As the world continues to embrace digital transformation, for most brands, online platforms are their main port of call for interacting with customers and making sales, especially for those smaller brands that do not have a large physical presence.
Throughout the pandemic, as brick and mortar stores have been forced to temporarily close their doors, online sales have naturally increased.
Brands that largely relied on more ‘offline sales in physical stores, like Primark, felt the sting of having their outlets closed for many weeks. This was also one of the pitfalls for luxury brands like Rolex, that, over the years, were so committed to selling an in-store experience that they neglected to create an eCommerce store – only to be badly hit when the pandemic struck.
(Fig 1: Image Source: Bain & Company)
Today, having a website 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 – can become caught up in making their website look aesthetically pleasing to the extent that they forget the primary objective of the website, which is to sell.
One of the biggest and most important things to consider when creating a website is the user experience and how easy it is for consumers to navigate the site, thereby helping visitors to find what they’re looking for. Of course, the aesthetics of a site is important too. Still, the site’s design helps support users’ end goals, thus converting them into paying customers rather than undermining usability and discoverability.
Website design facilitates interaction which comes in a range of different ways, such as purchases and downloads. Successfully designed websites can win over users while inconsistencies can lead to a sense of confusion among visitors. Users that are lost will hardly ever convert, preventing them from having a long-lasting relationship with the brand.
Design and audit consistencies influence customer experiences profoundly. A decently structured website will ensure users receive the same message at any touchpoint on the site, which is why architectural audits are a crucial part of the success of a website.
Audits can help identify design and structural issues that could be preventing users from converting.
As businesses grow, it’s essential to make sure the site also reflects the business’s growth. What worked on the site before the company matured to its current level might not be plausible moving forward as it grows.
Before we jump into the specifics of conducting an architectural audit, let’s first explore the importance of conducting audits.
Why architectural audits are important
User experience is key for any online store. When we’re talking about architectural audits, we’re not only looking at the aesthetics of the website like colors, design, and visuals, but also the content of the website.
When a website gets developed the first time, most businesses populate it with content, but over time, many fail in committing to updating it.
The problem with content is that it’s not something that you can just do once and keep on the site forever.
The content on a site needs to be evolving alongside your business. This means the content needs to not only continually reflect the position of the brand on the market, but also needs to be relevant to what is trending and always targeted at the right audience. As audiences change over time, it’s essential for the website to keep the content up-to-date and relevant.
A proper architectural audit will also help you follow your user’s path to consider how easy it is for them to get to the desired product/page right after landing on your website. Remember, as a rule of thumb, it should not take more than three clicks to get to the desired page.
This will help you streamline the process better and give a better indication of what needs to be added or changed. For example, a dormant button that once worked on the site may not be carrying out its function anymore. However, the site owner will not know this unless they audit their website accordingly.
The readability of content also needs to be taken into consideration. How we read on-screen content differs from how we read words on a piece of paper. Website copy needs to be written in short paragraphs that are easy to digest. Making your content overwhelming and complex is likely to harm your conversion rate.
Now that we’ve briefly touched on the importance of conducting architectural audits, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of actually carrying one out.
Conducting an audit
Let’s explore the specific aspects of producing an effective architectural audit:
URL structure is an integral part of an effective architectural audit. Not only are URLs important for search engine readability, but they also provide individuals with an understanding of where they’re going next.
URLs need to be clear, short, and readable for both visitors and search engines alike. For instance, refrain from using URLs like: /74681930/ and instead, use descriptive URLs, /blue-dress/
As mentioned above, users should not take more than three clicks to navigate to their desired pages. Utilizing efficient categories, sub-categories, sections, and tags will make it so much easier to navigate the website.
(Fig 3: Image: Goup)
Above we can see a rudimentary example of a site map, and how sections should be interlinked to help individuals to discover the content they need. No page should be more than three clicks away from any other part of the website, and architectural audits should take this necessity into consideration.
By mapping out your site, you can see how your menus help to interlink different sections together. If you can see too big a gap between pages, work on changing your layout. For instance, you may attract a prospective customer to your website’s blog section. If they read enough to decide that they want to make a purchase, it’s essential that they don’t have to trawl through pages to find your products.
How usable is your navigation? Are your menus placed in the usual location (i.e. header of the website)? Not surprisingly, hidden navigations make it difficult for users to find a relevant page.
Page navigation can be improved by dividing categories clearly. When categories are separated, they are more visually definable, and creating sub-categories helps users get to their desired information quicker. Keeping navigation on your page consistent helps users when returning to the site. Once familiar with navigating around the site, users will feel more comfortable exploring.
Being clear is key to helping visitors on the site. So, using accurate navigation titles is essential. It allows users to understand where they will be taken once clicking on navigation buttons—giving them a general idea of the page before even clicking on it. Conversely, misleading and cryptic navigation can confuse and annoy users, ultimately putting them off using the site.
For images that link to other pages, it’s imperative to ensure every clickable image has an ALT text behind it. This will help make it clear to the visitor where the link is, irrespective of how they are accessing the site. Lastly, it’s essential to ensure the search result page produces relevant results and products when using in-site search features.
Utilize heatmaps to get a visual understanding of the parts of the website that attract most of your users’ attention. Heatmaps show where users click and focus the most, which could give you a really good indication of where you should place your CTAs.
A good tool to start with would be Hotjar. If your heatmaps are showing that visitors are ignoring key parts of your website, it’s essential to make them stand out better. Bigger buttons and better use of images can help here. For instance, if you have a beautiful background image on your site, it may improve the aesthetic, but it might also be a distraction that hurts your bottom line.
Is your website mobile-friendly? Note that more than 50% of traffic now comes from mobile devices, so having a mobile-friendly website is absolutely imperative nowadays.
Performance and Speed
According to Walmart’s analysts, if a web page load speed decreases by one second, the conversion rate grows by 2%. In Walmart’s terms, this could be millions of dollars. In general, people wouldn’t want to wait for more than 3 seconds for a website to load.
Analytics, Flow, and Funnels
Analyzing how users interact with your website is absolutely imperative to understanding where users are coming from and where they drop off. Platforms like Google Analytics and Finteza are good tools to start within this respect. These give you a visual representation of the behavioral flow.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is essential for all websites, helping them to increase organic visibility on search engines. All brands and businesses want to be the first to rank in their given field or market, outdoing their competitors. The higher your website ranks, the better the chances of being clicked on. When uploading content to the website, you need to consider analytics tools that give you insight into how well the meta description, alt tags, page speed, image optimization, and header tags are working for your site, not only for your design and architecture of the site.
What has this got to do with architecture audit?
Well, a good SEO makes a website more appealing to search engines. In addition, websites with good levels of user experience rank higher than those that do not. So creating a smooth user experience when doing an architecture audit will help the search engine gain presence.
Keeping an eye on your website on a regular basis can help it stay updated and will make for better UX as any issues and bugs with the site can be fixed quickly and promptly to help customers convert. Of course, conversion is the main focus for most sites, and this can be in the form of purchases or even downloads, but this is the ultimate end goal.
Conversions are highly reliant on sales funnels and how users interact with the site and its content and pages.
For users to glide through a sales funnel seamlessly without any bumps, an architectural audit of the site is needed. This will help to consider what needs to be changed to get a visitor converted into sales. For example, if the process of getting to the end of the sale is too long, users are more likely to be uninterested due to the work they have to put into it. On the other hand, if the process is smooth and only requires a minimal amount of effort, the overall experience is better.
Although websites can lose out on valuable user data by allowing customers to check out as a ‘guest’, it can be imperative for streamlining the checkout process and removing any frictions surrounding purchases. Architectural audits are designed to mitigate these frictions on a comprehensive scale. By keeping your site squeaky clean, you can ensure that your website embraces this new age of digital transformation and optimizes its online presence.