STOP Assuming Everyone Uses Websites The Same Way You Do—Or Risk Alienating Your Website’s Visitors
By Erin | January 22, 2014 |
At some point before our Denver web design and strategy agency dives into a design, development, or copywriting project, we begin discussing a website’s new content with our client.
More often than not, someone at the client's company will end up making a blanket statement similar to one of the four listed below. (And these statements are typically prefaced by or contain the word “obviously”.)
The 4 types of statements clients typically make when it comes to their website's content:
- Short, Sweet, To The Point
We’ll need to keep the content short and brief because no one reads on the web anymore.
- ALL The Details
We need to provide plenty of details because visitors are looking for answers and everyone does all their research on the web these days.
- Testimonials + Social Proof
We need to include lots of testimonials as well as pictures of our entire staff because all prospective customers want to get a feel for what it’s like to work with us.
- COOL! WHIZ! BANNNG!
We need to have lots of super cool things in our site, like links to the local weather, interactive maps, dynamic and moving animations, and other things that none of our competitors have on their sites.
Most people who make these statements about what their company’s website content MUST be like are trying to be helpful. They want their company's websites to succeed.
The problem with this is...
Most people who make these statements are making recommendations based on how they, personally, use websites.
They’re sharing thoughts on what they think their company's website should be like because they (very understandably, as humans) assume everyone else reads web pages in the same manner they do, and that everyone else looks for the types of content they look for.
Clients who insist “everyone uses websites in XYZ way” and demand their copy/content are written in exactly that manner typically aren’t good matches for our company.
Because we require a certain level of intellectual humility in the clients we work with, and the clients who insist they know how people use the web are insisting they know more about web usability than the agency they're looking to partner with, and they typically shut themselves off from learning about how people actually use websites. This ultimately results in a less-than-optimal, less effective website for the client in the end, and that's not something we're open to delivering.
(In a directly-related side note: when clients argue internally about what should be used in a website design or website copy, or when disagreements arise between a web agency and a client about what should be included or not included in a website design or copy, there's a very specific technique that smart, strategic web agencies will utilize. Learn more about diffusing passionate website debates and bringing everyone together with data in last week's blog post.)
The truth: 4 categories of website users
In reality, there are actually a variety of different types of website users, with each type of user reading and using websites in a different way.
Though detailed personas of specific target audience members help develop the most specialized and compelling content, a common, big-picture method of thinking about people we often use here at our web strategy agency breaks up website users into 4 categories (each one directly correlating to one of the 4 statements listed above). These categories were pioneered by the brilliant marketing optimization experts at FutureNow.
Each category of user collects information and makes decisions in a different manner.
Which category of website user are you?
The Competitive Website User
Competitive types make fast, logical decisions. They tend to be impatient, skim through content quickly, look through content quickly in order to get a sense of the big picture, and want you to get to the point.
The Methodical Website User
Methodical types make decisions slooooowly. Yet like the Competitive types, they're very logical in their decision making. Methodicals want all the details and perform lots of research before making decisions. They'll often read every. single. word. on. a. web. page. Maybe even twice.
The Humanistic Website User
Humanistic types are highly emotional. They typically want to know what others experienced when they worked with, hired, or bought from your company. They want to know what it'd feel like to work with you. They especially appreciate testimonials and social proof.
The Spontaneous Website User
Like the Competitives, Spontaneous types make quick decisions. Yet unlike the Competitives and more like the Humanistics, they make decisions largely based on emotion instead of pure logic. The attention of Spontaneous types tends to bounce around, and they often lock in on interesting, "cool" website features.
Though helpful in reality, it's not as simple as 4 categories
To complicate matters, people act differently depending on where they are in the buying process.
Are they just starting the research process, jumping about, and trying to understand their options? They'll likely be a bit more Competitive in their website usage.
Are they committed to moving forward with a decision soon, and hoping to differentiate between their last 2 choices? They may well be more Methodical in their website usage as they enter the end stage of their research.
On top of it all, the 4 categorizations above comprise just one method of thinking about website users (and it actually gets more complex than what you've learned here in today's post). There are many more ways industry experts categorize website users.
An example (let's use me)
Typically, I'm a Competitive website user.
- I rarely read every word in a page.
- I skim.
- I'm somewhat impatient and make many of my decisions quickly.
- In fact, look at me now, using easily-skimmable bullet points now instead of putting this information into a paragraph.
These are the exact reasons why, when I come to a website with long, lengthy paragraphs, no bullet points, and no headlines differentiating sections, I usually leave.
Yet a Methodical web user could arrive at this same page and deeply appreciate the wealth of information provided, and be excited to have so much to read through and so many details to absorb.
The bullet points above are the exact reasons why, when I arrive at a website and am told to "Watch our 5 minute intro video" to get a feel for the company, I'm usually outta there. I don't have the patience to spend 5 minutes watching a video just to determine whether or not I have any interest in learning more about the company in the first place. I don't even know what's IN the video, if it'll provide me with value, or if it's complete marketing fluff—so why would I watch it? No way.
Yet a Spontaneous user could arrive at this same page and be tickled pink by the opportunity to watch a video—they might find this *much( more fun and entertaining than reading through the very same text I'd like to quickly skim through.
Are you starting to see how it can be dangerous to assume everyone uses the web the same way you do?
The moral of today's story is...
When it comes to your website's content and copy, don’t make the assumption that all your site’s visitors use websites just like you.
If you’re committed to maximizing the effectiveness of your company’s website, consider instead partnering with a strategic web agency that can guide you toward better website copy that appeals to the wide variety of web user types.
If you don’t partner with a strategic web agency, it’s very possible your business could end up alienating at least three out of the four types of visitors to your site.
Is your site easy to skim for the Competitive types?
Does your site contain the right amount of details for the Methodical types?
Do you provide social proof for the Humanistic types?
Do you offer anything to capture and hold a Spontaneous type's attention?
It's very possible you're already driving segments of potential customers away from your site because it feels like a burden for them to use. Be careful.