Saturday, May 26, 2012

Using Behavioral Sitemaps to Improve User Experience and Conversion

Sitemaps are the traditional way to visualize and structure a website during the early stages of development, but the linear and hierarchical nature is outdated, and has built-in shortcomings that are often counterproductive to the purpose of a website (i.e. generating leads, sales, etc). Behavioral sitemaps allow us to create website architecture in the context of human factors, and develop a site built for user behavior and desired outcomes. The use of behavioral sitemaps allows website development to be more efficient and effective from the outset.

Before we go any further, it's important that we outline a few assumptions about human factors and consumer psychology:

  1. When experiencing a new environment (like a website you're visiting for the first time), people prefer to be given clear behavioral options rather than an "anything goes" approach.
  2. The more options a consumer is presented with, the less likely they are to make a purchasing decision. Conversely, the fewer options a consumer is presented with, the more likely they are to make a decision.
  3. When it comes to conversions and desired outcomes, anything the consumer perceives on the page either hurts or helps the outcome.

As we are neck-deep in the process of rebranding, and since a visual redesign of our website is already underway, it was a great opportunity to do a functional overhaul as well. In our case, the primary purpose of our website is to convince prospective clients to consider us as a service provider, and convert them to a real-world conversion. Since these people are most likely coming in the "front-door" (i.e. home page) either through brand name or top-level search terms (i.e "professional seo", "organic search marketing", etc), the assumption is that they are seeking to qualify us as a viable option (that is not to say opportunities won't arrive through blog posts, services pages, individual profiles, etc. We just know the most qualified opportunities - new or returning - come through the front door).

Our first pass (using the traditional sitemap) doesn't render much other than a list of pages:


Our second pass using a behavioral approach to sitemaps offers some food for thought:

Using a simple mindmapping tool ( for the iPad in this instance) allows us to build a behavioral sitemap based on context and user behavior. By starting with the user and thinking through their experience, it is possible we may come up with a very different structure than a typical sitemap, but almost certainly we will consider the function and flow of pages quite differently in regards to user experience and conversion optimization.

In our case, we see a prospective client having only a few core question: who we are, the services we offer, and the work we've done. Rather than relying on a traditional menu bar with all the top level options, we want to give a person contextual options. It gives us the opportunity to communicate values, clarify salient points, and establish our dazzling rhetoric along the way. If they are interested in "who we are", we have a chance to tell them a story about our history, philosophy and values, introduce them to the team, and impress the human qualities of our agency (which they indicated was more of more priority to them than our services or case studies). We want to do all this with a low cognitive load (i.e. don't distract them with irrelevant options). We'll still use a navigation menu, but our focus is on providing contextual options that make primary navigation a secondary thought.

Our biggest gripe about web designers as a whole is that they are in the business of selling websites (output), not building effective ones (outcome). From our perspective, your website is a means to an end, and we have no qualms proving how ineffective style is without substance (I'm convinced if web designers were paid for performance, the majority of design firms would immediately be bankrupt). If we have identified a desired, objective outcome of our website (i.e. we want prospective clients to fill our a contact form to schedule a call), should we also ask them to sign up for a newsletter, follow us on twitter, like us on Facebook, connect to us on Linkedin, download a white paper, bookmark our homepage and read our latest blog entry, all on the same page? If the answer is "No", then why are we distracting them?


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