Introducing User Flow

This is article #
in the series:
User Flow: charting the currents
October 2020

Photo by USGS on Unsplash

Why do we visit websites? The answer to that question doesn't just change from person to person or site to site. It often even changes from visit to visit! 

For example, on your first visit you might just be exploring and getting to know the brand. The second one? You're interested in checking out their offerings. And on the third occasion you've come back to buy something.

Why does that matter? Because as our reasons change, the way we use the site does too. On that exploration visit, you'll probably focus on the broad strokes. Visit two will have you browsing the product page. And on that visit to buy? You'll make a beeline for the product you're looking for and then on to the checkout screen.

Behavior Flow 

'Behavior flow' as it's known in the lingo is a big deal. Why? Because when people use your site differently they can get stymied and frustrated by totally different things. And since, as the social psychologist Roy Baumeister explains: 'Bad is Stronger than Good' a.k.a. a negative has far more weight than a positive, that matters. 

To see why, just look back to your own life to a day that was almost perfect but ended up marred by one fight or accident. Now, that one negative event probably dominates your whole memory. 

It's the same with websites. If something annoys a user, that can cancel out all of the good work you've done. And one thing that can be really annoying is not being logically presented with the next step in your process or flow. If it's difficult enough, users can end up giving up, and — as this now becomes their predominant memory — never return.

If you haven't spent any serious time thinking about behavioral flow, then there's a good chance you're putting entire streams of users in this position! Fortunately, there are ways to fix this. 

Drop Offs 

If you've already got a page and it's hooked up to Google Analytics, then you already have a dedicated tool for this called Behavior Flow under the 'behavior' tab. There, they visualize for you how people move through your website and where they leave. 'Drop offs' are marked with a big red arrow pointing downwards. The longer the arrow, the higher the percentage of people you're losing on that page. 

The visual language is clear.

By looking at how people flow through your page (marked by the lines connecting the boxes) you can see where they came from and where they went. Then by examining when they leave, you can get a pretty good idea what they were looking for. Make that easier to find and you're often well on your way to correcting your flow problems.

In this way, Google's Behavior Flow is a powerful tool to help you figure out where your problems lie on an already established website. 

But what if you haven't built your site yet? Should you just build something and wait to lose lots of people before you start fixing things? Of course not!

Approaching Flow from the Perspective of a Visitor’s Motivations

It is possible to get to grips with User Flow long before your site is online and you've got visuals to inspect. To do so, you've got to focus on what lies behind those visuals. Namely, people trying to accomplish things on your website.

If you can figure out what they're trying to accomplish and what actions they take to accomplish them, then you can build your site in such a way that helps them do so. And that, good people, is helping User Flow. 

So what are users trying to accomplish on your site? In the intro, we mentioned three reasons they might visit. 

  1. Getting to know your site and/or brand
  2. Checking out your products 
  3. Buying something 

But that's hardly the only reasons they'll come. They might also be there to read a blog article, compare prices, get specialized knowledge, and much more. 

But hold your horses! Catering to all of those at once will probably send your site into a tailspin. After all, every additional flow path increases the complexity of your website. This can mean that if you try to serve each and every trickle of users, you can actually make your site harder to use for the majority. 

So, don't focus on all the reasons people might visit. Instead, focus on the most important ones. That's both less work and more useful. 

The questions to ask are: Where will they arrive? What are they trying to achieve? How can you help them navigate where they want to go? And, in case they're not there for your products, how can you best showcase what you're offering along the way? 

But how do you apply that to individual user flows? To find out, join us for our next article where we'll explore several example user flows and consider how to best serve them. To be the first to know when it's online, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.

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