Broadening Your Sites
Larry Bowden, vice president of portals and web experience software at IBM, agrees that user experience can have a significant impact on brand perception and value, but it can also have a direct impact on sales, particularly for sites with an ecommerce aspect. Bowden highlights figures from Forrester's 2009 "Best Practices in User Experience (UX) Design" report, which found that a superior user experience translated to as much as a 400% increase in sales lead conversions.
"From a company perspective, what's happening is the results of these investments that certain companies make to become more exceptional, more compelling, more complete resource services to the customer are showing up in the bottom line," says Bowden.
For Bowden, one of the keys to a good user experience is dynamically adapting the site to meet the needs of individual users, rather than trying to create a one-size-fits-all solution. "The award winning [sites] that we work with are tailoring the experience to both the navigation and the intelligence that's being gathered," he says. IBM uses predictive analytics from IBM SPSS for this purpose, analyzing data about how other users navigated the site to try to identify what information or topics a user is most interested in and to make that data readily available to them.
This is especially a benefit with very large, information-rich sites. "I think the larger sites have a greater opportunity to have that progressive disclosure utilized in their structure," says Bowden. "Make it simple. If you want a little more information, we'll disclose that to you in an easy-to-use fashion. And then on down the list until you have, perhaps, some very deep experts that don't come through that channel at all anymore and go directly to the various subsets of the data model."
Lastly, Bowden notes that it's important to stay on top of user expectations about the current technology. If a particular experience trend is growing in popularity now, it could be considered de rigueur within just a few years. He points out that social integration was all but unknown 4 years ago, but now it is seen as a basic element of ecommerce.
"A site that could be leadership today, four years from now will be considered average to not interesting," he says. The cost of falling behind can be dire. The 2009 UX report from Forrester found that 41% of website visitors will immediately abandon a site if it appears outdated.