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Defining Prospect Research for Web Design

Prospect research is the basis for your web design strategy. It gives you the needed insight to develop the most effective copy, layout, design, and experience for your online visitors. A very important point to remember is that a web design strategy is a perpetual process making it as important to conduct research at the start of the web design process as it is to gather feedback at major milestones along the way to remain on track.

Web Design is Never Complete

A website is never “done” being developed. It is a living, breathing, and for our purposes learning, crux of your online marketing efforts. Prospect research can be and should be done before, during, and after design and development have been completed.

Prospect research does not have to be complicated, intricate, or excessive.  When conducted throughout the web design process, research minimizes errors and maximizes effectiveness.  While it appears to require more work upfront, it really saves time and frustration on the backend.  By catching problems early on, you could save the cost of dismantling, fixing, and rebuilding what could have been avoided – not to mention the lost opportunity you could have capitalized on when potential customers visited your site.

The “How-To” of Prospect Research

There are various ways to gather feedback along the way.  If you wanted to test your website’s overall look, its navigation names, and information architecture, here are a few suggestions to use.

Test Potential Web Design Ideas

Post a series of page mockups online to test your website design’s BIG IDEA or theme.  Show a few pages a user would see as s/he drilled down a sequential progression of pages to complete a task.  This way a potential user could see the home page and interior pages in a natural setting and holistically view how one page looks relative to the others in a natural flow, opposed to evaluating each page individually in isolation. Gather feedback and adjust accordingly.

Is Your Navigation Easy to Follow?

To test that you have labeled your navigations properly, you could write your website’s information architecture names on index cards, or in a spreadsheet.  From a top-down perspective, ask users what they expect to find under each navigation button, and why.  Compare their answers with your existing structure and modify accordingly.  Also from a bottom-up perspective, show users the sub-navigations and ask them what they think the top navigation should be labeled.

Tip: An email campaign or a poll would be a great way of getting direct responses for these questions.

Use Prospect Research for Task Analysis

Once you know why potential customers visit your site and what they expect to find, investigate how they would go about achieving their task.  This is called “task analysis”.  Post mockup pages online, ask what they would do first, second, third, etc.  Do the same thing again, but this time, start them from a different page.  With this method, you will learn about your user’s logic and how it compares to what you anticipated when designing your site. Again, emailing your contact list or sending a poll would be effective in acquiring these answers.

Great web design attractively facilitates a positive user experience.  While design is often thought of in artistic, inspirational, and creative terms, its foundation is rooted in user empathy and their problems, expectations, motivations, and preferences. Collecting insight from potential customers before, during, and after your website is designed will help you make the most informed and focused decisions on their behalf.