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The importance of user journey in website design

User journey effectiveness is a key influence in the success of a website, especially an e-commerce site.

This is the route a customer (often referred to by developers as a user) takes through your website to complete a desired task – which could be making a reservation, purchasing a product, subscribing to a magazine, entering a competition, downloading a brochure or making an enquiry.

Getting the user journey right is vital to maximize your customer conversions – and planning the user journey (along with supporting architecture and wireframes) is one of the fundamental building blocks of a web design project.

When the process of designing a website begins, two mistakes are commonly made. Either the decision is taken to keep old site content and layout and make it look somehow ‘better’ – for example, more colourful or reflective of an organisation’s new brand identity. Or, although new content is created and a brand new site is proposed, the approach to the project focuses only on the way it looks – is it sexy? is it cool? Or whatever will reflect the brand personality. And – whilst we at gu9creative don’t disagree that the way a site looks is important – we do! – this is the wrong way to start.

User Journey: Your business objectives vs your customer needs

Before you start any actual design work at all, before the guys with the colouring pencils get involved in making things look pretty, our advice is to be clear on what the desired business outcomes and objectives for your website are. What do you want users (customers) to do on your new website? – and how will you define the success or otherwise of these actions?

When you work with the gu9 team, this initial detailed conversation with us forms the launch pad for developing an effective user journey, something on which we put a lot of emphasis upon as part of our web design consultancy.

So – the first goal is to map user flow – the actions that typically take customers or users from their entry point into the site through conversion funnels and towards the final action (signup, purchase and so forth). Typical entry points include organic search, paid advertising, comparison sites, press articles etc. Once a customer has landed on the site, dependent on his or her profile and desired outcome, there may be several routes they can take to complete the desired action – usually informed by the way your business operates but heavily influenced by what is regarded as good usability – web design that helps rather than hinders the user.

Developing a website that meets business objectives

When working with our client Your Holidays, we spent time consulting with them to understand their business and the way they work with customers. The site offers a range of low cost holidays to customers, many of whom enter the site through cost comparision websites such as Ice Lolly. These users have had their expectations set already by their gateway of entry; they are looking for value in their holiday. However, although they may know they want a holiday, for some of them the main focus is cost alone, destination is irrelevant – and for others they know the destinations they favour. We needed to meet both these users head on so we planned user journeys from the entry point of the home page that channelled these two main groups. The home page features attractive graphic panels that clearly show low starting prices for popular holiday destinations as well as a prominent search bar – common on holiday sites – featuring clear drop down destination choices. However, once the customer gets into the conversion funnel and is selecting the details of their holiday, we needed to be mindful of the fact that unlike many online holiday retailers, Your Holidays like to have telephone contact with their customers as part of the sales process in order to upsell some holiday extras – so all pages feature prominent calls to action encouraging customers to call for assistance, at which point the sales team focuses on conversion off-line.

Indicate key benefits and reduce friction

Whatever the route you wish the user to take along the way, the final destination/action must provide satisfaction, value and benefit for the user as well as the business – or users will not be motivated to take it. In other words, when planning the user journey bear in mind – what am I offering my customers that will benefit them??
We would encourage you to pay attention to:

  • A clear, benefit-orientated value proposition
  • Explanations as to why your offer is useful, how it works, why it is better than the competition
  • Provision of convincing proof points (references, testimonials etc)
  • Reducing friction – make forms simple, keep language plain where possible – make it easy for users to understand
  • Ensure there are plenty of clear and attractive calls to action to guide users to the next step in the journey – don’t make them guess what to do next.

A recent project with Fish Financial, focussed very much on the expertise that was offered – as this was key to successful conversion of new clients. Using calls to action, this expertise was flagged throughout the user journey on the brochure site, using a range of case studies and highlighting the experience of the key team members, backed up by testimonials.
As part of a user journey planning we also work with clients to consider and counteract barriers to conversion. For example, where a user may get stuck or confused, or lose their impetus. For example, on e-commerce sites, easy to read reviews can support the conversion when the customer is about to place an item in their basket. This is also true of supporting info such as ‘customers also bought’ – indicating that there is a range of products and choice and also underscoring the fact that the company has already gained loyal customers.

We also tend to use wireframes prior to designing pages, in order to set out the key areas of page real estate that the user will engage with as part of his or her journey. This saves time during the design process meaning the design team can focus on the way the pages look rather than the way they function.

Challenge your assumptions when planning your website

Clearly, not all businesses are the same and neither are all customers. And, bear in mind that just like in real life when we browse and window shop, most customers do not make buying decisions the first time they visit your website. This makes it doubly important that you give the users sufficient information when they do visit – don’t leave any gaps in the information they might need to be confident in their interactions with the site and encourage the conversion you desire.
It is all too easy to make assumptions about what a customer wants – and as part of our work with you we will encourage you to question these assumptions. Don’t forget the website is not for you – it is for your customer – and if you look at it that way, always questioning the way the user journey meets the true customer need, you are halfway to success.

Planning a user journey often challenges your perceptions and understanding of your business, yourself and your customer. It can be a time consuming and occasionally frustrating process but time spent at this stage will pay dividends once a website designer is creating the look of the site and the website developer is building it. They cannot be expected to bring to the website design and build process a detailed understanding of the needs of your user, or the intimate workings of your business.

The groundwork you do on developing the user journey will ensure that on the day of launch your new website not only looks ‘pretty’ but is also an effective sales tool.