It sounds harsh saying users don’t care about your website, but that’s just the reality. As communicators who are massively invested in our own digital products and services, we are the ones who really care about our websites, just as we really care about our brands. Users don’t have the same connection or relationship with your website. I can demonstrate this by running through a few goal-based scenarios.
The first thing to ask is why is the user on your website in the first place? What is it they are trying to achieve? They are not there by chance. Something must have motivated them to visit your site and therefore, they will be looking to do something. We call this a goal in experience design, and we use goal-based personas to understand how we can meet users’ expectations.
Let’s think about what the goal might be for a user visiting a charity website. They may have watched a programme on TV that made them want to donate some money, they may have seen a Facebook campaign that was asking for support by signing an online petition, they might have a relative who has been diagnosed with a terminal disease and are looking for information and support. The most important thing to note is that they are likely to be visiting your website because they need to achieve something. It is your duty to help them achieve that goal if your charity is best placed to do so. Obvious, right?
Your homepage is not the most important page
Here’s the issue. There’s an assumption the homepage is where all users begin their journey and therefore it’s the most important page of a website. Analytics will likely tell you your homepage is the most visited page of your site, but it will also probably tell you it delivers the lowest value. Why? Because it’s essentially a shop window. Unless you have a single page website, the homepage is not designed to convert. In many ways, it’s one of the least helpful pages.
Let’s reverse engineer this for a moment. What would a user’s goal be for visiting your homepage? Any ideas? To learn more about what your charity does and how it’s helping a particular cause? Yep – that’s a good one. Because they are already aware of your brand and website and just use it to on-board to where they actually want to get to? Yep – also likely. To get an idea of the latest things the charity is doing? Yep – quite possibly, but that’s a bit like the first one. There are probably a few more goals out there, but these cover the main ones.
To help the user achieve these goals, the homepage should focus on communicating what the charity does and how it’s helping its chosen cause, and to provide users with a clear navigation system that will help them to get to where they want to be.
This sounds very simple and it should be. However, many charities I’ve worked with have a real tendency to obsess over the design and function of their homepages, with stakeholders all vying for a slice of this vital real estate. It can become a bun fight, resulting in a confused and bloated page that can easily overwhelm the user.
A homepage only needs to achieve these two things for users
The areas where you are most likely to be able to help (and influence) your users on your homepage are the navigation and the hero banner. If a homepage only needs to achieve these two things for our users, then we can design the experience around that premise by focusing on the following:
- Reassure those users that are ‘checking you out’ with a clear understanding of what you do, why you do it and how you are helping.
- Provide those users who are using your homepage as a starting point with a clear and logical navigation, that will help them to find what they are looking for quickly and easily. Including tools like site search, or simple signposts to the more commonly accessed areas of your site, will help users to find what they are looking for more easily.
Many users will use Google to find your high value content, so they never even have to see your homepage to achieve their goal. It’s a more natural discovery method that focuses on the goal. This is important to bear in mind, and once again takes the emphasises off the homepage. Your content pages have far more opportunity to deliver relevance to your users, so prioritise these to help your users achieve their goals. These pages are where real engagement and conversion is more likely to happen, and where you’ll subsequently be able to make more of an impact for your chosen cause.
Not all charities can afford to work with a digital agency to help them design and deliver their next website or digital product. Yoyo have created a free eBook called Think Experience to help debunk some of the fears around digital projects. You can read more about homepages and mapping user journeys in chapter two of the series, download it here.
In the coming months, Yoyo will release more chapters, giving charities the digital skills they need to understand how to define and create digital products that deliver on their promises.