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business strategy

A Website Built Without Research is an Expensive Undertaking

A website is developed to support your business goals within your target market by communicating how your brand uniquely meets their needs. It is also understood that website development is a complicated and strategic process, with multiple stages. The development process includes the time and expertise of many members of your in-house team and that of your development consultant to achieve the best results. Businesses tend to become acutely aware of the time and money spent during web development, and as such, often skip or rush a critical step in the process, to the detriment of website performance.

business strategyResearch is often skipped in the website development process because it is considered complex, costly, and time-consuming. This perspective could be based on the idea that effective research requires a Ph.D. in Psychology and a white lab coat, but this isn’t always the case.

Website research is based on who your target market is, what they actually need from your company, and why your business answers that need best. To sell your brand to a potential client, your website design must be able to answer these questions in the 3-5 seconds that a new visitor takes to “assess” your company before moving onto the next site in their search results. This research is the baseline of your entire web strategy and directly affects performance. If your website doesn’t speak to your prospect’s and customer’s needs, in a language they understand, your digital strategy will fall short of your business goals. In laymen’s terms: If you build a website without researching what your target market really wants and needs from you, sales will suffer.

It’s not about You, It’s About Them.

Too often, businesses assume their “understanding” of the market is universal and omniscient. The individuals(s) designing and building the website assume the way they see the world is the way the world is seen by everyone on it.  As a result, the only people who appreciate the finished site are visitors who share the same worldviews as the people who designed and built it.  Consider it this way: it would be analogous to buying a gift for a person you never met – knowing nothing about what they love, like, or disdain, chances of delighting them are low.  Without insight to focus your efforts, any successful decisions would be based on the luck of a good guess.  When the intent of our website is to engage and serve the needs of your target audience, not knowing what they really want or need from you when you build it means you have, in effect, given them a gift with no foresight.

The purpose of conducting research in website development is to ensure the user’s perspective is recognized and represented in the process. This can be achieved by simply learning more about your target audience; replacing assumptions with facts; and understanding their past behaviors.

To keep the process timely and effective, here are two basic frameworks to direct your efforts and visually display your findings with others members of your development team for collaborative feedback and educated recommendations.

  • Persona Profiles, which are summarized snapshots of each targeted segment.
  • Journey Maps, to chart a segment’s experience across end-to-end touchpoints – the problems that motivated the need for a solution, tasks they are trying to achieve while on your site, and actions taken after they leave your site.
    • The process is just a matter of knowing what to look for, gathering information, assembling your findings, and keeping it top of mind so that all decisions made are from a user’s point of view.

While the financial investment, time, and effort associated with the research will vary, it will always be less than the cost of skipping the research and hoping for the best.  If research is skipped to save money during pre-development, you will spend more time and money post-development trying to fix a site that is not driving sales. The research step is essential in designing and building a user-centric website intended to drive your business goals.

Succeeding without research is as common as winning the jackpot with one pull of a nickel slot machine in Vegas – it happens – but barely ever, and never by intent. Don’t gamble on your digital strategy.  Increase your likelihood of winning big by including user research at the forefront of your development process.