Taking User Behavior into Account in SMB Web Design
For Web design to be effective, it needs to be done with the end-user in mind; simply put, the most efficient way to build a site is to design and develop it with its would-be visitors in mind. For a small and medium business (SMB) website, this means designing and developing it to cater to its targeted clientele or consumers, which would entail understanding how those consumers would behave or make use of the site. Taking Web user behavior into account is a very essential facet in the design of any SMB or ecommerce website.
Beyond off-page and on-page Search Engine Optimization, the design should take advantage of how the site's users would interact with it – leveraging this understanding to turn organic traffic into conversions. The more efficiently the users can make use of the website, the more income it generates. So what exactly are the specific user behaviors to note and how can you take advantage of them?
User Behavior and its Influence on Web Usage
There are generally three user types that a Web designer should design for – and a fourth that is merely a combination of two or all of the three. They are categorized by their dominant behavior in using the Web.
- Search-dominant user.
The search box is the immediate objective of the search-dominant user, doing away with putting too much effort in finding things on his own and instead opting to make use of algorithms to do his bidding. In controlled studies that prompt participants to perform a specific task on a particular website, search-dominant users account for an average of 57% of the participants.
They say Netizens are lazy readers. Search-dominant users are the laziest Netizens. In their dash to look for the search box, all they manage to do before surrendering to the urge to search is to scan important looking text quickly, hoping to find a lead towards their objective. If the quick scanning fails, the search box is their penultimate and inevitable solution.
This tendency makes this type of user behavior most susceptible to banner blindness, where users completely disregard banner- or ad-looking design and formatting. The moment their scanning eyes come upon fancy formatting or banner-like elements, they abandon scanning that part of the webpage and proceed elsewhere.
- Tool-dominant user.
Drop-down menus, type-in fields, widgets, and other interactive tools turn the head of this type of user. The interaction makes a good proportion of visitors feel in control and allows them the capability to actually do something other than browse. So if websites have such tools and interactive elements, chances are a good lot of their visitors are using them.
The tool-dominant user's fixation on tools comes at a cost, however, as most tools have poor application usability. Banner blindness still applies during the scanning phase at which point this type of user can either find the tools he likes, or just resort to something else.
- Navigation-dominant user.
The navigation bar or control panel is this type of user's best friend. The navigation-dominant user immediately spots the navigation bar on a webpage and scans it for a promising link or a button that seems relevant to his task.
Navigation-dominance is rare compared to search-dominance, and is often only a secondary behavioral resort that comes after looking for tools and other interactive features (tool-dominant behavior). Most of the time concentrating on finding the right navigation link or button seems to be too great a task for the common Netizen.
Banner blindness still sets in for this type of user – as soon as they find a promotional or fancy element, they choose the most promising link in the navigation panel or switch to search-dominant behavior.
How to Design for User Behavior
So how does one take advantage of these inclinations towards particular Web usage? In a nutshell, the goal is to design the SMB website to offer the easiest means to the most important tasks and most significant information relevant to the website or business. This means leveraging the user's behavior to help him accomplish his objective, regardless of what type of behavior he has.
- Search-dominant user.
Obviously, a nice little search box that can easily be found is enough for this type of user. But to help him get to his objective easily, the search algorithm should be sufficiently powerful and perhaps geared towards particularly high priority search terms for the website or business niche.
Advanced search options should also be readily available, in case the user requires more specific searching tools for his task. Once a search-dominant user feels he has exhausted the usefulness of the search tool without effect, he will search somewhere else. Making sure the search box is quite potent and effective would keep the majority of search-dominant users (who most typically make up the majority of your visitors) content.
- Tool-dominant user.
As mentioned earlier, tool-dominant behavior emerges only when there are tools present. So on the homepage of your SMB website, make sure there are interesting and useful tools and applications. The emphasis is on the 'useful' part. Remember that the tools help give the users more control. Useless tools only serve to frustrate this endeavor.
Offer widgets or tools that focus on significant info and high priority tasks relevant to the SMB website. Don't bother with fancy tools that only look good – they may attract fixations, but in the end they don't serve any purpose but to distract your visitors from their main priorities that presumably end up making you money. One last thing: fancy tools are best kept together and away from ads and promotional banners, for obvious reasons.
- Navigation-dominant user.
Following established and sound guidelines for building the navigation bar or panel and which links go where should be enough to keep navigation-dominant users happy. This entails showing not too many links to confuse, but showing the highest priority ones and most significant webpage links.
Following links is like choosing which way to go on a road that turns many ways many times over. Make sure your navigation tree and site map are efficient in leading your visitors where they need to go. As for banner blindness, so long as your navigational links aren't fancy ad-looking contraptions, you're in the clear for this issue.
Allowing your users to get to their objective through their favored means or behavior saves them a lot of time, which translates to much more conversions for your SMB website. Time is what makes Netizens lazy, or rather, the lack of it. There is not enough time to loiter over every website that purports to provide the info or services they require, so if they spend too much time on one and end up achieving nothing, they go somewhere else.
Through taking user behavior into account in SMB Web design, not only do you save your visitors time and allow yourself more conversions, but you also afford your traffic the means that comes natural to them to get to their intended objective – and that's plus points for customer satisfaction.