Be careful what you ask for, is always sound advice. And when you’re briefing an agency to create a new website or ecommerce store you need to be extremely careful.
The consequences, good and bad, of that briefing will stay with you for some time. The results of dodgy assumptions or the wrong focus can be costly to fix once you’ve discovered your expensive new site is a flop.
Briefs typically go wrong for a very simple reason: they start off focusing in the wrong place. The list of requirements is usually framed along the lines of ‘We need the website to…’ The ‘we’ in question is, of course, the business commissioning the new site.
This is more or less the normal mindset when agencies are briefed about redesigning a website or ecommerce store. It’s also, in my view, completely the wrong focus.
And if your project starts off asking for the wrong things don’t be surprised if it doesn’t deliver the ROI you hoped for. It will then take a lot of effort and cost down the line to deliver the performance and conversions you need.
A clearer way of thinking about your new site
There’s a simple change in the way you think about your new site and how you brief your agency. It’s one that could lead to a much better return on investment.
Instead of, ‘we need to…’, how about, ‘our customers need to…’
If everything you ask for in your redesign brief is based on what you believe your business needs, where does that leave your customers? Sure, business goals matter. There has to be a clear picture of how your new site fits into your wider business goals. They absolutely should influence the project brief – more than is often the case.
Having a clear and common understanding of what results you want the new site to achieve (how many more sales or enquiries, in what areas of your business), will be an improvement on many briefs. But you can, and should, go further.
The UX Project Checklist is a great place to start looking at all the components you’ll need for a successful website.
Customers are your business
Your business goals can only be achieved through the behaviour of your customers. So how can it make sense if they are anything less than the focal point of the website project?
Think back to the last time you briefed a web agency. How much weight did you put on customers: what they want to do, what they like, what turns them off? Did you have reliable insights into any of these?
The big advantage (and challenge) of focusing on customer intent and preferences is that there are no shortcuts. To get to this level of clarity there’s no room for the easy assumptions, generalisations and misplaced optimism that end up in low conversion rates and poor returns. To understand your customers you need structured effort, proper research, data and careful observation.
The benefit of this effort is that your new site is designed to deliver the user experience your customers crave – and which you’re currently failing to deliver. And to do this from day one!
Audience Personas – so what?
You certainly need to go way beyond writing a set of audience personas and pinning them on the wall to remind the developers who the site is for.
You, or your design agency, can learn a surprising amount from your current site before dismissing it completely. There, you have information showing how people move through the site, where they drop off and where they fail to convert. You probably also have onsite search data that might indicate unsatisfied user intent.
You can supplement these insights with usability studies to get a deeper level of understanding. Analytics may point out where the problems are, but not why!
The start of every new website project should always involve an investigation into the existing site to find the strengths and the weaknesses before starting again from scratch. You have to remember if you alienate your existing customers, there is a higher chance they will leave. Retention isn’t thought of as much as acquisition in new site builds.
It could be that you don’t want to start your redesign straight away. You can A/B split test enhancements and new landing pages before you incorporate them in your new site. That way you can prove that they really do give users an experience they value.
From these insights you can build a clearer picture of the user experience you need to deliver across your site. You’ll have a more meaningful design brief. The brief will be based around creating the user experience that will serve up the business results you need.
Document, in detail, the journeys that will allow customers to fulfil their intent as quickly and easily as possible. Be clear about how customers will expect to interact with your new site. Specify what they will need to learn or understand along the route to a successful conversion. These are the questions that so often go unasked. Customer fears, uncertainties and doubts are