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website design reseaarch

Why Conventional Research Isn’t Good Enough for your Website

Public-facing websites are built for an organization’s current and potential customers.  While this statement sounds obvious, users of new and redesigned websites often struggle to get what they want from them.  A website that cannot easily be navigated is like a department store without aisle signs – when no one knows where to find what they need, it’s bound to lose more customers than it gains.website design reseaarch

Why is the logical, accepted, and obvious element of user-centric design lacking in most websites?  One explanation may be that people who develop the site also design its navigation and flow – and they, meaning the people doing the work,  find their website easy to use.  Human nature is to think the rest of the world thinks like “you”, so if something is easy for you, it must be easy for others as well. However, even companies using separate designers, developers, and research people that build sites based on survey results, focus group findings, data from Google Analytics, or a combination of all three also miss the mark at times. Why is this?

The problem with many research methods is that people respond differently than they behave. It’s related to perspective; you can’t read the label on the jar you are in. So if a website’s success is based on inaccurate or incomplete information, the probability of success is remote.

Find Insight to Strengthen your Website Design

Information from traditional research methods is important, but not enough.  When using tools such as traditional surveys or questionnaires to study buyer behaviors, questions are asked about action after it has occurred, in a different place than it has occurred, and independent of other factors that influence a person’s natural tendencies.  You are gathering information using hindsight, and as a result, contextual information is missed that may be critical to your understanding of the reasons for their behavior and potential next steps.  For example, triggers to a behavior subjects (website visitors) display but are not aware of themselves.  Considering how much of our existence is lived on autopilot, there is a great deal of what we do in a rote mode that we are unaware of until someone else points it out to us.  Our instincts and habits also contribute to our actions in ways we may not register consciously.  One example is the workarounds people take to achieve objectives unattainable using conventional methods.

These workarounds may be so well-established as response-driven behaviors that they become part of informal processes on “how things get done”. Understanding the potential workaround behaviors of your target market isolates a problem and end-goal they may never state as a problem even when asked directly about in a survey.   This insight could only be acknowledged through first-hand observation and real-time inquiries during an encounter.  Once realized, invisible needs are illuminated, the path is taken to overcome their obstacles becomes clear, and your vision for a solution unfolds.   By understanding the inherent, routine behaviors that your target market elicits when they reach an impasse, you can bridge any gaps your website design may have to the information they seek. Ultimately, the key to real insight is mapping your site visitor’s intent, goals, and actions back to your new redesign’s workflow.

Before launching your new or redesigned website, consider finding the answers to these questions prior to making decisions on behalf of your target audience.

  1. What do users want to achieve?
  2. What is preventing them from accomplishing their goal(s)?
  3. What does the path of least resistance look like?  

These three questions should not be viewed through the lens of your logic even when you think the answers are simple, self-evident, common sense, or obvious.  Your target market may think differently than you when their world is based on a different set of logic and common sense than yours.  Plus, there may be surprising constraints or limitations that you did not know existed in your customer’s world which makes your ideal solution interesting, but irrelevant to them.  They may also frame the problem differently which leads to a different set of alternatives you never even considered.

  1. What do users want to achieve? Potential customers land on your website for a reason that directs their online behavior.  Not knowing this vital information can misdirect your line of thinking from the start.  Knowing what prompted their need (trigger), why they needed it (execution), and what they will do with what they need (application) will help you more closely align with your potential customer’s mindset.  Understanding only one of the three is not enough to see the big picture, and what you do see may lead you down the wrong path.  Triangulating different sources of information such as looking at their online behavior, in-person observation of videos documenting unscripted activities will give you a better and broader appreciation.  In addition to observing a sample of your target market, ask questions using questionnaires or surveys regarding before, during, and after, then probe a little deeper with follow-up research until you find patterns, associations, relationships, connections that string together dots to the big picture.
  2. What is preventing them from accomplishing their goal(s)? It is necessary to understand why they think they have not been able to accomplish their goals.  Find out what the problem is in overcoming their problem.  You could do so by asking them to show you what they are currently doing to get the desired result – with a special emphasis on any obstacles preventing them from achieving their goal.
  3.  What does the path of least resistance look like? The path of least resistance is based on utopia – an ideal scenario void of limitations, constraints, or brick walls.  Their answer may not be the best answer, but an answer that works for them in their natural conditions may still be the right answer. If roadblocks exist within the framework of your website try using their response to make their journey as effortless as possible.

The key to consumer-centric web development and design is making the investment to understand your target market, their drivers, their deterrents, and their goals. With this knowledge, you will create a website that resonates with your audience, communicates with them in their terms, and provides easy access to the information they seek. They will reward you with their trust and time, which are critical building blocks to the success of your website and organization.

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