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Understanding user experience (UX), part 1: Why your website needs an audit

There was a time when a reasonably pretty website could serve the purpose of attracting and serving customer needs. However, in today’s fast changing online world, websites continually need to adapt to industry trends and customer expectations. In part 1 of the user experience (UX) series, we find out how online businesses can benefit from a UX audit.

According to a 2010 Gomez report, 88 per cent of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad user experience, making it critical for business owners to ensure a smooth interaction between the user and their website.

But how do you identify parts on your website that are causing friction? The answer, according to Luke Chambers, user experience lead at Experia Digital, and co-founder of UX Mastery, is a UX audit: a strategic approach to solving problems your visitors face when interacting with your website.

Here, Chambers shares the key benefits of a UX audit for online businesses.

Benefits of UX audits

Understanding a problem before attempting to solve it is a key principle in the user experience field. A hands-on audit of your e-commerce website can help identify key issues that affect your customer’s experience. Usually these issues are around common customer tasks, your brand communication, product offerings, website usability and accessibility issues. These issues may act as barriers to your customers successfully completing the checkout process.

An audit doesn’t fix the problems, but it gives you a clear indication of where you need to invest more attention. By following a robust user experience process, you can research with your customers and iteratively improve your website.

The key benefits of a UX audit are:

1. It can help you quickly identify specific obstacles that are getting in the way of busy, on-the-go customers. For example, reducing too many form fields.

2. It will also help identify where decisions are useful and important, what the options should be, and help remove the nice-to-haves so you can focus on the high-impact necessary alternatives. Giving people too many options can lead to a paradox of choice.

3. If customers know where they came from and where they are going, it will increase their confidence in your website. An audit can help find opportunities for signposts, cues and feedback.

4. An audit will help you create a useful, usable and meaningful interaction between your site and your customer. This way you you can find and replace jargon and assess the quality of content on your website.

5. It will help you find touch points appropriate for adding default options for your customers. For example, you can add in-line text in website forms to guide your customers.

Creating a winning UX strategy

Each website has a different goal: some aim to inform, some to make sales. Therefore, the way a user interacts with them also differs considerably. There is no standard UX strategy that everyone can adopt.

In spite of the differences, there are a few common considerations each business should keep in mind before developing a UX strategy tailored to their website.

Start early. Consider user experience early in your project, so you can identify and clarify business opportunities from the outset and steer the project accordingly. Don’t confuse user experience design with user interface design — they’re quite different!

Meet business and consumer needs. Look for the sweet spot where business needs and customer needs intersect. This is where your strongest business case exists, and where you have the ability to make customers happiest. Once you’ve found this sweet spot, consider the interactions and content that are necessary to make it work.

Listen to customers. The biggest mistake in projects is the business failing to listen properly to its customers. Acknowledge that you are not your customer: what is obvious to you isn’t necessarily obvious to them, and vice versa. Base your decisions on research with (and feedback from) your customers.

Learn from mistakes. Follow an iterative improvement process to learn from any mistakes you will make, and to ensure your proposed solutions are actually going to make a positive difference. Making these mistakes on paper early in the process is a lot cheaper than finding out later when you’ve already invested in a solution.

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