We all have our favorite websites, those that have grabbed a hold of us as soon as we’ve hit the landing page and impressed us with their innovative approaches.
We know that having a website that grips visitors in this way is vital in being seen and raising our search engine rankings in a crowded marketplace. Yet, for many marketers and entrepreneurs, nailing down exactly how to make a site engaging is still somewhat elusive.
Every aspect of your website should be treated as an integral marketing tool. The design, the flow, the assets you use are all essential to supporting your other marketing efforts and ensuring customers not only buy your products but also engage with you in a meaningful, abiding way. The good news is, there are tested, measurable ways to really make a difference in how your website performs and its ability to convert.
We’re going to take a look at a few key areas that can be useful jumping-off points in improving engagement. We’ll provide some guidance and tips on what to incorporate into your approach, and why these have an impact. How can your website function as a more effective marketing and sales platform, and what elements can help you and your site visitors to build a fruitful online experience together?
Know Your Demographic
Excellent user experience (UX) should be a central focus of any website design, especially an e-commerce site. Ensuring smooth UX is integral to stopping consumers from abandoning their online shopping carts. When planning and building every element of your site, it’s important to ensure that it provides the user with an intuitive, enriching journey that not only meets their needs but surpasses their expectations. However, in order to reflect the requirements of your visitor, you need to gain a deeper understanding of your demographic.
This should include:
- Browsing Methods. How do they primarily use the internet? Are they browsing on a desktop? Do they prefer mobile devices? Both? Knowing how they’re likely to be interacting with your website can give you insights into making your UX more practical and streamlined.
- Age Group. This is not intended to limit your audience reach, but rather it helps you gain an understanding of their browsing habits and marketing preferences. The online behavior of Millennials tends to be quite different from that of Baby Boomers — knowing the generation you are pitching to can help you adjust their experience accordingly.
- Customer Values. When we said you need to gain a deep understanding of your demographic, we meant it. In order to engage meaningfully (and repeatedly) with your product or service, your customer needs to be able to trust in you. The UX of your website needs to showcase your credibility.
- Accessibility Needs. It is a matter of good ethics to make certain that your website is accessible to those who have differing abilities — visual impairments, cognitive difficulties, and auditory limitations can all make a difference to how users can access your services. A 2017 report found that 12.8% of the U.S. population qualifies as disabled; so this isn’t an insignificant percentage of most customer bases either. It’s important to understand your demographic’s needs for accessibility so that you can implement specific measures and design elements accordingly.
Of course, simply knowing your demographics and their various needs and preferences is just the beginning. It’s also imperative to gather a team to brainstorm ideas and set out a period of experimentation to test your hypotheses. Workshopping your ideas can not only help to define the challenges you face and their possible solutions but also produce correct metrics with which you can measure results, before committing to costly changes and resource building on your website. There is a range of website engagement tools on the market that are geared toward supporting companies who want to test multiple versions of a page or app in order to optimize for effectiveness.
Design for Conversion
Many businesses are already familiar with the sales funnel as a tool, and while it might seem manipulative, it is an important aspect in ensuring your visitor has a positive online experience as well as serving your marketing goals. It can also go spectacularly wrong when done incorrectly. The funnel you use should apply the following ideas:
- Awareness. The widest part of the conversion funnel, in which potential visitors become aware of your brand, your expertise, and how this might affect them. Some aspects of this should already have been applied before your visitor even reaches your website. Social media posts, content such as blogs and videos can all be used here and should include call-to-action messages that lead your target to your website. The voice, design, and values expressed in this content should also reflect those appearing on the website.
- Interest. Your visitor has arrived at your website, but now you need to retain this initial interest. From a design perspective, this involves making it easy for them to find the information they’ve come for, and navigate swiftly toward it. This element also needs to deepen your visitors’ interest in what you do and who you are — this is the point at which you can also introduce them to links to other content on your website that they may be interested in.
- Desire. This is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of the funnel, where you actually have to convince them that they want to commit to engaging with you. The design of your site should lead them toward assets that show them why they need your services. This is the ideal position for content that shows why what you do is effective, as well as testimonials from clients. While there should certainly be onward calls to action to seal the deal, you can also include softer options such as getting them to join an email list or make an inquiry with you.
- Action. As the name of the level suggests, this is where the visitor takes action to become a customer. The design elements of your website should make it as easy as possible for them to do this — limit the number of clicks and onward pages they need to visit in order to do this. However, it would also be a mistake to think that this is the end of the process. Remember, it is generally accepted that there is a 60-70% chance of selling to an existing customer, compared to a 5-20% chance of selling to someone new. Your web design should complete sales in a way that takes the customer back to the interest and desire levels. Express your gratitude, introduce them to other content related to their interests, keep them interested, build their desire.
Use Data and AI
Knowing your demographics and planning around your ideal conversion funnel should make it clear which specific assets you need to utilize. That said, there are certainly trends in UX that can help you to gain a clear focus on aesthetic aspects — such as color choices, animated elements, and push notifications. However, trends fall in and out of favor with users and are worth keeping a close eye on so that you can make agile change management decisions.
Building personalization into your website, when done well, can encourage users to engage on a deeper level, and form connections with your brand. Utilize data captured from the users’ previous use of your website in order to predict their needs and provide them with an experience that is geared specifically to them. If they haven’t shopped with you before, other data — such as their location — can be used to provide exclusive regional offers. A 2017 study by Kibo found that 85% of shoppers polled were influenced by personalized home page promotions. However, it’s still important to use your prior knowledge of your demographic to understand what their boundaries are; do they find certain personalized elements invasive? Do they appreciate clear attempts to seek their permission for personalization first?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is also increasingly becoming a flexible tool both as a feature of design and a way to direct business decision making. Tools such as Designscape use machine learning to present designers with potential layout variations in order to sample their effectiveness. While we’re still some way off AI being able to fully take over coding duties, chatbots have become a useful web design element to assist in customer service roles.
An embedded chatbot can help customers with their inquiries based on frequently asked questions, providing swift assistance, and preventing them from navigating away from the website when they can’t find what they’re looking for unassisted. A report by Usabilla found that 54% of respondents would use a chatbot rather than a human for assistance if it saved them 10 minutes. They can also function as another form of personalization, learning details about your customer and their needs, and directing them not only to the solutions they require but other content on your site they may find useful.
Your website is one of the most important assets your business has. It is a showcase for your brand, a tool for marketing, and a key way in which your customers interact with your company. Taking an intelligent approach to web design is key to making certain that your visitors engage in meaningful ways that not just gain you a new customer, but inspire a long term relationship. Take the time to understand who your target demographic is, in order to gain an insight into their preferred online experiences. Use that information to develop a conversion funnel that not only takes your customer from top to bottom but encourages a cycle. Explore how data and AI can be used to create connections with customers, and help service their needs. When you go further than the simple aesthetics of your online presence, you have the opportunity to use your homepage as a flexible, agile tool.