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Putting the YOU in UX

While brick-and-mortar still maintains a stranglehold on overall retail sales of pet products (online sales made up only 18 percent of all sales in 2018), you cannot argue that the internet hasn’t played a massive role in changing the industry. The increasingly online millennial generation has been our top buying force for a few years now, which means that whether you’re an e-commerce behemoth, a global chain of  big boxes or a mom ’n’ pop shop, you need an online presence. And that online presence must present exactly what your audience is looking for.

You’d think the term “positive user experience” (UX) would be the first thing a brand would shoot for when either building a new website or refreshing a current one. And it probably is! The problem is that many brands either don’t understand what makes a good experience for their users or (even worse) don’t know what their users want, or, if they do, how to give them that experience. Even today, when two-thirds of our consumers conduct online research before making a purchase, so many commerce-based websites look nice . . . and that’s where the positive experience ends for users. A guy you may have heard of (Steve Jobs) put it best: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” You simply can’t have one without the other, and they should work hand-in-hand.

So how do you build a UX that your customers will enjoy?

Know how your site is being used, and work with that

The first thing a brand or business needs to do when building its web presence is figure out what that presence will be. Is it meant to actually sell product? Act as an online brochure? Encourage users to contact them? Simply work as a digital business card? Provide deep background on products and services? Most companies go into a web project with its purpose in mind. Problem is, what is in your mind might not be what your audience wants.  So the first step is to find out exactly what that is. Don’t be afraid to let the tail wag the dog.

When we begin to build a new site for a client (assuming that there’s an old one), we conduct SEO and analytics audits of the existing site to see how real users navigate and explore. This creates good intel that guides how we structure the new website.  What are popular pages and blog categories, and how are they found? How do users enter the website? Once they’re here, how do they journey through the website? Has that journey changed over time? Answering these questions is vital but not the end. There’s a comprehensive layer of secondary research that is no less vital to the process. Understanding you own website is important, but knowing your competitors can offer unforeseen insight. A deep knowledge of the latest trends is essential as well. Trends tell you what your potential audience actually wants.  Otherwise, those things wouldn’t be trending.

Build a sitemap based on your intel

Using the audit information, we begin with a sitemap to help organize and clarify the content. This helps us look at the big picture: what content do we have, how does it relate to each other, what elements are missing. Sites that don’t begin with a sitemap tend to be hard to navigate and present a poor UX.  Picture a  schematic for your car’s engine. If it wasn’t organized and clearly labelled, would it be helpful?

Create wireframes

Your wireframes are the skeleton of your site. Wireframes ensure we’re considering content hierarchy and functionality before we get too deep into design, and they subsequently help the design stay consistent and consequential.

The wireframing process can unveil some hurdles that are better to launch yourself over earlier rather than later. For a recent project, we discovered that navigating the client’s 45-plus products could be an intimidating task and scare potential consumers away, so we created interactive tools to help pet owners find the right product.

This Formula Finder gives users a side-by-side comparison tool, but we didn’t stop there. We wanted to help pet owners feel like we really knew their pets so that we could provide the perfect product. The interactive questionnaire helps pet parents find the product right for the preferences and lifestyle of their pet. A tool like this does double-duty. While the primary goal is to help pet owners find what they need (and make their experience a positive one), there’s even more benefit for the brand. The information we gain from the users tells us more about user trends which, in turn, helps us make the experience even better for the user. Think of it as a self-fulfilling prophecy where everyone wins.

Encourage interaction

Where possible, we prefer to integrate a rating and review system into a consumer website. Pet parents want to hear the candid thoughts of other pet parents about the pet food they are going to purchase. It’s not enough to encourage reviews. We try to implement Q&A sections on each product page that PR and/or customer service teams respond to frequently. As we’ve covered before, today’s consumers don’t want to simply be told things; they want to have conversations about them. They want to be engaged.

Check for ADA compliance

When considering the user experience, it’s important to consider all users. The Americans with Disabilities Act states that all electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities. This is a wide-ranging list of standards, but in short it makes sure that minimum font sizes are met, color combinations are compliant, screen readers can pick up the code, etc. It’s an important step that is often overlooked, and noncompliant designs can cause issues down the road. Better to run checks during the development than have to tear things up later.

Considering the UX will enhance your experience

Building a great user experience is a loop that never fully closes. There are always tweaks and changes to a good website. You launch it, you collect feedback, you shift, you optimize. It’s all about listening and executing on what you hear. If you do it right, you never have to totally rebuild. But you do keep refining.

Audiences are increasingly picky and increasingly unique. It’s hard to get a bead on such a fragmented group of potential customers. The good news is that while their options become more unlimited, so do ours as digital creators. New tools for research and implementation are built every day, and as long as we’re willing to do the work up front to understand what our audience wants and needs, we can provide an experience that will satisfy as many users as possible.

And a satisfied user is a user that hits “Add to Cart.”