Life may offer few guarantees, but here's one I can offer: I guarantee there are company websites providing a better user experience to their customers than your current site is providing to yours. Don't be too disheartened, there are few perfect sites that do it all correctly. And even if there were, it's only momentary as sites are getting smarter every day.
So when is a website more than a website? When it transcends from being utilitarian to becoming the very best reflection of a company. In essence, it shows products and services in a better light and provides an experience in which people want to engage. This is online "nirvana," and it's something that's rarely achieved.
When you don't evolve, you quickly get left behind
With online experiences evolving at a blistering pace, what was considered a best practice just 18 months ago has dramatically changed. Websites that haven't been touched since 2010 "look and feel" dated, and sites that are more than four years old are absolute dinosaurs. All sites lack something, whether it's quality content, the latest technology, or thoughtful interactions. In reality, when it comes to websites, today's best practices are tomorrow's MySpace or AltaVista, depending on how old you are.
If your website isn't your No. 1 sales channel, it will be soon
It's one thing when you don't know that your company website is underperforming, but to know and do nothing is detrimental to your business. A recent study conducted by Demandbase and Focus reported that 80 percent of all websites are not effective at servicing their customers. Progressive companies are always enhancing their sites and making iterative adjustments. These companies test subtle changes to small online segments before anything is rolled out to the mass market.
These sites take advantage of advanced UX technology and can be identified by key interactions, such as intuitive search or responsive components. The best sites are providing customers with a better user experience, relevant content, personalized recommendations, or innovative features. Those that are leaders in the industry bundle all these factors for an extremely effective site.
Prioritize your marketing budget
Budgets have become too far skewed in the wrong direction as companies are fixated on increasing traffic and opening up the top of the conversion funnel. It's a short-term strategy to buy more traffic to increase conversions and it's very likely that you'll corrode your conversion rate. Additionally, you'll hit a ceiling where increasing your costs will result in diminishing returns. Smart companies follow a long-term strategy focused on the middle of the funnel where there's always opportunity to optimize conversion rates through a superior user experience. The result? You'll build the equity of your digital channel, which is one of the best ways to balance your digital spend.
Sites that get it right
So ask yourself this, of all the sites you went to today, what percentage of them left you with the feeling of "wow!" this company really hit it out of the park? Take a look at my three picks for smart sites and see how the core features are their most identifiable and memorable elements.
Foodily.com is ambitiously simple. At first glance, all you see in high contrast, front and center, is a giant search box and a secondary refinement box, and all other navigation is subdued. This architecture illustrates that the future web will be search, and the higher the quality and more relevant the results, the less need there is for traditional navigation.
Now this might seem a bit restrictive but the results of the search are engaging and far more informative than a typical search listing results page. Notice how the navigation of the search results page changes based on relevance. In this case, the user goes from a dynamic search of salmon dip, to a dynamic listing page filled with dip and salmon recipes.
Foodily.com uses contextually aware technology to anticipate the user's needs and proactively serves up the most appropriate and customized content. Foodily.com is an example of a company that took an absurdly simple idea -- search -- and designed an experience around it. The takeaway here is that you can be incredibly ambitious with your vision as long as you have a clear understanding of your audience's needs. The experience can be simple if this style is relevant to your customers.
FindTheBest.com is a robust site that provides insightfully relevant content through a familiar interface. Yes, that's a mouthful, so let me break it down. FindTheBest.com provides ratings and comparisons on different categories of information. What makes it unique is that each category's results and ratings are made up of the relevant attributes of that grouping. Even if the rankings data are somewhat questionable, it's the monumental effort that must go into creating each category that's ambitious.
When you drill down into results, you'll find that they're pulling data from multiple sources and computing an aggregated score called the "Smart Rating." So what they've essentially created is a utopia for rankings and comparison junkies (like me).
The takeaway here is to keep it simple, but provide quality content throughout the entire online experience. FindTheBest.com's investment is in content. By creating content, unique category pages, building their own power rating system, and aggregating content they created a superior information resource. Additionally, the content is extremely valuable throughout all web channels, for social sharing, mobile search, and email distribution. In the process of building out their content, FindTheBest.com has become a one-stop, cross-industry, information marketplace with a sticky appeal.
Everyone loves a story, and the more colorful the better. SmartUsa.com is a dynamically interactive site that's so engaging you get caught up in the interactions and forget you're learning about a very cool product.
They've created a harmony between the brand, the site, the marketing, and the product. Scrolling navigation can be risky, as the experience will differentiate between browsers, but knowing their technophile audience, they're able to pull it off. It's a testament to the power of the user experience that you can enjoyably digest all of the site's content from one dynamic page, within a matter of minutes.
What sets apart the best sites from the pack is that they're ambitious, have a clear understanding of their audience's intent, and are willing to take risks. The best web experience will leave your customers feeling like you designed the site just for them. When considering budgets, marketing leaders need to strike a balance between investing in an efficient and optimized site and driving traffic.
Smart sites focus on a heavy investment in quality that drives innovation and performance. These sites are the catalyst for change and online transformation. If you don't believe in the significance of interactive innovation in these more nimble companies mentioned above, look at the drastic interactive changes on the homepages of Amazon, GE, Delta, and Home Depot. I'm not saying these Fortune 100 companies are over-borrowing from more progressive sites, but I do believe they know a good experience when they see one. Someday, maybe even by the time this article is published, these leading experiences will be popping up in large company sites globally.
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