Melissa Albano Davis marketingWhether you’re just starting out, trying to find an audience and keep them interested, or you’ve been at this for a while and need investors to buy into your ideas and help you grow your business, there’s one important area that’s often ignored in the process: the user’s experience.

Entrepreneurs are heavily invested in their products and services; these are their babies and they’ve nurtured them from the initial spark of an idea into full-grown organizations. The problem, however, is that the entrepreneur, and likely their staff and partners, are too close to the product or service to objectively see it from a customer’s perspective. They assume that everyone will just ‘get it’ when they come to the website, social media channels, or exhibitor booth. They have essentially forgotten what it’s like to be on the outside of this idea because they’ve spent so much time living and breathing every aspect of it, so they don’t realize why website traffic isn’t resulting in conversions, why clicks aren’t contributing to their sales goals, and why first-time visitors aren’t returning.

The most common user experience problems are typically related to one or more of these three key areas: messaging, flow, or monitoring. If your actual sales aren’t meeting your goals, if customers aren’t returning to your website again and again, or if you’re not sure what’s happening between the time that someone lands on your homepage and when they leave, be sure to work through each of the areas below to improve your user experience.

Messaging

This is at the top of the list for a reason – it’s the #1 issue we see with many websites for startups and technology companies. There is often a huge disconnect between how the business has explained it’s products or services and how the prospective customer perceives them when visiting the website.

Entrepreneurs often talk about the features of their products or speak in terms that they assume their buyer understands. They assume that the buyer will make the connection between the explanation of what the product is or can do, and the benefit it will have for them. Take for example the marketing campaign for the first-ever iPod, back when we were all still listening to CDs. Steve Jobs announced the iPod with this simple explanation: ‘1,000 songs in your pocket’. He didn’t talk about the features of the product, didn’t refer to it as the next generation of MP3 players, and didn’t talk about capacity in terms that the average buyer wouldn’t understand. The iPod was not the first MP3 player that could do this. Many would have argued at the time that there were far better products already on the market. The problem is that their messaging was out of touch with buyers – they were talking about gigabytes and features while Jobs was talking about songs. Apple moved forward into greatness, and the other MP3 players were left in the iPod’s wake.

Flow

The flow of visitors from any entry point on your website, most often the homepage, to their final destination, often a purchase, download or demo, is where startups tend to lose prospective customers who were interested enough to click in the first place. If you’re getting a good amount of website traffic but aren’t generating leads or sales, this may be where you’re losing people along the way.

Without proper tracking systems in place (see the next point), it’s hard to tell where people are dropping off, but there are some simple ways you can begin to test and improve this before you start investing in major website changes.

First, enlist a few friends or family members who have never visited your website before and don’t really understand what it is that you do. This is important – you want people to mimic first-time visitors as closely as possible, and if they’ve been listening to you talk about your product for the past year, they’re not going to be as objective. Ask them to go to your website, explain to you what it is that you’re offering and why it would be helpful for them as a customer, and then watch them navigate the site. Do they click what you want them to? Do they get tripped up along the way? Do they completely miss the point of your offer or disregard your calls-to-action? Do they have a hard time finding what they’re looking for?

Next, take this user experience testing up a notch by soliciting outside help from strangers. Utilizing a platform such as UserTesting.com, you can record videos of actual users navigating their way through your website while they speak about their experience – this will give you insight into areas that may need improvement or messaging that could be tweaked to better explain your solutions to first-time visitors.

Monitoring

Beyond the monitoring of a few real-time users in the examples above, the best way to understand where you may be experiencing a disconnect in messaging or flow is to track every action point along the way from website entrance to final conversion (purchase, download, demo, etc.). You can do this with Google Analytics by embedding event tracking and conversion codes into key actions such as clicks on specific calls to action or promotional messages throughout your website, or by tracking how people ended up on your confirmation page after they completed a final purchase or submitted a contact form. Did they come from social media, from your email newsletter, from another website? Did they get all the way to the final purchase page and then abandon their shopping cart? Maybe they were turned off by the cost of shipping or the payment methods. Perhaps they expected to see a discount that wasn’t immediately apparent, or they had to go back to their email or another page to find a promo code. Maybe they didn’t feel that your payment processing was secure? By employing tracking at every step of the way, you can start to determine which areas of your website are causing people to drop off, and then implement testing to improve those conversions.

Once you’ve gone back to your website and experienced it from the customer’s perspective, you’ll start to see what your buyers want from you. This will make it easier to write content that speaks directly to them, to design graphics that draw them in, to delight them and make them want to return (and share with their friends) again and again. If you’re ready to take the next step in drawing in those prospective customers, download my free eBook: The 30 Greatest Lead Generation Tips and Tricks.