As the organizations of the world continues to embrace digital transformation, online platforms are the main port of call for most brands interacting with customers and making sales—especially for smaller brands that do not have a large physical presence.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, online sales have naturally increased as brick-and-mortar stores have temporarily closed their doors. Brands that have relied mainly on getting more offline sales in their physical stores, such as Primark, felt the sting of having their outlets closed for many weeks. This was also a big pitfall for luxury brands such as Rolex, which, over the years, have been so committed to selling their in-store experience that they’ve neglected to create an ecommerce store. As Figure 1 shows, the pandemic hit them hard.
Today, having a Web site is one of the most significant parts of running a business. All brands, big or small, need to have some level of online presence and influence. However, far too often, many brands—especially those in their infancy—get so caught up in making their Web site aesthetically pleasing that they forget their Web site’s primary objective, which is to sell.
One of the most important things to consider when creating a Web site is the user experience and how easy it is for consumers to navigate the site and find what they’re looking for. Of course, a site’s aesthetics can be important, too, but its design must support users’ goals and convert them into paying customers rather than undermining usability and discoverability.
Web-site design facilitates users’ interactions with a Web site, including ecommerce purchases and application downloads. Successfully designed Web sites can win over users, while those with inconsistencies can result in a sense of confusion among visitors. Users who are lost almost never convert, preventing them from establishing a long-lasting relationship with the brand.
Inconsistencies in Web-site design can influence customer experiences profoundly. A well-structured Web site ensures that users receive the same message at any touchpoint, which is why conducting architectural audits is a crucial part of any Web site’s success. An architectural audit can help you identify design and structural issues that could be preventing users from converting.
As a business grows, it is essential that your Web site reflect the business’s growth. What worked on the site before the company matured to its current level might not work moving forward, as the company grows.
Before jumping into the specifics of conducting an architectural audit, let’s first consider the importance of conducting such audits.
Why Architectural Audits Are Important
User experience is key for any online store. When conducting an architectural audit, you should look at not only the aesthetics of the Web site—such as colors, visual design, and graphics, but also the content of the Web site.
When Web sites first get developed, most businesses populate them with content. But, over time, many of them fail to commit to updating the content. The problem with content is that it’s not something you can create just once and keep on the site forever. The content on a site needs to evolve alongside your business. So the content should not only continually reflect the position of the brand in the marketplace, but also be relevant to current trends. Plus, you must always target your content at your audience. As your audience changes over time, it’s essential that you keep the Web site’s content up to date and relevant, as Figure 2 shows.
A proper architectural audit can also help you to follow your user’s path and consider how easy it is for users to get directly to the desired product or page after landing on your Web site. Remember, ideally, it should not take users more than three clicks to navigate to their desired destination page.
Regularly doing architectural audits can help you streamline the conversion process and better indicate what you need to add or change. For example, a dormant button that once worked on the site may no longer be fulfilling its function. However, the site owner won’t know this unless they audit their Web site.
You must also take the readability of content into consideration. How people read on-screen content differs from the way they read words on a piece of paper. Web-site copy should comprise short paragraphs that are easy to digest. If your content is complex and overwhelming, it is likely to harm your conversion rate.
Now that I’ve briefly covered the importance of conducting architectural audits, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of actually doing one.
Conducting an Architectural Audit
We’ll now explore some specific aspects of conducting an effective architectural audit.
Considering the structure of Web addresses (URLs, or Uniform Resource Locators) is an integral part of an effective architectural audit. Not only are URLs important to search-engine results, they also give people an understanding of where they’re going next. URLs should be clear, short, and readable for both visitors and search engines. For instance, you should refrain from using URLs such as /74681930/ and, instead, use descriptive URLs—for example, /blue-dress/.
Using effective categories, subcategories, sections, and tags make it so much easier for people to navigate a Web site. An architectural audit should take this into account.
Figure 3 shows a rudimentary example of a site map, in which sections are interlinked to help users discover the content they need.
By mapping out your site, you can see how your menus help link different sections together. If you see too big a gap between pages, work on restructuring your site. For instance, you might attract prospective customers to your Web site’s blog. If they read enough to decide they want to make a purchase, it’s essential that you not require them to trawl through lots of pages to find your products.
How usable is your site’s navigation? Are your menus in a typical location—that is, in the header of the Web site? Not surprisingly, hidden navigation makes it difficult for users to find relevant pages.
To get a visual understanding of the parts of your Web site that attract most of your users’ attention, try using heatmaps that show where users click and focus most. This can give you a really good indication of where you should place your calls to action (CTAs).
A good tool to start with might be Hotjar. If your heatmaps show that visitors are ignoring key parts of your Web site, it is essential that you make them stand out better. Bigger buttons and the better use of images can help here. For instance, if you have a beautiful background image on your site, it may improve the aesthetics, but it might also distract users and hurt your bottom line.
Achieving Mobile Friendliness
Is your Web site mobile friendly? More than 50% of Web traffic now comes from mobile devices, so having a mobile-friendly Web site is absolutely imperative.
High Performance and Speed
According to Walmart’s analysts, if a Web page’s loading speed decreases by one second, its conversion rate grows by 2%. For Walmart, this could convert to millions of dollars. In general, people won’t want to wait more than three seconds for a Web page to load.
Analytics, Flow, and Funnels
Analyzing how users interact with your Web site is absolutely imperative to understanding where users are coming from and where they drop off. Platforms such as Google Analytics and Finteza are good analytics tools to start with. They can give you a visual representation of the site’s behavioral flows.
Search-engine optimization (SEO) is essential for all Web sites, helping them to increase their organic visibility on search engines. All brands and businesses want their pages to rank first in their domain, outdoing their competitors. The higher your Web site ranks in search results, the better the chances of users clicking your link. When uploading content to the Web site, consider what analytics tools can give you insights into how well the meta description, alt tags, page-load speed, image optimization, and header tags are working on your site—and not only for your site’s design and architecture.
What has this got to do with an architecture audit? Good SEO makes a Web site more appealing to search engines. Plus, Web sites that have good user experiences rank higher than those that do not. So creating a smooth user experience before doing an architecture audit can help improve your site’s presence in search-engine results.
Auditing your Web site on a regular basis can help you ensure it stays up to date and provides a better user experience. You’ll be able to find and fix any issues with the site quickly and easily, helping your customers to convert. Of course, conversions are the main focus for most sites. These could take the form of purchases or downloads—whatever is the ultimate business goal.
Conversions are highly reliant on effective sales funnels—that is, the ways in which users interact with and move through a Web site and its content and pages. The sales funnel can influence a site’s conversion rate and plays a vital role in turning visitors into solid, converted customers. As shown in Figure 4, there are four main stages to a sales funnel:
Awareness—This is the point at which visitors have just discovered a site and its brand and are learning about what they offer.
Interest—When interest kicks in, they begin to seriously consider a product or service.
Decision—When they like what they see, they make a decision about whether to purchase a product or service. This is also the point at which a Web site can make a last-minute pitch, encouraging a visitor to make a purchase.
Action—This is when a visitor takes an action and converts to a customer, either by filling out a form, downloading a book or app, or making another purchase.
To ensure users can glide through a sales funnel seamlessly, without hitting any bumps or obstacles, you should conduct an architectural audit of the site. Your learnings can help you to consider what needs to change to make a sale and convert a visitor into a customer. For example, if the process of getting to the end of the sales funnel takes too long, users are more likely to lose interest because of the effort they have to put into making a purchase. On the other hand, if the process is smooth and requires only minimal effort, the overall user experience is much better.
Although Web sites can lose an opportunity to gather valuable user data when they allow a customer to check out as a guest, providing this option can be imperative in streamlining the checkout process and removing any friction surrounding purchases. Addressing the issues you’ve discovered by conducting an architectural audit can mitigate all such friction. By making your Web site squeaky clean, you can ensure that your company embraces the new age of digital transformation and fully optimizes its online presence.
Rebecca is an experienced marketing executive with a passion for UX design, data-driven outcomes, and digital creativity. She has worked on all aspects of marketing, from UX design and creative copywriting to search-engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. She is interested in all things digital and can’t wait to see how the future of technology shapes the corporate world. Read More