Everyone has a website these days so developing one should be straightforward, right? Then why are so many websites so difficult or frustrating to use.
We believe that developing an effective, usable website is highly achievable. Here are our 7 steps to get you there:
Step 1: Develop a clear organisational digital strategy and goals for the website
Firstly, ensure that the website is necessary – not every website needs to be built! Most microsites and any website that supports an internal vanity project are just two examples. Before embarking on a website build, make sure you have a clear website strategy and consider:
- What is the organisational purpose of this website?
- Is it serving a genuine user need?
- Is a website the best channel for this?
- What does success from this website look like for the organisation?
Step 2: Identify your users and their goals
A good website is one that will effortlessly meet the needs of its users while also delivering on organisational objectives.
To create this seamless experience we need to understand who the users are, and what their needs are. Most organisations will have an idea of who their users are, or at least who the target users are, but the second part of this is typically poorly understood.
This is not something that can be done internally – to understand what your users want means speaking to some users! It is important to speak to a wide range of existing and target users to understand their background and circumstances, what motivates them, the frustrations they experience, what information they need and how they want to get it. This can all be used to paint a picture of what your users want and how you can best deliver it.
Step 3: Decide which of the user goals you wish to support (and are able to support!)
Once step 2 has been completed you will be left with a long list of user goals. A website can never support 100% of the goals for 100% of your users so we now need to prioritise them.
To understand which are the most important user goals, a quantitative ‘Top Tasks’ approach may be useful – go out to a much larger sample of users and get them to vote on the top 5 activities they would hope to achieve on your website.
The organisation then needs to decide which goals it is possible and feasible to support, within their financial, political and technical constraints (sometimes users have unrealistic expectations!)
Step 4: Develop a user-led information architecture to underpin the site structure
Like any good house, a website needs to sit on a solid foundation: its information architecture or IA.
The best IAs are based on user evidence (gathered in steps 2 and 3 of our process), rather than organisational content offerings. Using card sorting techniques allows you to chunk information (or even user goals) into logical categories that should work for your users. It is the necessary (assuming a pre-existing site rather than a brand new enterprise) to map existing content to this proposed structure, and identify any gaps, missing content that needs to be produced, or existing content that apparently does not meet a user goal so should be removed.
Once a seemingly logical structure has been developed, it is essential to test the IA with real users to make sure it actually works for them – users will typically think and behave in a different way to the developers and the researchers!
Step 5: Create and test prototypes
It’s never too early to test concepts with users. Once you have your IA in place, it’s time to start creating some structure around it. How will your homepage, navigation pages and content pages look? These can start as wireframes or low-fidelity prototypes before evolving to be more high-fidelity prototypes but make sure to get regular user feedback along the way to help shape your design thinking.
Don’t feel you need have a fully formed idea before speaking to some customers – prototype testing can happen at any stage, from the most basic line drawings through to a fully functional design.
Rather than just starting with one design, the very early prototypes should consist of two or three highly contrasting versions to see which approach best reflects the brand values and which elements work most effectively.
Step 6: Iteratively test during the build
Once you begin to emerge from the prototype stage, development of the website will start in earnest. During this time, it is very easy to get carried away with the design and how great your new website is looking.
However, it is important not to forget who this website is for and usability testing with users throughout the development process will ensure the final product not only looks great but also best achieves the site objectives and is a delight to use.
Don’t forget to incorporate digital accessibility from the beginning of development, and include users with access needs and low digital skills in the testing to ensure the new site is usable by all your customers.
Step 7: Don’t launch and leave
Congratulations on launching your shiny new website! While this is definitely a time for celebration it is not the end of the road.
Websites and the user needs they support are not static, and competitor sites will be changing and improving. As the needs evolve so must the website: establishing a customer feedback loop is crucial for maintaining a great user experience. This is likely to involve a combination of website analytics, surveys and more in-depth user research at intervals throughout the year.
Whatever method you use, incorporating user feedback into ongoing developments will ensure your website continues to effectively meets the needs of your users, while also delivering on business objectives.