Digital Branding: 6 mistakes that let down your User Experience
Whatever your business, your website provides a perfect focal point for customers to experience your brand and understand its key messages. In comparison to off-line opportunities that incorporate everything from letterheads and livery to customer care lines and promotions, it is also extremely cost effective and speedy to do. In theory it should be easy to achieve a strong UX (user experience) through your website but many companies get it badly wrong. According to a recent e-consultancy report, 55% companies said they did not conduct any user experience testing! So rather than attracting their target audience, they could be driving them away.
Here are six classic UX ‘howlers’ which are made time and again:
1. Keeping your customers waiting
However, good your offer, your customers won’t think it’s worth waiting for if they are staring at a screen that is struggling to download the next page - or even the home page. Remember when you were willing to wait a few seconds for a computer to respond to a click on a website or a tap on a keyboard? These days, even 400 milliseconds is too long. Google engineers claim that this barely perceptible, ‘blink of an eyelid’ delay causes people to search less. Not surprisingly, the world’s leading search engine considers ‘load time’ a key factor when ranking websites.
Users are now attuned to the super-fast performance of slick sites and it doesn’t take much for yours to appear really clunky and slow by comparison. Rest assured, users will simply hit the ‘back’ button and move on to a competitor if they are faced with a slow loading time. And to be honest this is fair enough; why should visiting a website be like waiting for a country bus?
For the big retail players, like Amazon and Walmart, reducing page-loading time, even by one second, can see as much as a two percent increase in traffic. In fact, for Walmart every 100-millisecond decrease of page-load time sees an incremental sales conversion of one percent! Obviously, most SMEs will not have a website that gets anywhere close to the Formula One speeds of the big boys. However, whatever the size of a company, the same ground rules broadly apply.
2. Turning your site map into Hampton Court maze
Frustrating navigation is commonplace across the web. Even some of the biggest sites are hard to navigate and seem to have undergone a common sense by-pass. Navigation needs to be intuitive, descriptive and straightforward. Too many sites feel like you have been parachuted in with just a compass, and told to find your way to the heart of a maze. Flash-based sites tend to be among the very worst sinners. When designing your site, the initial step is to create a storyboard that looks a bit like a family tree. The home page is at the top and the journey flows downwards until you end up at a destination where a signpost shows you the way back. A good example is the button that allows you to “carry on shopping” when you have just paid for your goods. Remember that visitors will have different motives when they look around your website and will not always act consistently. They want the website to fit them, not the other way around so you need to ensure plenty of signposts and no dead-ends.
3. Extorting information from customers
Plenty of e-commerce sites ask users to register before the checkout in order to harvest information which will allow them to keep in contact with the customer after the sale. Many also have lengthy forms as part of the payment process rather than allowing a simple PayPal option. Metrics now allow us to easily trace customer journeys and the stats show that a lot of people hit the ‘eject’ button when it gets too onerous or time consuming - even if they have items in their ‘trolley’. Amazon’s ‘one click’ system demonstrates how effortless buying can be, and once it has been experienced the Kafka-esque form-filling and registration ‘sheep dip’ approach looks deeply unreasonable.
Forcing someone to become a member in order to checkout, or to reveal endless information with no choice, is bad karma. Most potential shoppers see registration as a barrier to checkout so why not take steps to attract registrations and allow customers to do elect this as an active choice.
4. Letting style triumph over content
Everyone wants a website to stand out and creativity is an important part of accomplishing this. However, creativity in terms of its presentation and functional design elements can often be the enemy of the user experience and obscure more than it reveals.
Customers visiting a website for the first time will want to find top level facts within the first few seconds. This could be understanding what services the company offers, the types of product being sold or simply the address. There is a standard design language for some of this basic information which you reinvent at your peril. For example, the ‘about’ page, or the ‘contact us’ page is not worth disguising with a different format unless you are extremely confident of not confusing users.
Customers should find it an intuitive process not a lengthy research task. When you set out to travel from Birmingham to London by car you plan a route that gets you there as directly as possible. What’s the point of making a detour via Bristol if you don’t need to do that? Even if your website designer is arguing that the detour is intensely creative and worth the petrol money, make sure you keep it simple and let the information be seen.
5. Not having a conversation with your customers
Social media has transformed both our culture and the way we feel about companies and brands. When people land on your homepage they are there with the expectation of interacting with your brand and are open to engage with you. At this point you need to begin a dialogue and avoid the mistake of making communication into one-way traffic. A lack of dialogue can kill user experience. Using social media plugins like social share buttons, social logins and social comments allows you to blend social media with your site, strengthening the overall experience.
However, don’t just limit your attempts to social media. A news section, a help forum, or a blog will also do the trick, as long as they are not covered in cobwebs. Keep up with new ways to keep the conversation going and nurture the interaction with your target audience. Create some customer engagement and involve them in your universe.
6. Treating your website as a brochure
A website that has the same images year in and year out, or a ‘news’ section that was last refreshed this time last year, risks losing both interest and customers. It is a mistake to treat it like a brochure which is printed once and then occasionally updated. Instead, regard it like a TV channel, a magazine or a newspaper that will need constant refreshment. Consumers expect websites to have a new twist every time they visit - events, news, evolving product offers and seasonal ideas.
No website has to be boring, even if it sells guttering or cavity wall insulation. If you have a site that cannot delight and hold visitor attention then you have failed. Obviously, for those readers who are at the design stage with their sites there is still time to tackle this knotty challenge before you switch on the lights. For others, who already have a dull site, it will mean a partial or complete rebuild.
If any of this sounds a bit daunting then my best advice would be to seek out some professional help. As a business you cannot ignore the all important UX when it comes to digital branding, otherwise your brand’s credibility and profitability could steadily be eroded. Those companies which get it right will find that it not only improves the effectiveness of their website, but it will also filter into key off-line areas such as customer care, retail environments or company culture. All aspects of brand communication will then start to work together to create a seamless and powerful user experience.