Web Site Usability - What Visitors Want from Your Web Site
Jeff Kear © 2004
As most of you already know, the Web isn’t what it was even two years ago. Once a bonanza of bells and whistles, once awash in red ink, the Web is now just as bottom-line driven as any other medium. And thank goodness, because I was getting fed up with all those Flash intros and animated logo designs that were perpetually popping across my screen a few years back.
Hard financial times and global unrest do funny things to new technologies; they drive them to either perform or disappear. So it was with the television, which lingered in relative obscurity for 20 years after its invention; it wasn’t until after the Depression and WWII that a viable use was found for it (although it is debatable if how television is used today is “viable” … a discussion better left for another day).
As for the Web, because it is such a dynamic and robust medium (better than television because it allows for a mutual exchange of information) it isn’t in any danger of perishing anytime soon, and recent Web usage statistics and projections bear this out.
In fact, the Web has become one of the primary places for people to find information and, in turn, purchase products and services. With e-commerce sales projected to grow from $144 billion in 2004 to $316 billion in 2010 (according to Forrester Research), any business wanting to dip into this profitable pot must have a plan in place for how to market itself on the Web and an execution strategy for creating a well-targeted, relevant, easy-to-browse site.
For the rest of this article, I’m going to focus on the latter part of that last statement, namely where to begin in developing a site where visitors will want to stay (i.e., developing a Web site strategy).
Developing a Web Site Strategy
The best Web sites begin with a busy brainstorm on what kind of information customers want from you about your products or services. Think about the questions you repeatedly hear from customers every day and the words you use in your responses, and start putting all of this down on paper so you can later prioritize what questions and responses are the most vital to customers, including those people visiting your Web site.
Once you have an idea of what type of information your customers are constantly seeking, it’s time to identify the different stages in the buying process when customers come to you. This could include customers who are:
- Merely curious about the types of products and services that are offered in your industry but not even close to a buying decision.
- In a position that they need your type of products and services but want more information before they can make a buying decision.
- Ready to buy but not sure who they want to buy from and need information on the value of doing business with you.
- Ready to buy now and ready to buy from you.
Note: There are often many other reasons people come to you that are not directly related to buying behavior. For example, job seekers may come to you looking for employment. Members of the press may be seeking information for an article. Investors may be looking for the latest financials. And so on.
Once you have identified all these stages and/or reasons people to come to you for information, you will need to prioritize which group(s) are most important to your business and which groups you will want to address via the Web. This will give you direction on many aspects of your site, including:
- How and to whom you will market your site.
- What and how much information is provided and how it is delivered.
- Your site navigation and site schematic.
- The arrangement of information on your home page and other critical pages.
It’s likely that you will want to reach out to more than one group or type of customer via your Web site, and this can be accomplished as long as you create a site that allows each group to easily self-navigate through your site to find the information they’re looking for.
For companies that have a brand strategy in place and have identified their target demographic(s), much of this legwork has probably already been done, but you should still review it to make sure everything is accurate and relevant to your intended Web audience(s).
By doing this initial brainstorming and planning, you can begin to avoid the common pitfalls of many sites such as poor organization, bad navigation and unfocused or inappropriate content, all of which drives away more customers than drab or even ugly graphics. In addition, you will begin to establish trust online between your company and your customer, which is critical in all business dealings and especially so on the ever-evolving Web.
The main reason people are on the Web is to find information, so you want to make it as easy as possible for them to find it on your site.