Every website needs a clear direction of travel, here's how to find yours.
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A North Star Metric (NSM), may seem like jargon, but it’s meaning is simple. It gives a business a clear direction of travel and a goal to work towards.
The same applies to website design. A high performing website is vital for every business, and its design and function should be driven by the same North Star Metric. This can be easier said than done though.
Here’s how to create your own North Star Metric and use it to guide your next web design project.
What is a North Star Metric?
The term North Star Metric was first coined by fast-growth Silicon Valley start-ups and allowed them to set a single metric to guide and measure all business decisions. For Spotify, it’s time spent listening. For Amazon, it’s monthly purchases. And for Airbnb, it’s nights booked.
When it comes to the design and functionality of a business website, a NSM can benefit you and your customers. Customers will be happy, having their needs met and queries answered quickly. Your business will benefit from higher conversions and being able to track metrics against a clear set of goals. A win-win.
Whether you’re going it alone or are working with a web design agency, having a NSM is a must.
Why is a North Star Metric important?
Some companies will have had a clear NSM for years. Others may have never heard of one. But having one doesn’t mean it’s always right. It should lead strategies across sales, marketing, customer retention and brand – all of which can be supported by a good website.
For a NSM to be valuable it should tick the following boxes:
Have the ability to effectively generate engagement – plenty of companies have websites that may look fancy, but they don’t do this simple thing. As one of the important customer touchpoints, your business website must engage and inform the user quickly.
Satisfy customer needs and answer queries – websites can become fairly redundant if the user is not getting what they want or had expected. The websites North Star Metric should work to drive a particular action - answering common questions, finding out more about your products or services, or contacting you directly. Or all three.
Increase consumer trust in your brand – Having a substandard website can leave potential customers less than impressed with your company, meaning you lose out when they choose a competitor instead. As soon as a user lands on your website, it’s your opportunity to win their attention and their trust.
Three questions you must ask to generate your website North Star
For something so simple it can be difficult to pin down. You must be able to get to the core of your business and understand what success means to you. Your website, guided by a North Star Metric, will help you achieve this.
To help you get there, here are three straightforward questions you can ask yourself:
Your needs – keep it short and sweet. What is the single most important thing that the website needs to achieve? This can be direct sales, sign-ups, downloads or contact.
User needs - what do users want from your website? Your website is likely to have more than one type of visitor, so for now, try and identify at least the top three. Having a target customer in mind is great, but you want to make sure your website appeals to a broad range of people.
Combining the two - What metrics encapsulate both of the above? These must be measurable activities that flow up the chain to achieve your overarching business goal.
For many B2B websites, this can be growing trust in your brand and can be comprehensively measured by website activity analytics where you can see session numbers, bounce rates, time on site and conversions.
The answers to the three questions above really come together when arranged in a hierarchy with your North Star at the top of a pyramid. This way it becomes a visual tool
The common pitfalls to avoid
A North Star Metric and how it translates to your website must not just achieve the aims of one department. It should be a company-wide metric that every employee is working towards and that every department’s successes and failures can be measured against.
For example, if Amazon viewed website visits as its biggest performance indicator it wouldn’t give a comprehensive view of their success overall. Users could land on Amazon’s site and leave just as quickly.
Instead, and as is the case, it’s NSM is purchases per month and all web design decisions aim to make the buying process as simple as possible, reducing it to just a few clicks.
Never forget your customer either. Every web design decision should be framed with the user in mind and how it can help you reach or improve your North Star Metric.
‘Daily active users’ says nothing about customer satisfaction and has no real impact on your business. Although this activity is encouraging, there is no material reward from it. Engagement should be a factor of success, not the goal itself.