If somebody asked you the best way to get to Bristol you’d need to know a few things before you could help them:
- Where they were starting from
- How they were travelling
- What is their previous experience or knowledge (no point just telling them to get on a train if they have no idea how to buy a ticket)?
- Will they be able to understand the directions in the way that you are presenting them?
- Do they have any mobility or access difficulties?
- Is there a particular part of Bristol they want to get to?
Now apply that thinking to your website.
There will be specific goals that your customers want to achieve (destinations they want to get to, if you like). The number of times they achieve the goal divided by the total number of visits is your conversion rate. But how often do online brands, websites and eCommerce stores concentrate all of their energy on the final stages of the conversion rather than understanding the entire customer journey and who is making it.
Optimising your shopping cart and checkout to maximise conversions is clearly essential and we’ve covered many aspects of this in the past, such as in this article on checkout design: http://www.evosite.co.uk/blog/good-ecommerce-checkout-design.
But these techniques don’t help you much if you can’t get the right people onto your site in the first place and guide them through their individual decision making process to the desired goal.
Here’s a stark message for anyone designing a website or online store: when you skimp on the process of defining user personas your site will always be compromised. It will lack the content, information or vital process steps needed to maximise your conversions. In all probability it will be fundamentally and structurally flawed and you will definitely be missing sales that you could have had.
You’re probably getting the impression that I think personas are important.
Fundamental points to think about when building personas:
- Interests and motivations
- Issues and challenges
Most importantly you have to be clear about what people will want to do on your site and what is motivating them to want to do it. Different personas will have their own individual goals and motivations.
When you’ve identified your personas and their goals, your first two important questions are these:
- How will you get them onto your site?
- How are you going to make it easy for them to take the most appropriate journey when they get there?
There are a variety of routes that people will use to end up on your site. It could be search, referral or social traffic, for example. A detailed set of customer personas will tell you where to cast your line and what you need to bait it with.
Take search as an example. A raw analysis of search volumes for likely keywords will only tell you so much. Filtering these using the likely motivations, desires and search behaviour of your target personas will give you a more intelligent view of the keywords that are likely to be most productive and where you need to make certain you rank well.
You can apply similar arguments with content marketing and social media. The more you understand about your target customers the easier it is to direct your energy towards earning the traffic you really want.
A clear understanding of your target personas should also have a massive influence on the way your site looks and functions.
Mapping the journey
The foundation for a successful website or eCommerce store is always drawing a clear map that links each persona to their goal.
- What, exactly, will they need to see on screen to guide them to the next step?
- What questions will they have at each stage that have to be answered before they can move on?
- How can you minimise the number of steps in the process without overwhelming your customer with information and options at each stage?
With multiple personas and multiple goals this can get complicated. If you’re not 100% clear in your thinking and mapping, the resulting customer journeys can be chaotic and bewildering.
Progression is a key concept in designing effective customer journeys. What steps are required for a customer to complete a task and how can the process be as streamlined as possible?
This can have a massive influence on how you plan your site content.
Take this example:
- Step one might be to make a customer understand and agree that they have a specific need.
- Step two would then be to get them understand that what you are offering is directly relevant to that need and is an effective solution.
- Step three would be to make them understand why yours is a better solution than the alternatives.
- Step four would deal with specific queries and potential objections you would expect that persona to have.
- And step five would provide an impetus to take action now rather than later.
Miss any of these steps and you are likely to lose a conversion.
Also, customers might land on different parts of the site depending on where they’ve come from. Are there on-screen elements that will always need to be displayed to help them get onto the appropriate pathway quickly?
And imagine how much easier this approach makes it to identify the content, links and CTAs you need to provide for each step.
The functionality your site needs in order to support the decision making process and the customer journey is suddenly much clearer. You’ll start to see your site through a potential customer’s eyes and understand the options, functionality and information they will expect or need to see.
With clear progression routes mapped out you can then focus on making the process as direct and pain-free as possible for every persona, goal and customer journey. Each individual process can then be designed to be as simple as possible because you understand exactly what you are looking to achieve at each stage.
Ultimately this will result in a much more enjoyable and rewarding customer experience for the finished site. Defining, mapping and optimising the customer journey gives you the soundest possible basis for designing the user experience.
From your customer journey maps you can build much more intelligent wire-frames and make a direct relation to how a real person with a specific goal will move through the site and arrive at a successful conclusion.
Without putting in the analysis and hard work up-front there’s always the real risk that your site becomes an uncoordinated collection of information and functions that potential customers have to work through for themselves - if they have the patience and resilience.
Analysis and tracking
The final advantage with clearly mapping the customer journey comes when you want to analyse the performance of the finished site. With a clear route map you can define clear goals to track using Analytics data.
This gives you a much more useful picture of how effectively the site is working. You can tell if people are dropping out at critical parts of the process and investigate what might be lacking. You might also see that your understanding of the predicted customer journey was incomplete. Read more about event tracking in Google Analytics: http://www.evosite.co.uk/blog/google-analytics-event-tracking-for-ecommerce
When you start with a clear model you can compare that with actual behaviour. You can then identify the changes that will result in improved conversion rates in a much more scientific and structured way. Otherwise, you might just have to guess.