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 have largely relied on more “offline” sales in physical stores, like Primark, have 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 e-commerce store—only to be badly hit when the pandemic struck.
As Claudia D’Arpizio and colleagues wrote in their article “Luxury after Covid-19: Changed for (the) Good?” that indeed sales for luxury goods have plummeted during the pandemic; however, they see there is an opportunity for sales to strongly rebound. Among the trends that they see as “emerging or solidifying in response to the crisis” is an “accelerated shift to digital shopping.”
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 find what they’re looking for. Of course, the aesthetics of a site is important too. Still, the site’s design needs to support users’ end goals of finding what they want and need, 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. Websites that have inconsistencies and errors that confuse and frustrate visitors rarely convert those visitors to paying customers, preventing them from having a long-lasting relationship with a brand.
Design consistencies profoundly influence customer experiences. A decently structured website will ensure that users receive the same message at any touchpoint on the site. This is why architectural audits are a crucial part of a website’s success. Audits can help identify design and structural issues that could be preventing website visitors to becoming the brand’s customers/users. Not only can architectural audits point out structural issues, but they can also aid in the growth of your e-commerce business.
Here are some of the success goals that architectural audits contribute to:
- Increasing conversions
- Increasing sales
- Enhancing shopping experience
- Building brand and customer loyalty
- Simplifying checkout and payment
As a business grows, it’s essential to make sure the site reflects the business’s growth. What worked on the site before the company matured to its current level might not be useful moving forward. But, 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 is first developed, most businesses populate it with content, but over time, many fail in committing to update 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. This can 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. Remember, as a rule of thumb, it should not take more than three clicks to get to the desired page.
The readability of content also needs to be taken into consideration. How we read onscreen 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
Conducting an audit is essential if you’re looking to increase the success of your site and campaign. There are many types of audits, ranging from marketing to architectural. If you’re looking further into your audience demographic, SEO, and campaign strategy, marketing audits can be extremely effective. However, those of you who are focusing on your user experience and discovery design are much more likely to benefit from an architectural audit.
These are the elements/steps involved in conducting architectural audit:
- URL Structure
- Page Architecture
- Mobile Friendliness
- Performance and Speed
- Analytics, Flow, and Funnels
Read on to find out how to conduct each stage of the process on your way to becoming a master of understanding the design of your e-commerce site and its vast number of possibilities.
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/.” Instead, use descriptive URLs, like “/blue-dress/.” Each component of a website helps a user’s experience. (This can also improve SEO by making it more descriptive for search engines. Incidentally, websites with good levels of user experience rank higher on search engines than those that do not.)
As previously mentioned, it should not take more than three clicks to navigate to a desired page. Using efficient categories, sub-categories, sections, and tags make it so much easier to navigate a website.
Figure 1. General flowchart of a site map.
Figure 1 shows a rudimentary example of a site map and how sections of the site should be interlinked to help individuals discover the content they need. No page should be more than three clicks away from any other part of the website. Architectural audits should take this necessity into account.
By mapping out your site, you can see how your menus interlink different sections together. If you can see a big gap between pages, work on changing your layout. For instance, a prospective customer may be attracted 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 relevant pages.
Page navigation can be improved by clearly dividing categories. When categories are separated, they are more visually definable. Creating sub-categories helps users quickly get to their desired information. Keeping navigation on your page consistent helps users when they return to your site. Once familiar with navigating around the site, users will feel more comfortable exploring.
Being clear is key to helping visitors on your site. So, using accurate navigation titles are essential as it allows users to understand where they will be taken once they click—giving them a general idea of the page before clicking on it. Conversely, misleading, cryptic navigation can confuse and annoy users, ultimately putting them off using the site.
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 call to actions.
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 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. Checking that all the pages on your website can be viewed and used on mobile devices is integral for expanding and maintaining your customer base.
In her article, Alexandra Nixon provides some valuable tips for identifying mobile UX gaps. Use an analyzing tool, such as Google Analytics, to see how people are accessing your site. Compare your analysis for mobile devices to desktop devices. Consider developing a mobile strategy.
As with any component of a website, keeping an eye on your website on a regular basis through the lens of mobile devices can help it stay up-to-date and will make for better UX. Since the main focus for most sites is to convert visitors to customers/users and since many people are using their mobile devices, for success, your website needs to be accessible and usable on mobile devices.
Performance and Speed
In general, people don’t want to wait more than 3 seconds for a website to load. Alternatively, Walmart’s analysts found that “if a web page load speed decreases by one second, the conversion rate grows by 2%.” In terms of profit for Walmart, this could mean making millions of dollars more.
Architectural audits can analyze the performance and speed of websites, thus giving you valuable information to increase potential conversion rates.
Analytics, Flow, and Funnels
Analyzing how users interact with your website is imperative to understand where users are coming from and where they drop off. Looking further into your audience and demographic based analytics can provide better insight into your customer’s behavior and the stages of your sales funnel. This process can aid in predicting customer behavior from first impressions to the final checkout. Platforms like Google Analytics and Finteza are good tools to start with in this respect. These tools offer a visual representation of the behavioral flow on websites.
For the all-important conversion rate (i.e., the percentage of website visitors that complete the desired outcome of a site), conversions are highly reliant on sales funnels and how users interact with the site and its content and pages. If the process of getting to the end of the sale is too long, users are more likely to lose interest due to the work they have to put into it.
Architectural audits can provide insights that help users glide through a sales funnel seamlessly. Conducting this type of audit can ensure that your website embraces this new age of digital transformation and is optimized for an online presence.
For example, although websites can lose out on valuable user data by allowing customers to check out as a guest, allowing users to do so streamlines the checkout process by removing frictions surrounding a purchase. Architectural audits are designed to mitigate these frictions on a comprehensive scale.
Are Architectural Audits the Future of a Site’s Success?
The future of your site’s success depends on how it evolves alongside the ever-changing trends, digital transformation, and consumer behavior fluidity. Conducting regular audits to measure the success of your goals will ensure your website is on top of the most current UX trends and will promote competitive usability that sets you apart from your e-commerce competitors.
Architectural audits are also essential for informational websites. For example, nonprofits can benefit from audits that help users easily sign up or donate. Moreover, training- and membership-based organizations can greatly improve their users’ experience too.
Better still, those of you with diverse or international audiences may also want to incorporate accessibility into your audit strategy. Making sure your site is accessible to all consumer groups is vital if you want your demographic to grow. And focusing on areas such as translation and localization is another component that can be incorporated into an audit, thus opening your website up to an international, multi-lingual audience.
If you’re looking to the future of architectural audits, the sky’s the limit for what you can track and tweak for a site’s success. As audits become more advanced and technology continues to evolve, user testing is quickly becoming the focus point of modern-day site audits. Knowing what and where the user’s friction and confusion points are is invaluable to the success of your website.