I have something to confess. I like to look at and critique lender’s websites. Some are really good. But many make the financial industry look dated and behind the times. Here’s the thing. With the popularity that peer-to-peer lenders and other online models bring to the financial industry, there is no better time to start thinking about improving the experience users have with your website, and therefore, your brand.
There are many more reasons why websites matter:
- It’s usually the first interaction your future borrowers have with you.
- Consumers conduct significantly more research before engaging with you. Even on mobile devices.
- Use your website as an engagement channel instead of one-way communication.
Ultimately, your website can be used to nurture the relationship with your customers and can become part of your brand’s differentiation.
The good news is that it’s not about resources. A small company can have an amazing website that makes their brand shine while a large company may have an antiquated, outdated site. It’s more about taking a proactive approach. You should view your website as an ever evolving communication channel instead of something you redo every couple of years.
Below are four tips you should consider doing to your website to improve user experience. It’s a fairly technical list, but it will help you know what to look for and what to ask your web developer when making website decisions.
#1. Adopt a mobile-first strategy.
I don’t think I have to mention that the percentage of people using their phones to browse the web has increased exponentially, but here are the Pew Center’s latest smartphone stats if you’re curious. It has gotten to the point that google recently placed a ranking signal for user experience on mobile.
Doing a mobile-first strategy means that you make design, copy and code/technology choices considering the mobile user experience first and expand from there. The idea is to design your website so that visitors to your site have a good experience on any device, even those with a small screen and slow internet connection.
So your main focus is going to be design for multiple screen sizes and speed. This has several implications, which lead to my next points.
#2. Improve Your Website’s Speed.
Improving how quickly your website loads on mobile devices is fairly technical. Here’s a list of to-do items to get you started (sorted by impact):
- Optimize images – Optimizing images means compressing them, serving smaller images (and therefore smaller file size) on mobile devices and accounting for retina type displays with 2x the resolution of regular screens. Want to learn more? Check out Google’s detailed post on optimizing images.
- Minimize overall page size – A good goal to have is to keep websites at 500kb or less. This goal limits your design choices and options. But that’s a good thing.
- Use a CDN – CDN or Content Delivery Network is a service you can use to reduce load time by minimizing distance latency. Learn more about CDNs here. It’s a cheap solution that will have a quick and direct impact on your website’s speed.
- Minimize HTTP requests – The lower the better. For example did you know that Apple’s newest homage design only makes 36 requests? It loads in .5 seconds!
Want to know how your website performs? Check out these two free website speed test tools:
http://tools.pingdom.com - This is one of the website speed test tools I use the most. You can look at the number of http requests your website makes, look at the history speed, and it makes recommendations on how to get a better speed score.
http://www.webpagetest.org/ - This is a pretty good tool to test your website's speed as well. However it's usefulness is hampered by ads and a waiting queue.
https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/ - More technical details from Google’s recommendations on website speed and mobile-friendly design.
#3. Create a mobile-friendly design.
Your website should look great on mobile devices and expand from there. The most common way to do this is to create mobile-sized chunks of information.
For example, mobile-first design is the reason why you have seen the rise in simple iconography:
*Source: NerdWallet’s home page design includes simple iconography.
The simple icons are both really small in size (usually less than 1kb) and can be served as sprites, which minimizes requests.
The best way to explain good mobile design is through examples:
#4 Make data driven decisions
Most people are familiar with Google Analytics and the fact that you should be using that data to make decisions. However there’s a lot more to that.
Instead of only focusing on stats like number of sessions, or visits per month, you should look at data from your visitor’s perspective. A really good tool to do that is www.luckyorange.com, a service that lets you record how users interact with your site and provides heat maps among other analytics.
If you have enough visits to your website, then you should be testing different design choices, google analytics’ A/B (experiments) tool is a good place to start as well as www.optimizely.com
There’s a fifth point of good web design when it comes to consumer lenders. It’s the convergence of applying some of the ideas of this post to customer portals, web-based originations, and everything that comes with that. But that’s far too technical. Maybe I’ll write about it later.
To wrap up
I’ll be the first to admit it's hard to quantify the true ROI of updating your website. It gets muddled in the ever-changing macroeconomics, seasonality, and other company changes. One approach is to have goals setup on Google Analytics. It would also be a good idea to track customer retention and the role your website plays in it. Just keep in mind that in today's environment, a modern website is more of a requirement of good branding and less about trying to figure out the exact return on investment.