UX strategy in the real world
Far too often, User Experience (or UX) is treated as a vague and academic topic. Those of us within the web design industry often refer to it in terms of buzzwords and flowcharts. Business owners and executives think of UX as a thought exercise that only slightly informs web development decisions.
However, once you get past all the talk about design flows, touch points, and strategy documents, UX really comes down to giving potential buyers a smooth interaction on your website. That, in turn, can help you to lower bounce rates (visits that result in no interaction with your pages) and increase sales opportunities.
In this post we’re going to take user experience principles away from the abstract so you can see how they affect your business. To understand how UX strategy impacts your bottom line in the real world there are some things you have to know, starting with some basic foundations…
What is UX strategy?
If you are like a lot of business owners and executives we work with, you’ve heard of UX strategy but might not have a firm grip on what it actually means.
In the most straightforward terms possible, your UX strategy is a plan that combines your business goals with the way you want to present your business to the public, and usually individual buyers. It involves thinking through the process of meeting a search or interested party, activating their interest, and engaging them as they move through your sales pipeline. That’s instructive, but it’s still fairly vague.
To clear things a little further, you might think of UX strategy as a flowchart, or even a series of flowcharts. On the sides are entry points you have places where new people are coming into contact with your business. From there, they can take a number of different paths that depend on their interests and ultimate goals. As they move along from one step to another you are providing information, exposing visitors to your brand, and ultimately offering them unique value points they wouldn’t find anywhere else.
In other words, with each click or “touch” you are offering them something that makes it easier to find answers and enhancing their trust and credibility in your own solutions. Anything that makes that flow go more smoothly is good UX. Whatever gets in the way leaves room for improvement.
Although UX strategy goes well beyond the realm of web design, it is often something that guides design and development choices. Streamlining things like menus and search bars enhances UX by reducing friction for your web visitors. Changing the placement of images, offers, and subheadings to make pages easier to scan does the same.
To focus solely on the individual elements of UX within your site misses the big picture, though. So, let’s back up and see where UX strategy comes from.
How to create a winning UX strategy
At the heart of any winning UX strategy is insight. It’s not merely data but actual understanding.
That’s because good UX is very relative and subjective. What works for one company or situation won’t necessarily be effective or profitable for another. Senior citizens use websites differently than millennials. Someone searching for a complex B2B solution might invest time in a white paper, whereas a person interested in a fast, transactional purchase may be in a rush.
For this reason, a lot of the conventional wisdom about good UX principles can be misleading. While there certainly are guidelines that can be followed, you should be wary of hard-and-fast rules. What one marketer or guru takes as gospel might not be the best solution for your situation.
In fact, we think the best starting point for your UX strategy is a bit of self-reflection. Gather some key team members together with your trusted marketing partner and ask a handful of questions:
- What is the core mission of your business or organization?
- Who are your customers or stakeholders, and what do they really want from you?
- How can you make it easier for them to reach your customers’ goals while simultaneously moving towards your own?
- What separates you from your competition, and how is that conveyed to your target audience of buyers?
- Who besides customers do you need to influence and interact with on a regular basis?
These are simple questions, but that doesn’t mean they are always easy to answer. Avoid the temptation to provide knee-jerk responses. Think in terms of past, present, and future, as well as competitive strengths and constraints. Consider how you might answer the same questions for your closest competitors, or how your best customers might answer them for you.
Going through these issues should feel more like a conversation than an interview. These questions are just starting points for discussion, not boxes that need to be filled in. You’re trying to not only acquaint yourself with your business from someone else’s point of view, but also to think about the ways you can apply the lessons to real-world buyer interactions.
It’s worth noting that your answers will change over time. That’s partly because your focus will shift, of course, but also because you’ll move away from brainstorming sessions and toward more concrete data points from your web analytics package. In other words, you might need to make some educated guesses when putting together your UX strategy document. Before long, though, you’ll have the ability to fill in the blanks with more complete pieces of information.
Developing a UX strategy document
It’s important to put your initial allusions about UX strategy into written form for a couple of reasons. The first is that it forces you to clarify your thoughts and generate agreement within internal circles. It’s easier for everyone to march to the same tune when the notes are written on paper in front of them.
The second is that a completed document can be shared with new team members and vendors who will be tasked with putting your UX strategy into place. They need to know who you are as a business, which principles guide you, and how to carry out your vision.
In many cases these details aren’t ever made clear. When that happens you’re leaving things to chance and allowing for drift to push your UX strategy in new directions over time. At that point, all the hard work you’ve done turns into a simple thought exercise with no real payoff. You’ll want something firmer than that in place.
Your UX strategy document should include details such as:
- How UX will be guided by your business strategy
- Whom your organization exists to serve and what you provide
- Where your differentiators and competitive strengths live
- Which key features or touch points are crucial to stakeholders
- How you will define success in your UX strategy
Your strategy document doesn’t have to be long, but it should cover these points clearly and explicitly. There shouldn’t be any doubt for someone who reads it, about your capabilities or desired outcomes.
This is a good place to point out that most businesspeople don’t have a great deal of experience thinking these kinds of issues through. A good marketing team can be very beneficial in helping you to develop your UX strategy, just as they would a branding style sheet or other similar document. Not only will they have more background with the subject, but they also can provide an outside perspective so you don’t get caught in the classic “forest for the trees” trap of overlooking simple things.
Putting your UX strategy to work on the web
With a good UX strategy and framework in place it’s time to return to the issues we mentioned previously. Namely, how do you use your content strategy to boost real-world sales, leads, and conversions?
The first step is to simply construct or refine your website in a way that’s consistent with your UX guide. If you know what you have to offer, and what your customers or stakeholders want, then set up your design and content in a way that delivers it. Make your pages easy to understand and navigate. Think about what your perfect buyer would be looking for and how they would move through your website to find it. Then, remove all obstacles that are in the way.
The next step is to look for ways to enhance the buyer’s journey. The people who come to your website take action for their reasons, not yours. It’s counterintuitive, but marketers sometimes hurt their own results by including extraneous steps or pieces of information that get in the way of a successful conversion. For instance, if you have a ton of details on your website about your company’s history and location, but your best customers are more concerned with service terms, then you could be bogging them down with details they don’t need.
It’s easy when we put on our “marketing” hats to start thinking more steps and data points are better. However, that’s not necessarily consistent with the way we would behave when we are buyers or researchers ourselves. Often, we find that when our time and money are on the line we want to get to the point quickly. The same could be true for your customers.
Remove other UX stumbling blocks
When you move beyond the strategic goals of UX and get into more precise tactical measures, keeping visitors on your website is often a matter of removing obstacles. These can include but aren’t limited to:
- Slow website performance (i.e. long page loading times)
- On-screen errors or security warnings
- Messaging or navigation that seem confusing to buyers
- Text or offers that seem mismatched with a target audience
- Inconsistencies in design and branding
These kinds of stumbling blocks create overt problems and subconscious doubts about your credibility and trustworthiness. They throw potential customers off-course in their search for solutions and paint your business in an unfavorable light.
For this reason, high bounce rates and low user engagement indicators can often be traced back to UX bottlenecks and stumbling blocks. They are the natural result of design errors and incomplete UX strategy decisions. They may be operational in nature, but they often refer back to bigger challenges or points of confusion.
In other words, if a website is poorly structured and keeps visitors from converting into leads or customers, that’s a problem in and of itself. However, it’s also likely to be associated with a lack of strategic vision around UX principles and desired outcomes.
Using web metrics to guide UX strategy development
As we mentioned earlier, decision-makers in the business realm often have to begin putting UX strategy documents together based on a combination of inspiration and observation. However, as the business grows and the strategy is implemented, data can be used to drive further improvements and refinements.
This is particularly true when you consider the impact of web analytics which can expose UX challenges (such as high bounce rates) while highlighting opportunities. When you can zero-in the corners of a complex website that lead to the highest number of exits you can restructure those resources to stop traffic from slipping away. Likewise, when you know exactly which content pages attract attention, and can see the offers that generate inquiries, you develop a keen sense of what your buyers want to know more about. You can also use split tests to determine the effectiveness of visual elements, calls to action, and other website ingredients.
For most business owners and executives, analytics drive UX strategy improvements over time. They make an organization more efficient and lead to measurable gains in the metrics that matter most.
Is your UX strategy lacking?
Having covered the importance of providing a good user experience and the tools needed to offer one, we come to the magic question: how well is your company or organization performing in this area?
If you feel like there’s room for clarity and improvement, we can help. At Station8 we begin every client on-boarding process with detailed interviews and research, allowing us to develop UX, branding, and marketing insights that create real opportunities.
If you’re ready to move past the cookie-cutter templates and checklists your competitors are following, and want to start seeing real bottom-line improvement in your business, contact us for a free consultation today!