Delivering a brilliant B2B website user experience

A positive and consistent user experience can make or break your business online. Does your website keep customers coming back for more?

Delivering a brilliant and compelling user experience means combining creative and functional design with speed, usability, accessibility, content architecture and contingency design.

It is important to recognise that user experience is a key part of branding. This can be simple and effective signposting like that exemplified by the Dell UK site which gets visitors to the content they want quickly. This, in turn, increases conversion rates by generating trust and encourages both loyalty from existing users and new traffic from viral referrals.

Feel the need for speed

Design with speed in mind. Slow loading pages, graphics and rich media can have a hugely negative impact on your bounce rate as visitors refuse to wait for content to load. Employ a three-click journey rule to any page within your website. Factor in simple navigation, using accepted terms and structure to make it as easy as possible for people to find what they’re looking for.

Accessibility

Web accessibility is about reaching the broadest group of people irrespective of disabilities including sight, hearing and speech; physical, cognitive and some neurological disorders.

And as technology continues to innovate at a pace, websites and other web-based applications can draw on advances in areas such as screen readers, Braille displays, magnification and voice- recognition to facilitate access to digital content. Consider them if you are specifically targeting specific groups. International standards such as W3C help set benchmarks that good web designers should abide by.

Content architecture

On large websites it can be worthwhile considering how information is grouped and collated for customer benefit. Conducting exercises offline can help identify trends in browsing behaviour and provide a useful psychological insight into how different individuals search, collate and interact with content. This can play into how the site’s navigation is designed and displayed.

The website for Swedish construction and project management company Skanska, adopts a number of simple but effective navigation techniques that help to manage the presentation of content to site users. It uses top and bottom navigation effectively deployed, as well as ‘breadcrumbs’ throughout the home page. These are additional carefully selected navigation devices that help signpost effectively to interesting content deeper in the site – namely company information, press activity, publications and upcoming events. The site also makes use of a carousel to convey key messages.

Above ‘home’ page, below ‘about us’ page.

The reality in information architecture and navigation is that people will give up quickly if they can’t find what they want, so make sure you are using industry standard definitions and not your own unique vocabulary. Use colour and tabs to help people identify where they are (side navigation bars on inner pages work well for this) and keep the clickable drill down into deeper content to no more than three levels.

Contingency design

There will always be situations where a user makes a request that the system is unable to answer or performs an action that goes against how the system was designed to work.

Leaving form fields blank, requesting a page that doesn’t exist, making a spelling mistake when performing a search or trying to buy a product that is out of stock are all examples of how users could challenge a system.

By predicting these challenges and proposing solutions to either prevent or deal with the problem – by answering the ‘what if…?’ questions – it is possible to find solutions that add value to failure and maintain a positive user experience.

Creative use of the 404 error message that typically displays when a link is broken or a page is removed from a website is a great example of predicting potential short-comings but dealing with them in a way that doesn’t unduly affect the user experience.

What other ways can you deliver brilliant user experience on your website?

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Clicks that convert

Fast access to relevant to information is critical if you want to entice visitors when they visit your site and encourage them to engage. Think about your own online habits and preferences. Visitors to your site haven’t got time to sit and wait for the site to load, work out where to go or schedule time for an unstructured browse.

Your site needs to follow the mythical but effective three click rule. Ensure nothing is more than three clicks away (forwards to new content or back previous pages) by developing a site built on a four tier navigation structure as a maximum. In-built signposting to get people back to a category, specific page, search or back to the home page are now the norm rather than a nice to have.

Visitors browse in different ways. Some like menus and drop downs, other like action buttons. Cater for both by positioning all your  ‘call to action’ buttons (such as LiveTalk, Register, Contact, Sign up, Download, Buy now) prominently in left hand or right hand navigation bars and ensure they remain on every page. Duplication of content is an issue, but duplication in navigation is not.

Websites cost money to design, build and maintain. Looking nice is one part of it. Providing a useful experience is another. Ensuring it can be found on the search engines is another. Above all, your website needs to sweat 24:7 for your business. The Internet is always on – give your site the best to make clicks convert.

So road test your website today. Parking the need to redesign, what you could streamline now, quickly and inexpensively, to make it easier for visitors to access important information?

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