Welcome to another weekly installment of the Findgreatcustomers.com online marketing blog! Last week, we examined consumer behavior leading up to a purchase, and discussed ways that you can strategize to intersect the purchase decision process of your target market using paid search engine marketing ads. If applied correctly, last week’s lesson will give you a solid idea of how to get the attention of your intended audience at just the right moment as they ponder whether to do business with you or not. But after you have their attention….what now? Just dumping them onto a poorly designed website after they click doesn’t get the user any closer to the information they seek, or you any closer to making a profit for your business. This week, we are going to begin a three-part series (a trilogy, if you will) that takes a look at website design and common pitfalls I have encountered working with small and large businesses alike. When it comes to designing a website for your business, like the old adage says, beauty is only skin deep.
“What….would ya say….ya do here?”
Can anyone tell me what movie that is a quote from? If you guessed “Office Space”, you would be right. In the classic scene where a man tries and fails to proclaim the usefulness of his job to a team of external consultants, one of them finally just looks at him and asks him that question. Now, if you figured out that this is also a question you should be asking about your company’s website, you are one step ahead. What does your site do for you? Although it may sound rhetorical in nature, the question begs to be asked earnestly. What is it that your company needs to get out of its website? The Internet is home to billions of websites. There are millions of companies that each have their own particular online business strategy – some more successful than others – and it’s up to you to craft your own with respect to your particular company and business strategy. The first step is to take a look at your company and figure out what role your online strategy needs to play in your business plan. Then you need to figure out what type of site – or sites – will give you the best shot at being successful to execute that strategy. Finally, you need to assemble the right group of people to execute your strategy. Depending on the size and scope of your operation this could mean anything from hiring a full time employee to work for your company to getting a couple of books and learning how to code your own site. Somewhere in the middle is finding a good interactive marketing company (shameless plug for my own personal web-design services at Findgreatcustomers.com) and contracting them to build and maintain your site. For this entry of the Findgreatcustomers.com Online Marketing Blog, we will focus on the first two steps: Picking an Online Strategy & Building an Online Presence to Match.
Section One – Picking an Online Strategy
They say that a journey of 1,000,000 miles begins with a single step (or something like that). So hopefully it will hold true for your business that a journey of 1,000,000 customers will begin with a single question: “How can I leverage the Internet to add to my bottom line?”. The first piece of information you need to establish is what sort of business it is that you run. Do you have a store? A restaurant? Do you provide a service? Do you make a product? So, “Mad Libs” style, lets fill in the blanks here: “The goal of my company’s website is to get <target market> to <target action>”.
Here are a few examples – the target audience is in green and the target action is in blue:
The goal of my company’s website is to get people shopping online to purchase a widget from me.
The goal of my company’s website is to get people near me to eat in my restaurant.
The goal of my company’s website is to get people who need a service to call me for a service estimate.
The goal of my company’s website is to get people who need a product to read about my widget online.
The goal of my company’s website is to get small businesses to fill out a lead form so my sales team can call on them to market my widget.
Now, these examples are not designed to be all encompassing. Your company’s needs and business model might be completely different. But the idea is the same – in order for your company to succeed online, who needs to see your site and what do they need to do after they see it? Once you have identified a target audience and a target action, you have laid a solid foundation to build an online business strategy upon.
Section Two – Building a Website that Matches Your Strategy.
Great – we know what we want our users to do once they arrive at our site. So we are all done, right? Not so fast. Now we have to make careful preparations in the design phase of our site that will drive the highest possible percentage of users into the desired action. This is trickier than it sounds and it can be a source of frustration. However, like any other problem in life it can be tackled effectively by breaking it down into smaller problems and solving them one by one.
In the first section we identified a broad target audience and a broad target action for our site. In section two, we will get a little more specific and break our broad target audience/action combination into smaller chunks called use cases. Simply put, a use case is a scenario where a member of your target audience has a need that they would utilize your website en route to taking the specified target action that (hopefully) satisfies that need. Over time you may make adjustments based on actual observations of consumer behavior or changes to your business plan.
Here are some use cases that correspond to real-world consumer needs for the scenario where the goal for the company’s website is to get people located nearby to eat at a restaurant. Let’s examine the use cases and then determine how the proprietor of the restaurant could tailor their online strategy to meet the need and thus have the best shot at capturing the business.
Use Case #1 - Consumer is on the go and in need of sustenance, and is looking for nearby places where they can satisfy that need.
Seems reasonable enough – you’ve got a restaurant, and there are hungry people within a reasonable distance of your shop. How can you leverage the web to bring them to your place of business? Remember in the first section where I listed out the steps to this process, and in the second step I said “…what type of site – or sites – will give you the best shot…”? Of course you remember – good. What I was alluding to was that it might take more than just a single web site to make sure your company exists in all the places that consumers might be looking for it. For a restaurant, maybe they are old-school and use an actual printed phone book, or simply drive down the street until they find something good. But more likely, they are searching from a mobile device of some kind. Maybe they are using Google from a smart phone…is your paid search campaign set up to display ads on mobile devices? Maybe they have the Yelp application installed on their iPhone…how does your Yelp profile look? Is all of the information accurate, with lots of great reviews? Perhaps they are searching Google maps from a smart phone. How does your Google Places listing look?
This is where a little field study might be in order. If you feel out of touch with your customers, simply asking them how they heard about you can give you valuable insight into how they might be searching for you. This is partly an exercise in knowing your industry, and partly an exercise in trial and error. Think of some ways to connect with consumers searching for your company, try them, and then assess what worked…rinse, lather, and repeat!
Use Case #2 – Consumer is planning an evening out in advance and wants to peruse suitable establishments within a defined locale to choose a restaurant. In the course of their search, they have happened upon your site.
Ok, so great news – the consumer found you! Of all the billions of sites on the entire Internet, they chose to give yours a closer look to see if your company is the one that best matches their particular need for a good or service. Opportunity is knocking! Getting them to your site is only half the battle though. Actually, it’s less than half the battle. But we will get to more of that later. In any event, what happens next is pretty simple – they perform a quick audit of your site to see if it has the information they are seeking. And they usually do it in record time. Most consumers will give your site about a 6-10 second glance, and if they can’t immediately find the information they are seeking then they head right for the dreaded “Back” button. D’oh!
This is where “beauty is only skin deep” really comes into play. The 10 second long flash intro, gimmicky slide show, ultra-hip low contrast color scheme might have all looked really great while you were sitting in an office with your web designer. It might even win some kind of graphics design award. But will it win your company any business? <pause for dramatic effect>
When potential customers are hitting your site, they are taking part in an evaluation process between your site and that of your competition. They’re probably in a hurry and have 5 browser windows open with everything from their email to their Facebook to a movie streaming from Netflix. Their bottom line is that looking at your site is taking time away from other activities that they would rather be doing.
A good barometer for how well your site will function is to ask some friends to help you test it. However, since nearly everyone in 2011 fashions themselves as some sort of Internet expert, you need to be cautious how you ask for their advice. Simply asking them to “let me know what you think of my company’s new website” will invariably lead them to try to think of ways to outsmart your web designer, and reinvent the proverbial wheel. They will likely focus on intricate design related aspects of the site and completely ignore the function of it. You will get much more useful feedback if you ask specific questions that might be related to one of your use cases, like “Can you look at this proposed website design and tell me if we are open late on Saturday and offer a menu that your family will enjoy…in less than 30 seconds?” or “Can you tell me if we are located conveniently to you and if our menu is friendly to your child’s food allergy…in less than 30 seconds?”. The key is to give them specific information to look for, and a time limit, because your consumers will all have something specific they are looking for and a short attention span. For bonus points, give them the sites of one or two competitors and ask how easy it was for them to find the same information from your competition. If users consistently encounter difficulty with quickly finding information that is pertinent to your business, you haven’t designed your site properly. Period. If the information in question actually exists on your site and users consistently have trouble finding it, it represents an even bigger problem…probably a good time to consider some design changes.
Use Case #3 – Consumer has an upcoming business function, and needs to assess service availability and get price quotes from available catering operations.
I included this use case for a specific reason. Not so much to help you learn to plan for how to build a website for a catering business, but to illustrate how to design for a use case that is outside of the main function of your business. If you have multiple use cases for your site, some of them will be more common than others. Many businesses will encounter a situation where they have one use case that is very common and another that is less common yet more lucrative so the business owner will not want to ignore it. In this example, the first two use cases are a lot more common. It is certainly not difficult to imagine that the demand for a restaurant is more widely reaching than the demand for catering services. However, a restaurant owner will make more money catering a meal for a large group than they will serving one meal to one person. So what is a business owner with multiple conflicting use cases to do?
The answers to that question are actually as varied as the use cases themselves. It depends on the size of the company, the structure of the website, and the amount of time, energy and potential revenue associated with each use case. If the company in question here had a full time catering operation associated with it, maybe a dedicated website would be the best thing. It could be dedicated completely to supply information pertaining to catering services to users that are in search of such information, and incorporate a similar look and feel to the main restaurant website in order to maintain brand solidarity. The two sites could link to each other, and each have appropriate freedom to target consumers effectively. But what if the catering service is more of an occasional thing? Maybe it would be enough to just have a page for catering within the larger site, and a tabbed navigation menu could have a link for “Catering” apart from the more clicked on tabs like “Menu” and “Locations”. This would allow for the restaurant portion of the site to operate with relative autonomy but still provide the catering portion with adequate space along with some prime real estate in the tabbed navigational menu.
Hopefully you’re still reading and you find all of this information helpful! I know this was a lot of information to take in (and this was only part one of a three part series!) but it is important to take your time and develop the right online marketing strategy for your company. Please join us next week, for part one of a two part series on using the Internet to research your company, industry, and competitors!