Does your website still flow smoothly?

Despite websites coming in many varied shapes and sizes, managers and editors often require a solution to a very common problem. They want their customers to trust their website, navigate fluently and come away having achieved whatever they set out to do. The difficulty is that the solution will inevitably come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes.

Managing an existing website can often mean that you are tasked with frequent requests for new content, features and functionality. What’s more; it is likely that your website now needs to stay even more in tune with other communications policies and channels. Over time, you may have integrated online forms, podcasts, videos, RSS, online payments or email updates. These additions will either tie your website in more closely with other things that you do or enable yet further lines of communication with your customers.

Time to reflect

When you do get a chance to step back and think about how the website has changed over time, you may find yourself in one of the following situations:

  • You feel that your website has outgrown its original structure because new content doesn’t fit very well into your pre-set top level categories;
  • It is easy to manage all those requests for more content; but it is getting increasingly difficult to integrate any new features or functionality alongside older content or to manage each of these new features and functions in a clear and consistent way;
  • You think that you might be in need of a more fundamental change with regard to how the website displays or how the website is managed. However, you’re not yet sure how to describe exactly what that major change should be.

Getting started

In these situations, there are a number of different approaches that will help you get started. They are research undertakings that help you to understand the true nature of the problem and the best opportunities at hand for overcoming it. Choosing the right approach is not easy because it will depend on the precise difficulties that you, and your users are experiencing and dealing with on a day to day basis. Here are some initial guidelines with regard to what works best when.

Plenty of content updates but there’s nowhere sensible to put them.

If you are having difficulty placing new kinds of content into a pre-set structure or information architecture; then you need a solid basis for understanding how the scope and nature of your website has changed. If your website has up to 3000 pages; then a good starting point is a full content audit .  A content audit can be tailored to identify missing categories, out of date content or content to delete or merge.  A content review is also useful for larger sites but needs to be considered with care, to understand who should review specific sections and what they should look for, whether sampling is appropriate and what methodology will be employed.

Carefully designed card sorting and interview research will provide you with invaluable insights about whether the information you actually have or want to have online is actually what your customers are looking for. Well designed card sort studies reveal new and improved grouping patterns for website information which make better sense to users.

The structure is good but it just takes far too long to do anything online.

If you’re happy with the overall structure, it could be that something else is destroying the ‘fluency’ of your website from a customer’s point of view.  It could simply take far too long to get to the useful pages. Alternatively, you may have noticed an extraordinarily high drop out rate from recently launched online forms.

In this scenario, a better starting point is to carry out customer journey analysis . Analysing the step by step process of getting from A to B using an annotated flow chart is a great, cost effective way to identify why users give up before clicking “submit” or “add to basket”.  A customer journey analysis will result in a list of practical and tangible recommendations for improving specific pathways or interactions. The next step is to chart the ideal process or “flow” for getting from A to B, ironing out all the glitches, adding error prevention support and optimising the number of steps in the journey.

My website’s become difficult to manage because there is just too much information.

In this scenario, a more strategic approach is often required.  You need to review and evaluate your current situation. This will help you develop a clearer picture and determine whether you need to:

  • Dramatically cut down what you are communicating and overhaul your online proposition;
  • Move to a more sophisticated or flexible technology for managing your website;
  • Align your website more effectively with the services that your organisation offers;
  • Develop a website refresh plan that enables you to tackle both strategic and tactical objectives incrementally; gradually and iteratively resulting in a better website.

This is where it really helps to call on the experts.  An expert review will shed light on the top priority problems and recommend the most appropriate next steps to take.  Collaborative requirements workshops are a useful tool for focusing your effort if your team already have useful insights with regard to what’s wrong or what your customers think.

Usability testing, online surveys and stakeholder interviews will build your understanding of your website’s problems and solutions from different viewpoints. It is easier to take the right approach to improving the user experience when you’ve got a balanced viewpoint.  Sometimes though, you’ll know instinctively which ‘viewpoint’ you know the least or the most about. If you have a clear understanding of your business goals, then it’s better to focus on the user. If your business direction has recently changed then it makes more sense to focus on your business stakeholders.  Sometimes, when the problem you’ve identified is all about editing; you’ll want to spend more time listening to, understanding and training your editors, authors and communications professionals.

Ultimately, the choice is yours, but the more information you can provide about where you think you are, the better we can tailor expert methodologies or documents to suit your situation.