For digital products that are transaction-oriented, user flows are a natural fit. A user goes through a checkout process, signs up for a service, or creates an account by going through a series of defined actions in a somewhat linear flow. Since the steps involved all form a logic, a traditional flowchart or decision tree is the perfect way to ensure a user is able to fulfill the goals of the flow accounting for all manner of decision points, options, and exceptions.
But what about a website that has a goal that isn’t as rigidly defined? Often, sites exist for informational purposes, to build brand, or to support the efforts of sales teams and marketing initiatives. These sites may well have calls to action such as requesting a demo, signing up for a newsletter, or downloading a resource, but these actions aren’t the final ultimate goal of a site and only serve to move a user down the pipeline. Without a clearly defined set of steps, how does one design a flow of information for the site’s various users?
The Shortcomings of Journeys
In the past, we’d relied on what we referred to as user journeys: hypothetical paths from one page to another that we might envision a particular persona taking. After defining our personas and site map, we’d use these journeys to shape content as we tried to predict how a user might work through the site. For each persona, we’d create a series of paths from a number of hypothetical starting points: home page, email newsletter, sales call follow-up, etc. From there, we’d take a guess at where they might go next and make sure there was content on those pages to support their needs.
For example, say a company is targeting a user’s need to understand how their service will impact the bottom line. For a user accessing the site directly, there might be a message on the home page about the results they might see which then links to a case study. The case study highlights how a past client was able to increase revenue in a matter of months and links to a gated white paper. This leads the user to fill out the CRM form for the download, entering them into the sales funnel.
Often though, there is no hard end goal. For instance, we might have a user who is looking to validate the company after speaking to a sales rep. They might Google the company and land on the home page, navigate to About, and read up briefly on the leadership and company history without taking any trackable action. However, this user fulfilled the goal set out for them.
[Journeys] often lead to a very limited view of the countless possible paths for a user to take.
One benefit to these journeys is that they let us and the client understand how various pages and pieces of content work to bolster the needs of users. However, it often leads to a very limited view of the countless possible paths for a user to take. Additionally, flows are focused less on the content on the pages and more on the movement from step to step.
The limitations of the journeys led us to develop something that allowed us to better communicate the content we wanted to drive specific users to with an understanding that they might not get there on our hypothetical paths.
A new way to think about flows
We designed what we refer to as “Impact Pages.” For each persona, we highlight 3-5 pages that contain content that aligns to their goals on the site. By focusing on specific content, we remove the sometimes futile guesswork of deciding on specific paths and address user needs in a more tactical manner than might be possible using journeys.
More importantly, we’ve found clients are more receptive to Impact Pages than with a journey. Often, clients will overly critique the path users are taking in the flows or not provide adequate feedback since they seem so hypothetical. With Impact Pages, the content is front and center, allowing them to better understand what we’re hoping each persona gets out of a particular page. Impact Pages are useful to the process even if the final IA and site map isn’t complete. Teams can use the suggestions for content to guide the content of each page as well as where it might be organized to facilitate the discovery by the target persona whereas journeys often require a nearly complete site map to be most useful.