The web is your company's digital front door. Nearly everyone on the planet can be at your dot-com welcome mat with a few key strokes, ready to take a look around. So what happens next? That's the real moment of truth, where impressions are made and customers are won and lost on a massive scale. As technology advances, the online experience and the expectations that customers bring to it are evolving. What was a best practice yesterday may no longer be necessary, and what you didn't even realize is now a must-have.
So here are five best practices to help ensure that your site is built today with the best user experience in mind. Some may seem obvious, others obtuse, but ignore them at your peril. Your customers surely won't.
Establish a strong brand voice
The first key element of the world's best websites is the feeling they convey when you first arrive, and through every interaction thereafter. We call this the brand voice. Done right, it genuinely reflects who you are as a company and shows you on your best day, every day. The business benefits are tangible, allowing customers to know your brand and connect with it personally, increasing loyalty and return visits.
Be sure that your company is clearly positioned as an immediate part of a visitor's encounter with your site. What do you do? For whom? What is your value proposition? What differentiates you from your competitors? This information will serve to immediately build brand affinity with your visitors.
Everything from the color palette, design, imagery, tone of voice in the content, and a frictionless experience on the site -- and a visitor's ability to easily communicate with your organization -- support your brand and contribute to the overall perception of your organization.
Do you create ways in which visitors can advocate for your brand by easily sharing information with others?
Visitor experiences on your site -- both positive and negative -- impact their perception of your brand and your organization. Your website becomes your brand expression, and you want to ensure that every aspect of a visitor's encounter with your site delivers a positive experience from the first time he or she comes to your site, and for return visits as well.
Enhance search performance on your site
When visitors come to your digital front door, they're most likely looking for something. A site with robust search capabilities continues to be a big hit with users, and search has shown to increase visitor satisfaction and affinity for particular sites. In short, they get that warm, fuzzy feeling about your site and your brand. But not all site searches are created equal.
"Each visitor to our site has a unique need, whether searching for product information, inspiration for new projects, or 'how-to' instruction," according to Jacquelyn Ferrara, director of marketing for Sherwin-Williams Wood Care Products, also at the helm of the recent update of Minwax.com. "The addition of the search feature allows them to find what they need quickly and easily, which improves their overall experience with the site..."
For starters, make sure your site search gives visitors multiple ways to find content. As we know, some people think visually; others are verbal, logical, or linear thinkers. Another best practice is having an XML site map that makes it easy to view the entire site at a glance and has the added benefit of helping with search engine optimization.
Also, after a user has done a search query, make sure your site search engine delivers meaningful results, with the most relevant results at the top. Show what the original search term was that delivered the results, support the ability to refine and manipulate the search, and clearly state how many results were delivered.
Smart search seems like website 101, but it can often make the difference between users quickly finding what they want or giving up.