How a customer or prospect experiences your website goes beyond aesthetics. It includes how easy it is to navigate and find the information they need to move forward in the shopping or buying process.
But how can you tell whether your website is working for your customers?
When evaluating user experience, start with the why
On a recent road trip to Missouri, I saw a billboard south of St. Louis for a deli. It looked amazing. I was hungry and would have gladly pulled off the interstate to grab a sandwich.
In big, bold words, the ad proclaimed: Order online and pick up your sandwich.
The problem: They did show their company name and a logo of a pig, but their website was missing. And there was no exit number or address. Oh, and no phone number. It was minimalism at its finest.
The purpose of that billboard may have been to draw hungry travelers to their door. But the user experience definitely was not contributing toward that goal.
Apply that idea to your website. What do you want to accomplish? Many distributors’ websites don’t align with their overall goals.
Start with understanding the difference between shopping and buying, which will help you understand the why of your website:
Buying involves the actual process of purchasing a product, whether that’s online via a transactional shopping cart, or through picking up the phone and buying from a customer service rep.
Shopping happens before the transaction and is separate from a shopping cart on your website. Shopping involves finding, researching and selecting a product, but not purchasing it. You might support shopping with content and tools on your website, such as a selector guide to help your customer determine which PPE to use for their work environment. This is the part of the equation that is more difficult to execute well on a website but has the greatest potential for driving demand across all of your channels.
The user experience for a transactional buying-focused site will be very different than one for a shopping-focused website.
To understand your customers’ needs, you need to ask them. We conduct Voice of Customer surveys for distributors, and have surveyed 10s of thousands of end-users on how they prefer to do business with their suppliers, as well as how they want to be communicated with.
Understand customer intent
Here are a few ways you can evaluate how well your website is helping your customers reach their goals:
Ask Customers if your website is working for them.
A simple approach is to ask your customers if your website is meeting their needs. An exit survey – which pops up on your website as a customer is leaving it – asks two simple questions: Why did they visit your website, and were they able to accomplish what they wanted?
It’s a way of collecting continuous feedback with very little additional work. Examples of reasons may include looking up an invoice, checking on the status of an order, researching a product or placing an order.
This is a powerful tool that can uncover hurdles your visitors may be hitting on your website. Over several months, you’ll be able to systematically fix repeat issues that may be hurting user experience on your website.
Dig into search data.
If you want to understand users’ intent on your website, one point of data to look at is the top 50 or 100 items they are searching for on your website. You can view this onsite search data through Google Analytics. Does the destination page they were taken to fill their need or answer their question?
For example, at one distribution company I worked at, we discovered some recurring issues with the product search function. For example, people were searching for “hammer drill,” and instead of a hammer drill, the results would include hammers and drills. These are the kinds of things you may not realize until you start to observe user behavior.
Improve your Core Web Vitals
Great user experience improves your search visibility. Part of that is tied to how easy it is to navigate your website, how quickly it loads and how well it performs on a mobile device. This is all measured by Google’s Core Web Vitals, which will take effect in 2021.
Track your Core Web Vitals as part of your evaluation of your website user experience.
Find your Core Web Vitals report within your Google Search Console. When you view how well your website is performing, you can identify steps to improve on those metrics, including systematic upgrades and individual tactics that a marketer could fix. This might include making sure your images are not too large. Bringing in an outside expert to conduct an SEO audit can help uncover and prioritize action steps.
Get ready for continuous improvement
Improving user experience on your website is not a one-and-done project. Beyond the big fixes, it involves ongoing tweaking and testing. Here are some examples of the types of questions you ask as you update and improve your website:
- Would a red or a blue button be more effective?
- How many clicks does it take for someone to finish a transaction?
- How easy is it to filter search results by attributes?
- Can your users find what they need based on their location?
- Do you offer real-time data on shipping speed and inventory availability, including location?
- How robust is your product data for your most popular items?
Always be thinking from your customers’ point of view. Even the smallest things can affect whether your user stays and makes a purchase or picks up the phone – or walks away because they’re frustrated they can’t find what they need. Customers expect a frictionless experience today.
It’s not a stretch to say that user experience has a direct impact on sales across all of your channels, so prioritizing a robust evaluation of your website from this angle is critical to success in your digital strategy.
Dean Mueller is Independent Consultant at Distribution Strategy Group. He has more than 30 years of experience in sales and marketing and helps distributors build holistic digital strategies that drive a significant shift to online sales, improve profitability and grow customer satisfaction. Take your digital strategy to the next level. Contact Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org.