Is your website customer-centric?

See what this digital strategist has to say about the dos and don’ts of creating a site centered on your customer.


At 5 by 5 Design we believe it’s possible to change the world by posing the right questions, listening to the honest answers, and following the path that emerges from the dialogue. Today, we’re focused on customer-centric websites.

Emily Carbonell-Ferguson is a self-employed Digital Strategist who, over the past 6 years, has worn many hats; Digital Project Manager, Product Manager, User Experience Strategist, Content Strategist—Emily tends to fill any role her clients need.

She’s driven by her belief that the internet can be magical. A place that is kind, respectful, inclusive, and accessible. Turns out, when digital spaces are built with humans in mind, it is a lot easier to sell product. To collect donations. To meet our goals. Today we’ve tapped into her expertise to learn a bit more about making websites centered around the humans visiting them.

1. What does having a customer-centered website mean?

A customer-centered website is one that is planned, designed, developed, filled with content, and continually updated in a way that aligns to the goals and needs of your actual customers. Not the assumptions of your CEO, not the assertions of your sales team, your actual customers. Sure, a customer-centered website can also meet the goals of your company’s leadership, sales, and manufacturing teams. But these should be considered tertiary goals for your site, at most.

When the customer is at the center of a marketing asset, digital or otherwise, it is much easier to gauge ROI, to assess risk, to ensure that you are selling to the customer with the best chances of winning them over, or “converting” them.

A customer-centric website can be as diverse as the types of customers who exist in the world, and while communities like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have done their best to document general baseline guidelines, your customers are unique. They have distinct expectations and needs. This is where your team comes in.

Websites that center the customer transcend the basic rules of the web (think of how painfully simple Google is—the product of prioritizing its users above all others) and illustrate that you and your team truly understand your customer. It is one that meets customers where they are—be it a small business owner on her work computer, a new parent on their mobile device while riding the train, or a college student in class on a tablet device.

In blunt terms; a customer-centered website is one that converts quickly, and seamlessly.

2. What should you consider before you embark on changes to your site to make sure it ends up customer-centric?

The first, and most important step to ensuring that your website centers your customer is to invest in a thorough understanding of your customer. Many companies balk at the time and resources required to talk to actual customers, to hear their thoughts and feelings. But the up-front cost of hearing directly from your site’s actual users is nothing compared to the price you will pay in redesigns, late fixes, and lost sales.

I once worked on a project focused on finding “quick wins” to get more users to fill out an email sign-up form. It took our team all of one afternoon to hear from users that one of the field labels was confusing, causing users to become fed up and to abandon the sign-up form. That same day, we changed the field label. By the following week we verified a 27% increase in form completions. That’s a huge win, but it also points to a huge loss over the many months that my client lost out on 27% increased email sign ups.

Maybe your company simply cannot invest in customer research. I’d bet that you could spare a half-day to  gather a team to at least aggregate and document your in-house knowledge.

A website that launches as one that is customer-centric has typically gone through these phases:

• Website Goal Definition
• Conversion Goal Definition
• Target Audience Definition
• Current and Potential Customer Recruitment
• Test Planning
• Testing
• Ongoing Review, Testing, and Updates

3. Are there common mistakes that make websites less customer-focused?

Yes! Many! Here are several of my not-so-favorite:

Not Mobile-Responsive: If your site doesn’t scale to fit on a mobile device, it’s a sure-signal you’re not investing in your website, and even if your site meets your customer’s goal today, it likely won’t down the road. A non-responsive website is a bit like a house with several broken windows; a signal that no one is home.

Aggressive Popups: While tolerance has risen for popups, keep in mind it’s still an interruption.  It’s in your best interest to make that interruption as politely as possible. Avoid multiple popups on one screen, which is particularly frustrating on mobile devices—check your settings, sometimes you can set the popup to only reveal itself to users on full-browsers. Also avoid popups that completely obfuscate the content, and make it easy for the customer to close the popup and get back to their task at hand. The best popups appear exactly when a customer wants the option, coupon code, or product offering you are promoting.

Confusing or Hidden Navigation: Some websites forgo traditional primary navigation for a “hamburger” or collapsed menu in an attempt to appeal to mobile device audiences. While this cleans up the header of your site, it actually makes it harder for customers to find what they are looking for quickly. If you do have a primary navigation, avoid naming sections after confusing or marketing language. Even if your company uses branded terms for services, consider using a more commonly understood naming system. Keep in mind customers won’t experience your site in a linear fashion. They will most likely perform a search and land immediately on an internal page. It’s critical for your navigation to make sense no matter how a customer arrived on your site.

Forms: Very few forms are monitored with any regularity, and the vast majority of improvements I recommend to clients are related to making forms easier to fill out. Make your form as short as possible, with as much context as you can. Helper text is important, but so is error message text. If you haven’t thought about the forms on your website in awhile, give them a try. Have several teammates fill them out. Ask about oddities and pain points, or even areas where they hesitated.

4. Are there any current trends in creating customer-centered websites?

It should be no surprise that players like Amazon and Google have paved the way for an internet that feels personalized to each and every one of us. You’ve likely had a moment or two when you’ve questioned whether Apple is recording your private conversations because you just had a conversation about Oreos yesterday and now you are seeing Oreo ads on Instagram! I smell a conspiracy. Or, rather, big data.

Because of companies that retarget us with ads, we’ve come to expect a highly personalized experience. From product recommendations to content on a webpage that changes depending on where the customer is located, more user-centric websites rely on tracking customer data and tailoring the digital experience. Few small businesses have the resources to execute personalization well, but you can do this on a much smaller scale by simply committing to auditing and updating the content on your website based on the needs of your customers.

5. What types of changes tend to make the biggest improvement for a site?

The design of your site is important, but the content is even more so. There’s a reason Craigslist still looks like it was built in the 1990s and yet is one of the most highly used reseller websites in use.

I mention this because you might be sitting at your desk, drinking cup number two, bemoaning that you cannot get funding for a redesign. Get off your butt and think about your content. There is always work to be done to make your website’s content even better, even more relevant to your customers.

Bang for your buck, focusing on auditing, organizing, editing, and filling gaps in your content is the best way to spend your time to make your site more customer-centric. Start with a Mari Kondo-style audit. Remind yourself of your target customer, and their goals. Then, add each section of your website to a spreadsheet and label it with “Good,” “To Edit,” “To Scrap,” and “Content Gap.”

Once you’ve assessed the quality of content on your site, start with the easiest tasks first. Archive any useless content that is only distracting your customers from your primary goals. Set a schedule to edit existing content to be even better, and then build out a schedule to create the content that you feel your customers are missing on your site.

If you do nothing else, talk to a customer!

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