Christo's Hierarchy of Website needs

chris (2014-08-19 11:23:39)
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So you want your customers to like your website. Every business does. Ideally they will leave a good comment, or emerge as ‘Net Promoters’. You hope they will come back regularly to purchase your product, or read your blog. Some folks believe that the only way to please a customer is to give them new features, or to make existing features look better. The main purpose of this article is to point out that those people are wrong. Of course new, good-looking features are pleasing to the end user. However the only people who are going to be impressed solely by feature-x, or re-skin-y are the dozen or so mostly-blokes sat around your boardroom table. This dawned on me at a recent off-site with a team at Betfair and the hierarchy of website needs was born.

The context was a session where we were planning the delivery of our next big project. Of course we walked through feature requirements, UX desires, the business rationale and the various criteria of success – all good stuff, but we were on a gravy train. What do I mean by that? Well, how would we know that what we have delivered has been a success? My concern was that we could deliver the whole darn lot, but if the finished product just didn’t work as expected, or ran like a blocked drain, we would have failed outright. Cue facepalm.

In 1943 Abraham Maslow published his Hierarchy of Human Needs, starting with the physiological needs, progressing through safety, belonging and esteem up to Self Actualization. He stressed that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will pursue subsequent or higher level needs. The hierarchy of website needs is similar.

It works

First of all, the customer expects the website to work. Pure and simple. When a user visits your homepage, or logs into your application, they do not expect to see a sign on the door saying ‘we are undergoing maintenance – why not try one of our competitors’. If your website is frequently unavailable, or doesn’t meet the basic needs of its intended purpose, then you have ‘bottom of the pyramid’ problems which you need to resolve. You simply do not have the luxury of dreaming up new bells and sprinkles.

It’s fast

Many companies, including Google and Gomez have put science behind the understanding that site performance directly affects user satisfaction. In 2006 Akamai revealed that 75 percent of online shoppers who experience a site that freezes or crashes, is too slow to render, or involves a convoluted checkout process would no longer buy from that site. The research also revealed that thirty-three percent of consumers shopping via a broadband connection will wait no more than four seconds for a Web page to render full report here

Don’t leave customer experience to chance. Site speed is a requirement, not an optional extra. There is simply no point spending thousands on a new feature, or millions on a new line of business if your customers are going to walk away on first touch. That will make ‘Net Detractors’ of your customers and erode your business. Fast comes first.

It’s useful

So your site works and is fast, but you still have work to do if it’s going to be really useful. If a user has to perform five clicks to get to their on-site messages, or a dozen clicks to purchase a product, then you are likely not useful to that individual. Some sites have different levels of authentication, requiring the user to log in twice to access different points of the user journey. Others obscure the shopping cart right up until checkout.

There isn’t any point in putting all that effort into making your site work and performant if the user journey sucks. Make useful changes to your product. Reduce time-to-checkout, simplify navigation, and keep communicating through sensible information architecture and signposting.

It’s cool.

Cool is only cool if it works, if it loads in an acceptable timeframe and if the user can figure out how to use it. Once you have met those basic needs, you are ready to progress to the top of the pyramid and start truly innovating with your online product. If you miss any of the levels below, your ‘cool’ offering will be lost or wasted on those customers who wait long enough for your page to load. Your online business will either shrink, or fail to meet its full potential.

At Betfair, we are starting from scratch, building an entirely new web-serving framework and directly addressing all of these areas of the pyramid at the same time. Our focus, however, is always primarily on the bottom layers of the hierarchy of website needs. Building from that strong base will give us the canvas we need to present those killer features, which together with the other basic needs will make our online business the indisputable industry leader, which we all know it to be.


Originally written in 2011 by Christopher Lacy-Hulbert. Reposted here 2014
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