Time For a Redesign? Get to Know Your Users First.

There are several good reasons why you might decide to redesign your web site and Steve Kiernan II was nice enough to detail them in an excellent blog post recently. To paraphrase Steve’s points, it really comes down to this: if your current web site isn’t effective, it’s time to redesign.

But how do you determine if your site is effective? Start by understanding your users.

First and foremost, your new design needs to cater to your users. Understanding who is using your current web site and how they are interacting with your content is crucial. Once you understand why users are coming to your site (or why they aren’t) and what they’re looking for, you’ll be able to make decisions about what content should be pushed to the forefront and drive the redesign.

Web Site Reporting

You can use tools like Google Analytics to learn more about your user base, including where they’re located geographically, what technology they’re using, and how they’re getting to the site. You can also see what pages your customers are viewing and how they’re engaging with your content.

Customer Polling

You can reach out to your clients via email, phone, or postal mail, or you can use services like SurveyMonkey or Wufoo to set up questionnaires to gather user demographics and feedback. This will allow you to ask targeted questions and gather feedback from actual users. To capture feedback from the widest audience, you should use a variety of methods to communicate with your customers.

User Groups

To go a step further, you can set up user groups and watch how customers interact with your web site. Ask users to complete common tasks (i.e. find the company phone number, add a t-shirt to the shopping cart, etc.) and observe how they complete them. This will allow you to see what tasks users struggle with and where the web site suffers (or flourishes). You’ll also have a captive audience so you’ll be able to ask questions and gather feedback.

So, now you understand your users. What’s next?

Review Business Objectives

Once you gathered that information, you’ll need to answer two very important questions:

#1 – Do the business objectives for your site align with actual user engagement?

If they do, then your redesign should focus on improving what you’re already doing well and refreshing visuals as needed.

If they don’t, then your redesign should push users to the content that will help you achieve those goals while still allowing users to efficiently access the content that they’re looking for.

For example, let’s say you sell t-shirts and sneakers. You earn more money on sneakers, but you sell a lot more t-shirts. As a result, you may want to push sneakers in your redesign, but you shouldn’t make buying t-shirts difficult. Selling t-shirts should simply be the second priority of the new design.

#2 – Do your actual users align with your target audience?

If they do, then you’re in good shape. Your redesign can focus on small improvements and new graphics and you don’t need to make sweeping changes.

If they don’t, then your new design should cater to the desired audience, but still be welcoming and accessible to the other users.

Let’s say you’ve got a site dedicated to promoting your region or city as a vacation destination and you offer information about local attractions and events that visitors may be interested in. But, Analytics shows that a large segment of your site traffic actually comes from area residents looking for exciting things to do on the weekends. When planning your redesign, you could consider adding a “staycation” section designed specifically with these people in mind. While the main focus of your site can be attracting out of town guests, you’d still be able to offer the valuable information so many people are looking to your site to provide.

Determine Priority Content and Design the Site Around It

Simply put, you need to determine what content is most important and build the design (especially the Home page) around that content. See my blog post on this very subject for additional information.

Get Additional Feedback

Once you’ve gone through the design phase, put it in front of your users and get their feedback. Before you commit to the costs of development, you’ll want to make sure that current users won’t have trouble interacting with the new design.

Setting up a small focus group, rather than a large pool of users, may give you the most valuable feedback because you’ll be able to see individual reactions and speak to users one-on-one.

Continue Monitoring

It’s easy to think your project is complete once your new site live, but remember-ongoing user satisfaction is the true measure of success for any redesign. That’s why it’s important that you continue to monitor user interaction even after your new site has launched. You’ll need to make sure that users are still able to accomplish their objectives on the site and determine the effectiveness of new initiatives.

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