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Pretty much every B2B website planning session descends into talk about “user flow.”
“What do we want visitors to do next?”
“Where should they go from here?”
“What’s their journey going to be like?”
“What story are we telling?”
It can get a little ridiculous. After an hour or two, we’ve created a bunch of insane, idealistic sessions of five, seven or 10 pages.
Of course users will do that! Our content is that good. It’s provocative! It drives emotion! We’ll convince them!
Spoiler alert: In real life, you’re going to end up frustrated if you take this approach.
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Why B2B User Flow Planning Doesn’t Work
There’s an inherent flaw with focusing on your website’s planned “user flow.” It’s your users.
Every visitor to your website – except search engine robots – is human. That means two things:
- They don’t have much patience
- They want something
Attention span degradation is well-covered ground. We live in an instant gratification world, especially online. If you have a want or a need, you can get it fulfilled right now.
That conflicts with planning for a strictly defined user flow.
Think about it.
If someone is on your site, they’re looking for something.
It might be an answer to a question.
It could be a solution or service like yours.
Or it might be your contact information.
Whatever the need, they found you somehow, and they made a conscious decision to engage with your site. There’s a reason they’re there.
And that reason is not your curated “user flow” experience. All you’re doing when you try to tell a complex, multi-page story is frustrating your visitors.
The Real Journey of a Website Visitor
In reality, website visits are transactional things. Remember: Your visitors are humans, which means they have a want, and limited time.
Imagine you need a dozen eggs for a recipe you’re making tonight.
Would you rather:
- Go to the supermarket, buy eggs, then drive home, or;
- Go to the supermarket, be led around by the hand for an hour, then only get eggs if the store manager decides you should?
Of course the first experience is better! You got what you wanted quickly and easily. Nobody tried to take you on a journey or appeal to your inner child. You didn’t want a story or to be provoked or to feel deep emotion.
You wanted eggs.
And you got eggs.
Conversion rate: 100%.
Now, your visit to the store wasn’t complete anarchy. You had a logical idea where the eggs would be – back corner, like always. And the store probably made it easier for you to buy the expensive organic brand than the cheaper option. That’s just smart design.
What the store didn’t do was try to dictate your entire path – your user flow. They gave you options, because you had a want and limited time. They let you choose your adventure.
And they got your money.
Smart Architecture Beats Strict User Flow
The key to a high-converting B2B website is predictable architecture. That’s the design, the site structure, the menus and the on-page calls to action.
Instead of trying to dictate the path users will take through your site, you need to leave doors open for them. You’re not telling them what to do. You’re making it easy for them to do what they want.
Keep things simple and navigable. Ignore slideshows and massive, four-level menus. Never hide information or bury the lead.
If you make it easier for visitors to find what they want, they’ll find them more often. And if what they want is what you sell, you’ll sell more stuff.
To use another retail metaphor, your website isn’t Ikea. Those Swedish furniture mazes are less stores than exercises in user flow. They make their money by showing you a ton of options and hoping you walk out with more than you wanted at first.
Works fine for selling $10 end tables. Not so great for a B2B website.
The Bottom Line
The next time you’re in a B2B website planning meeting and user flow comes up, call timeout.
Stop and think a second.
- Are you trying to force a user to have the experience you want them to have?
- Or are you actually making things easier on them?
Focus on making it simple for visitors to convert. The journey isn’t the important thing here. The real profit isn’t the friends we made along the way.
Treat your website users like human beings. Remember that they want something, and that they want it now. Then give it to them.
Keep things simple, predictable and efficient, and your conversion rate will thank you.