Websites are like a box of chocolates.
I don’t even need to finish the quote because you already know it. That said, apologies to Forest Gump for the borrowed line. But it does sum up the current situation I see so many websites in these days—you really don’t know what you're going to get. In short, I’m seeing more and more brands trying to push the content they want onto their visitors as opposed to visitors deciding what is important for themselves.
Honestly, I place the blame on companies like Wix or SquareSpace. These are not bad companies, nor are the products they have bad. For some individuals and companies, they are a great solution. A good example of this is when you’re trying to get a home-base business off the ground. Or in my case, need a simple site to promote speaking opportunities and a blog.
The problem is that these types of self-building template sites are limited in what they can do. Again, they are mostly geared to pushing out the content you want your visitors to see instead of what they what they are actually looking for.
If you or your company have moved beyond that and need something much more customized, a WordPress site is the go-to option. But here again, they work more like glorified digital brochures than truly integrated business tools. Plus, most are wrought with security problems.
The future is now.
We used to speculate that websites would become smart. More personalized. More predictive. Some companies are starting done that path. Brooks Running, for instance. They focused on personalizing the fit experience of their shoes, which has lead to an 80% decline in product return rate. Amazon clearly understands the need to continually improve its recommendations based on behavior data. Furthermore, I’ve seen some sites change their call to action each time a user returns. Or customize their home page base on customer demographics or location.
But the truly visitor-centric sites that can be built now are the ones that use behavior intent and actions to the deliver content each user is seeking and not what the site’s owner wants to push (see a theme here?). While this is a bit of a natural progression, you can point to Google as the catalyst. Their search algorithm has been so refined, we rarely have to go beyond the first page of results to find what we want. Shouldn't the websites you visit everyday work that way? Shouldn’t yours? Shouldn’t mine?
Getting ready to launch.
It would be pretty poor of me to talk about all of this and not live it. As you are reading this, my company is on the final stages of preparing our new site—incorporating these very ideas into its foundation. In turn, our new site will be behavior-based and predictive. The site the will build itself based on each user’s intent. A smart website, if you will.
This means we have a lot of options when deciding how to categorize experiences and what should be served for the purpose of personalization. This is done by understanding the intent and data through the lens of behavior design. In other words, it is better to have each user self-select what they want to see and use that behavior to serve up future site content, as opposed to making assumptions about what we think the user wants and guessing what to display on the site.
For us, this is a common viewpoint.
Seems like active websites are moving away from a "complete redesign” mentality to a constant evolution based on optimization to user experience, conversion and functionality.
— Ben Galloway, Creative Director
I am definitely pushing a "taxonomy-free" strategy going forward. What I mean by that is that trying to design an information architecture that works for all intended audiences is getting harder each day. They also happen to be incredibly inefficient and frustrating to users who don't see things the same way the site's owners do. A much better strategy is to normalize and organize your content by metadata so that it can be served at the right time and in the right context to the right person. Navigation schemes, while still necessary in some circumstances, will increasingly give way to predictive experiences that are different and tailored for each visitor.
— Spike Stevens, Director of Digital Services
As databases become larger and more integrated, the ability for a website to predictively understand the individual user will mean the difference between a relevant, enriching experience vs. a lackluster one.
Look for a follow up to this post once our new site launches. I plan on sharing some of the data and the actual experiences of some of its visitors.