Usability Research Adds Value in Meeting Expectations for User Experience

Published 1/28/16
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“Travelers don’t understand travel industry labels.” 

We recently heard this feedback during initial user research done by Destination Analysts prior to launching a new travel website. 

As the creative minds marketing destinations to potential visitors, we start our web development process by putting ourselves in site users’ shoes to ensure we give them the best user experience possible—without giving them guesswork in determining what it is we are suggesting they do in whatever destination we are marketing to them. 

As storytelling experts, it is our job to tell a destination’s stories to inspire travel, not to confuse potential visitors or lose their interest by leading them off path with unfamiliar verbiage and dead-end design solutions.

Today’s site users expect intuitive design solutions and clear calls to action that let them know exactly what experience they will be presented with as they move through a website. It’s a best practice to not use catchy buzzwords and travel industry terms that have no obvious meaning to the user. Occasionally we are held to historical terminology embedded by our clients’ past marketing efforts, so it’s up to us, along with the findings from usability research, to educate our clients on user expectations.

For instance, if we are marketing a Road Trip that has been historically branded as a Scenic Byway, we should think about how that translates to a potential traveler. What is a “Scenic Byway?” It sounds like a beautiful road to drive along, right? But it’s so much more than that: It’s a road trip filled with scenic views, historic landmarks, entertainment venues, dining experiences, recreational activities and so much more. It just so happens that all of these pieces to the road trip experience are closely knit along a historical route that has a beginning and an ending. 

While “Scenic Byway” is a pretty description, it’s not likely what users are searching for online when they’re ready to hit the road. It’s simpler and more straightforward (not to mention more SEO friendly) to label them as “Road Trips” or “Scenic Road Trips.” Just simple adjustments like these can convey so much more to a user without them having to guess what they are looking at.

Design solutions and interactions also need to be intuitive enough that users don’t have to dig around on a site looking for information until they end up abandoning the page or site altogether. Address the content on the page with a level of hierarchy that is useful. 

Keep in mind the five phases of the travel user’s journey: Dreaming, Planning, Booking, Experiencing and Sharing. Users can come into the site at any phase of this travel planning funnel and need content that meets those specific needs. It’s equally important that, once they arrive, you have additional related content on the page to move them down the planning funnel to purchase/booking. 

So as your site users are dreaming about where to travel and looking to be inspired in the first phase of their journey, be sure your inspirational content has the appropriate planning tools nearby. It could be a mistake to inspire a traveler with an engaging video of a can’t-miss road trip at the top of a page, and not have mapping or booking tools to move them down the funnel. We don’t want to inspire the user and then lose them to another set of planning tools elsewhere on the interwebs. 

Mapping is a large part of the Planning phase for travelers, so make sure your mapping tool functions are obvious and intuitive to use. Rather than minimizing map content, make it more of a hero on the page with obvious verbiage such us “Discover this Road Trip by Map.” 

These findings are just part of what can be revealed to a team of creatives during user research. The value of user research is that it not only helps to focus the user experience of a site, but also educates the team and client alike on real user expectations. 

It’s pretty obvious that not all web users think like travel marketers—but it is obvious that travel marketers need to think like them. In this digital age, users want quick, useful information that can help them choose a destination, plan their trip and help them navigate what to do once they arrive. It’s our job to make sure your travel site does just that.