information more manageable for users. Keep it short and snappy where you can without losing key information.
Have you ever tried to visit a website and it takes so long to load that you give up and leave? Or its design is so complicated that you can’t find where you want to go? Well, that’s friction.
Friction is anything that causes a stumbling block on your site which can slow the user down or stop them from converting completely.
This is something you want to reduce where possible. Your website should be as easy as possible to navigate through, allowing your customers to go from stage to stage without presenting any unpleasant experiences.
Take Amazon’s buying process and their 1-click ordering functionality. With a simple UX feature, they have taken away all the friction that would have otherwise been there with a longer checkout process:creating an account, signing in, entering payment details and delivery options etc.
There are a number of ways to reduce friction depending on the type of site you run. However, you can never go far wrong by sticking to a clean and simple design, reducing the number of options users have available to them and increasing site speed.
By researching your customer and the journey they take through your site, you’ll be able to identify any friction and resolve it before it becomes a real problem.
A consistent website
We are all creatures of habit and we find familiarity comforting.
Think of something as simple as a company logo that’s present on the header of your site - we expect that in the middle of every page or on the left-hand side, right? And when you click it, it takes you back to the homepage? This is something that’s consistent to all websites and what users expect to experience on yours.
It sounds like an obvious detail, but it can be easy for web designers to get carried away with this type of thing and try something new. We’re always tempted by this - especially when designing and building new websites - but the reality is, components like that are there for a reason.
Create something creative but don’t do it for the sake of it. Again, ensure there’s no friction by allowing the navigation of your site to be intuitive and seamless.
Through the research of your users and understanding their needs alongside some basic do’s and don’ts, you can help to increase conversions and create a positive brand perception, making your users want to come back to your site and shout about your brand.
If you’re struggling to understand how a customer navigates through your site or how to improve its user experience, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our UX & web design specialists today and we can provide a free, no obligation UX audit - all we ask is that you let us talk you through the results.