If people can’t properly navigate or find the information they need on your website, you’re unlikely to convert their visit into a sale. Gina Jones explains how to use website design and user experience to influence customers and drive sales.

This article is part of BusinessZone’s Winning On The Web campaign in association with .com.

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As acquiring traffic becomes more expensive, ensuring your website offers an outstanding user experience is essential. Web behemoths like Amazon and Google spend millions each year on user experience testing because they know that it can directly affect their bottom line.

Studies have shown that even just a one second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions; if an e-commerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost that company $2.5 million in lost sales every year.

What is user experience?
Quite simply, user experience is what happens to your users when they interact with your business online. It includes everything they see, hear and do, as well as their emotional reactions.

If your website doesn’t offer what they are looking for, customers will simply click elsewhere, usually to a competitor’s site.

“It’s essential that the user journey is as simple as possible. Your website is often the first touchpoint, so it must be appealing in both looks and content,” says Tamara Heber-Percey, co-founder of online hotel experts Mr & Mrs Smith and Winning On The Web Champion.

“Testing your own website is crucial. Every time you make an upgrade, ensure the user journey still works and be honest if something is slow or needs fixing. Making the effort to improve it can have a massive impact, even if you can’t always predict that at the time.”

How do you test for user experience?
There are many areas to investigate with user experience testing, but generally speaking the most important basic questions to answer are:
Can users find my website easily?
What do they think of my website when they first land on it?
How easy is it for them to accomplish basic tasks the first time they visit?
Once they’ve learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
When users come back to my site after not using it for a while, how easily can they remember how it works?
How many errors do users make and how easily can they rectify those mistakes?
How pleasant do they find it to use the design?
When testing your site, it’s important to have your end goal in mind, advises Simon Swords, CEO of Staff Squared and Winning On The Web Champion. “You need to understand what ‘customer success’ for your target audience looks like,” he says.

“If you have an e-commerce site builder, customer success is your customers launching their store and getting their first order. If you sell widgets online, customer success is about your customers finding your store, purchasing your widgets and receiving them in the post. Once you know what customer success looks like, you can work backwards from that point to understand how your website gets them there”.

With user experience testing, quality is more important than quantity. You don’t need a vast army of testers all telling you the same thing, but you probably want to make sure there’s a decent cross-section of people to represent the types of customers you want to attract and to compare the data against each other.

Once you have the data, the onus is on you to make the necessary changes and ensure that your website delivers on what customers expect. This shouldn’t be a one-off affair; user experience testing is an ongoing process, and you should aim to do it at regular intervals to keep up with customer demand and with what your competitors are doing. This is especially important if you run an e-commerce site, since you want to make it as simple as possible for people to buy.

Five top tips for making your website user-friendly
Here are some steps you can take to ensure your website is a winner with your prospects and customers.

1. Put yourself on the map
“It’s important that customers can find you easily online. I strongly believe having a good presence in search results adds credibility and builds trust with customers, which is a huge part of acquiring new business,” advises Stacey Kehoe, communications director at Winning on the Web Champion business Brandlective Communications.
Is your domain name strong and does it tie up with all your other marketing communications? Is your site optimised for the keywords your customers are searching with? How do you rank against your competitors? These are all questions you’ll need to answer to put yourself firmly in customers’ sights.

2. Make it responsive
Globally, only 21% of small businesses have a mobile version of their website, according to a report by domain name and web security experts Verisign, but search trends are moving towards mobile, presenting an opportunity for businesses to improve the digital experience for customers.
Ultimately, it’s about providing customers with the platform to interact with you on their terms. “Last year we redesigned our entire site to work responsively, so it looks and acts the same whether you view it on your desktop, tablet or smartphone,” says Heber-Percey. “That was an important step in becoming as user-friendly as possible because we know our customers browse and book on the go”.

Want to make the move to mobile? Make sure your site is intuitive for users. Keep the navigation simple and offer drop-down menus to allow users to drill down the information, rather than overwhelming them with all the choices at once.

Since mobile users are generally on the move and have less time, make it as easy as possible for them to complete basic tasks by putting strong calls to action nearer the top of the page, so they know exactly where to click.

Also, bear in mind that mobile users are less patient and won’t have time to wait for lots of large images to load, so make sure your images are suitable for the platform. The best way to improve the performance for your mobile users is to cut your content up into little chunks and provide this content upon request.

3. Give them what they need, fast
When asked what the key driver is for a customer to spend more with a company, 35% of customers surveyed by Oracle said providing quick access to information and making it easier for customers to ask questions.

Making sure your website offers the answers they need quickly and easily should be your number one priority. This means de-cluttering your pages and providing strong calls to action so that once users have read a particular page, they know exactly what to do next to complete their task.

4. Use customer data to inform your content
Google Analytics can tell you a lot about what users are doing on your website. Use this data to get a clearer picture of what they want and then give it to them. For example, if a lot of users are coming to a particular page and then leaving, is it because they haven’t found what they came for? Provide more links on that page to things they might find useful, and clearly signpost how they can get in touch with you if they still have questions.

Keywords are also a useful source of information. If lots of customers are coming to your website using a particular word, can you provide more useful content on that topic which they might like? This needs to be done on a continuous basis to ensure you’re keeping up with customer demands and trends.

5. Be easy to contact
If you’ve done all of the above, then customers should be able to get what they need on your website, but there might still be occasions when they want to speak to you directly. Make it as easy as possible for them to get in touch, with prominent links to all your social channels on every page and a clearly signposted contact page.

A good contact page should be clear and concise and give them a few different ways to get in touch (e.g. email, social channels, phone number). If you’re providing a contact form, it can be tempting to try and collect lots of user data by asking questions at this stage, but this can frustrate the customer so keep it simple and save the questions for later.

Whether you’ve got an e-commerce site or not, providing a good user experience has a direct impact on your bottom line. The internet is often the first place customers go to research products and services, so making sure that your company is winning on the web is crucial to business success in the long-term.