Day 14: Does your site smell like shit?

Ever wanted to check out a shop because of the way it looked from the outside? Cozy, inviting, cute. It just clicked with however you were feeling in that situation.

Something like this:

So you went inside… only to find out that this is what the store looked like:

Not so inviting anymore isn’t it?

Many online businesses are guilty of this. They don’t create consistency in their messaging and branding. Or even worse, they mislead potential customers in the hopes of attracting more.

Well, more traffic doesn’t mean more paying customers.

What they don’t know is that your potential customers need to be able to follow a clear path, almost like a “scent”.

Imagine the aroma of a steaming plate of delicious pasta. You first smell it and it hooks you.You follow it for a few blocks, and right behind the corner, you find… a BBQ joint.

Not what you expected (unless you consider mac and cheese a delicious plate of pasta). So you leave in the quest to find the Italian restaurant you were dreaming of.

The same happens when your prospects are looking for your product or service. They might Google it and find you, or stumble on one of your social media ads. If what they see once they click is relevant to what they are looking for, great! If not, they’re gone.

This is a concept known in UX design as “information scent”. It states that users decide where to go next, based on two key factors:

  • How likely it is they will find the information they are looking for
  • How long they’re going to take to find it

The higher the users’ expectation to find the answer to their question (based on what they see on the site), the stronger the information scent is. But be careful, if the information scent is really strong and then you fail to match their expectations on the next page, they’re gonna leave. Just like in our pasta restaurant example.

The lesson here is: make sure you maintain consistency and that your messaging is relevant to your audience, all along your customer journey.

Here’s a pretty good example:


You can see that the value proposition on the site reflects the search engine result copy. It’s for business owners (in this case it gets narrower with “lean”) and it offers a marketplace to find freelance services. The website’s main call to action is a search bar which makes the whole “marketplace” idea even clearer from the get go (without mentioning it, sneaky but powerful).

This idea of “scent” is not only useful for making sure people get to your site with the right frame of mind. It also comes into play whenever users have to go from one page of your site to another.

Here’s a great example:

This is really great especially when you consider the website is speaking to not one, but four different target audiences! From their navigation menu you read a short copy blurb talking about the benefits for each audience. The scent is very inviting. So you click, and what you see next is a targeted landing page, digging even deeper into those benefits. Perfect!

Same is true for their primary CTA (“Get started – it’s free”). Anybody looking for the “Pricing” page would expect to find out more about the product being free and as we’d expect:

There you go, you now know what you get with this free plan. Scroll down and you even get a table detailing the exact features included and the limitations. Now this is what I call an intoxicatingly delicious aroma.

So to recap, every time you have to think about this information scent for your visitors, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is this website the place my customers are searching for? (look at your traffic sources).
  2. Does the value proposition match my customers’ needs?
  3. Do the words on my site follow visitors’ intent? (are they here to buy, search, compare or other?)

And make sure you curate all the elements that contribute in generating the scent on your website:

  1. Link labels (are they clear, concise and without jargon?)
  2. Content around links (does it provide more information before and after the link while keeping it simple? Valid for images too!)
  3. Context of the link (does the rest of the content on the site influence the link positively or negatively?)
  4. Users’ existing knowledge (what do your users know already from past experiences or word of mouth? And how does it affect your messaging/design?)

Your homework:

At this point you should have created your sitemap. It gives you a clear idea of the entire structure of your site so you know how the user should move through the pages. Your job today is to apply what you’ve learned, to the page you’ve chosen as most important.

Make a list of all the traffic sources you’re using to get people to that page, and of all the links/CTAs you have (or will have) on it that lead people on other areas of the site. Then, use our previous points to ensure that your messaging and design create a consistent user experience through your customer’s journey.