So, you want to build a Web site. Where do you start? Do you sit down with your programmers and demand a Web 2.0 site full of techie buzzwords? Or do you turn to your design team for a "visually appealing" Web site that "meets the needs of the business?"
If you're smart, you answered "none of the above." The first place you should go when planning a new Web site is straight to your user experience team.
Who's Using Your Web Site and How?
A user experience team is the genesis of any Web development project we undertake. Gone are the days of building a Web site that's company focused. At least, they should be gone. It's time to recognize the online experience is centered on the user.
You may ask yourself what a user experience team does. In a nutshell, the team is composed of information architects and user experience leads who tailor Web sites to the target audiences' behaviors. The information architect develops a Web site's framework based on how a user navigates and groups content. The user experience lead researches the target audience, observing user behavior and browsing as a basis for site construction. This can, and often does, entail following users through common tasks on the Web and noting their choices. A user experience lead may watch a target user navigate a site while asking probing questions about what the user expects to find or how s/he would look for specific information.
SEO Built On IA not just AI
Search engine optimization and user experience play well together, too. The SEO team adds keyword research, analytics analysis, and even more keyword research to experience planning. They provide critical insight into the Web site's target audience. Understanding the language and terms that users type when looking for specific information is like gold to the user experience team. Our Web analytics team also culls vital user behavior data from the site's analytics package and assists the information architect with knowledge of high traffic content.
After the user experience team receives all the keyword research, analytics data, and user behavior info they can handle, the information architect properly begins to structure the site, making sure the most important content is easily and intuitively accessible. S/he looks at how content groups relate to one another in the eyes of the end user. The information architect also incorporates the keyword research into the site's navigation. When users search on the term, "sneakers," versus "running shoes," for example, it makes sense to label that category accordingly.
The user experience lead plays a major role in audience evaluation, analyzing the behavioral findings to better understand how users navigate. This information serves as the basis for further user experience testing. At this point, we take real users from the site's target audience and sit with them as they perform specific onsite tasks. Testing ensures that users perform desired tasks with ease while still meeting the marketing objectives of the client. Keyword research also aids the user experience lead's card-sorting activities. Each card contains a key phrase or picture that represents a piece of site content. The user experience lead observes the participant user as s/he groups the cards according to user preferences.
What does all this mean for the client? It takes the guesswork out of navigation labeling and saves time in the development cycle. With the SEO and user experience teams exchanging data, the information architect and user experience lead can label and organize content faster. Their decisions can be based on quantifiable, behavioral information retrieved directly from the source. The client can be sure there's a reason you went with "sports equipment" instead of "athletic supplies," and you can count on one less headache in the site development process.
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