We asked Amanda Shiga, VP Digital at Nonlinear Creations, a full-service systems integrator and digital agency that helps companies build leading websites and intranets, about the current and future state of website experiences. What makes a great website, and what does the power of search have to do with it? Read on.
Q.: In terms of overall website experiences, can you describe some of the main objectives a website should deliver to its audience? What role does a search solution play?
A.: Regardless of sector, most website objectives boil down to maximizing conversions or transactions, increasing audience awareness and delivering expected services or information, all while nurturing an ongoing relationship with the audience and keeping engagement high. The best web experiences balance helping visitors find what they seek–quickly–with ushering them along a path toward conversion, meaning any sort of measurable and desirable action taken by the user such as a purchase, a membership signup, or a request for information.
The search solution plays a significant role in at least two ways: directly connecting users with highly relevant content and offering opportunities to keep engagement high. A search platform such as Coveo with a relevancy engine that learns over time, understands industry-specific terms, offers useful facet refinements and personalizes results will increase the likelihood of a successful search. Furthermore, serving related content and stories, complementary product suggestions, and “did you mean” suggestions alongside search results ensures users never hit a dead end and that they discover new and relevant content, products, or promotions.
Q.: Earlier this year, an article in Forbes identified 3 major website trends in regard to user experience: simplicity, storytelling, and responsive design. Do you agree with these, or would you add others? What role do you see search serving to help websites excel in these areas?
A.: We’re definitely seeing these trends. Responsive design, for us, is a given now; it is part of any solution we deliver and every client wants it. When there is a strong business reason for a specific experience to be rendered for a specific subset of devices, the adaptive design approach makes sense with responsive as the fallback. Search is often a key focus for the mobile channel; for example, the retail product search or store locator that complement the brick-and-mortar experience. The majority of mobile-specific experiences we build involve a streamlined search function rendered for smartphones to better serve “at your fingertips” and location-specific information.
Storytelling is an interesting trend as well. Not just in terms of visual design, but also in terms of the end-to-end user experience between a customer and an organization, their journey from an anonymous visitor to (hopefully) satisfied and repeat customer. Understanding this story and putting a face to a story brings it to life and informs user interaction design and targeted content every step of the way, whether it is new parents looking for baby products or a seasoned executive looking to join a professional association. Each visitor segment or persona has a story arc, and the online experience should intersect it at key points.
Search experience and behavior can play a big role in terms of both ushering a user along this journey with highly relevant results (and no dead ends) and providing insight into how the user experience could be tailored based on search terms and subsequent browsing behavior.
Q.: Website personalization continues to be a hot topic. How much do you see companies focusing on website personalization, profile building, etc., either currently or in the future?
A.: Personalization is definitely a hot topic. We’re seeing a big interest from organizations and their marketing functions in personalization; they’re sold on the vision and want to use their full suite of marketing tools but need help understanding where to start. Many organizations are delegating these tactics for Phase Two while focusing on a core re-platforming or redesign initiative first.
Organizations see the greatest success starting with an easy digital marketing tactic: rules-based personalization that serves targeted content based on easily accessible visitor characteristics such as geographical location or visit number. These organizations take small steps and focus on high-priority goals such as increasing recruitment from a specific country or nurturing visitors along the conversion funnel. Most importantly, they measure the effectiveness of their personalization rules and evangelize the results to ensure support for a broader campaign.
Profile-based personalization, conversely, requires a more demanding set of foundational activities including definition of segments/personas and tagging of content to distinguish those segments via browsing behavior; as such, we see it adopted later by organizations but always desired on the roadmap. Once this is in place, organizations get the full power of personalizing both content and search results to more precise categories of visitors.
So how has Nonlinear helped deliver this type of success? Be on the lookout for Part II with Amanda Shiga to learn more about how Nonlinear helped an online retailer boost site performance.
Amanda Shiga is Vice President, nonlinear digital and has been part of the nonlinear team since 2006. She brings more than 14 years’ experience in designing and building effective content management and web-based solutions within a variety of industries. Amanda leads the nonlinear digital team in delivering digital marketing solutions and contributes significantly to business development and thought leadership. She is designated as a Sitecore MVP and holds a B.Sc. in Computer Science and M.A.Sc. in Technology Innovation Management.