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Chris Ashby
March 22, 2022

How to improve your website or digital product in 4 simple steps

We’ve all been there before. We go into a new project ready to build this shiny, incredible thing — guns blazing, with hundreds of solutions on the tip of our tongue, and a driving motivation to make it absolutely perfect.But what about later, when you come to make that thing you’ve just created better? Or fixing something that just isn’t working? Well, that’s when it starts to get tricky and confusing…

We’ve all been there before. We go into a new project ready to build this shiny, incredible thing — guns blazing, with hundreds of solutions on the tip of our tongue, and a driving motivation to make it absolutely perfect.

But what about later, when you come to make that thing you’ve just created better? Or fixing something that just isn’t working? Well, that’s when it starts to get tricky and confusing…

Optimisation and continual improvement is hard, especially when it comes to design and product. That’s part of the reason why we leave things the way they are for so long after we finish a project or piece of work, after all, didn’t we do it perfect the first time?

So we leave it. And it decays and becomes stale, slowly underperforming and making us feel miserable inside. Like a spectral investor, perched on our shoulders, reminding us every now and then that we ‘really should relook at that thing that isn’t working. I mean look at it, it’s awful! Not only that, but customers are bringing it up constantly...’

That’s why the true key to growth through design is not the perfect project, signed, sealed and delivered. But instead, a constant effort of continual, iterative improvement.

But to do that, we need to start with 4 key things…

First thing’s first. Start from the problem space

The first thing that everyone always wants to do when it comes to solving business or product problems, is to suggest their ideas for solutions.

Unfortunately, though, this is just as effective as throwing something brown and disgusting at the wall, and seeing which bits are sticky.

You’ll end up arguing with other stakeholders in the business about what is the best solution, or the best new feature to add, and nobody will have any way of knowing what is actually the right thing to do next. No data will back up any decision, and you’ll inevitably end up spending money on building things that users or customers didn’t actually want.

♫ A tale as old as time… ♫

Instead, re-focus your energy and time on the problem space, and truly understand what the problem is you’re trying to solve first.

Take that idea for a solution and ask ‘what problem is this solving’.

Define that problem to within an inch of its life. Until it can barely breathe for the amount of data, analysis, and research you’ve got supporting it.

And if you can’t define the problem well enough, you need to do more research. Go and speak to users, do a survey, or watch screen recordings. Or, if you still really think you know the right solution, go and create some mockups of multiple solutions, including the one you think will work, and run some tests.

Even just quick tests can be incredibly insightful.

Know your north-star metrics

Now you know what problem you are solving, let’s turn to what you will be trying to impact.

Before building anything, or even exploring solutions, you need to have an idea of what metric you are trying to impact.

What are the measurable metrics that will be moved because of this solution? Is it MRR? Number of new user signups? The average review score?

How much will they be moved by, in comparison to our other efforts?

Is this a worthwhile use of our time to move this metric by this much? Or should we be working on alternative solutions, or even, solving alternative problems?

This helps frame the problem and later, the solutions you come up with, so that you can confidently make a decision on what will be more impactful, and also measure the results of your solution to know whether the problem has been effectively solved or not.

It may seem tedious, but by going through this exercise you’ll know exactly what it is that is going to drive growth for your business.

These metrics will be the north star you use to guide you — even through the darkest nights (or Zoom meetings…)

Define & understand your users

So, you know the problem, and have an idea of the metrics you’re trying to impact. Next we need to know who we are solving this problem for.

To do this, you’ll need to get a deeper understanding of the people who interact with your business, the ones who are experiencing this problem in the first place— your users.

Until you know who your users are, what motivates them, what their tendencies and behaviours are, and what type of people they are, you’ll never be able to fully solve the problem they are facing.

There are some really great ways that you can do this:

Understand your users better, and you’ll be able to see the problem in a whole new light, giving you the insight and empathy you need to truly solve it.

Map out your key user journeys

The final part of the puzzle focuses on a collection of decisions, pages, actions, and user behaviour, put together in a specific order based on how your users behave.

This, in broad terms, is what we call a user journey. The journey that a user takes through your website, or digital product.

There may be several user journeys across your website or digital product, for example: the sign-up user journey, the purchase user journey, etc. And the user journey may include more steps than just what happens on your website or product (this can also be called a customer journey), as well as branch out in multiple directions at different points.

In order to map these out, first think about what metrics you are trying to impact, as well as who your users are, and then write down the steps that those users take that impact those metrics.

So if your metric is ‘percentage of organic traffic that purchases a product’, then map out the journey that organic traffic takes through your website or product, right through to the point they buy something.

Once you’ve done this, go back through the steps of the journey and think about what decisions your users are making at each point. Then, if you can, provide data for each step.

You can do this using a plethora of tools with free plans:

For example, what percentage of users sign up using their Google account versus creating an account from scratch? Or what is the average order value for a users first purchase? Find these pieces of data, and make a note of them at different points in the journey.

The point of this is to get a deep understanding of what they key journeys are that impact your primary metrics, and truly dig into the user behaviour through those journeys.

Chances are, you’ll find that the problem you’re trying to solve, could actually be solved in different ways at multiple points through those journeys. And chances are some of those solutions will be more impactful than others…

Using this information and making improvements

So now you’ve finished these 4 steps, you’re finally ready to come up with solution ideas, and then create and test those solutions! And those solutions will be so much better for it!

Not only that, but you’ll be able to better communicate to your team, or to people you are working with, exactly what it is you are trying to achieve.

The best way to think about this is in the form of a simple statement that you can write, and use, every time you look to improve anything on your website or digital product:

We are solving [problem] for [user persona], at the point they are [behaviour or point on the user journey], in order to improve [metric].

That’s it really, as simple as that. That one sentence will help out your staff, your designer, or your product managers more than almost anything else.

But for that statement to work, it needs the research and work that comes before it. So get cracking!

Get your foundations right, answer the 4 steps laid out in this article, and then you’ll be able to move forwards writing statements that give you a clear way of communicating what you are doing, and a clear vision for what to do next.

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