While this can be a great opportunity, it also comes at a cost, precisely because people do act different when they’re online. They have a shorter attention span and higher expectations. If you don’t connect them with what they’re looking for in the first few seconds, they bail. Not to mention that just driving traffic to your site can be expensive.
People are so excited that the Web is an always-on medium that can easily be updated, but they’re missing the most powerful part of what it offers marketers: insight. The true power of the Web is revealed only if you listen as much as you talk. You can have a conversation with customers and find out what they’re thinking. The Web is like a big focus group that includes your exact target audience when they are extremely honest and in their natural buying environment. Even just reviewing your analytics can tell you what people are interested in and what they’re searching for that you’re not providing.
Tips and Techniques for Improving Web Usability
• In layout, you can draw the visitor’s eyes to the encouraged action with color or balance. Make it really obvious what they should do next. Insurance web sites are a great example of this. Check out Progressive or Geico and you’ll see what I mean. It’s also important to remove the perception of a laborious task. For example, if a form is large, a prospect will feel overwhelmed and is more likely to leave. The more form fields, the lesser the likelihood of completion. Tricks, like smaller field height or a progressive/stepped form, can entice users to fully complete forms. I’ve used A/B tests (in which we run two versions of a web site to see which is better accepted by users), and have seen small tweaks like this improve conversion by 150 percent.
• In navigation, the first couple options are your most expensive real estate, so make sure your most important topics are addressed there. Another approach is to place your first-timer information there since newbies will have less patience for finding things than repeat visitors.
• Regarding site text, always keep it brief, to the point, relevant to the reader’s needs/life and stay away from your own terminology. There’s also a balancing act between imagery and text. Humans prefer imagery but search bots prefer text. In fact, humans love imagery, but are scared off by too much text. Search bots can’t derive any value from imagery, they only see text and tags. If you want your site to convert you have to make it human-centric, but you still have to drive traffic. This is one of the reasons paid search has taken off. Achieving a high search ranking organically (for anything other than your company name) can compromise the look of your site, so many people have removed this from the equation by focusing on paid search results instead.
• Another thing many companies in all industries are struggling with is communicating differentiation. So many sites explain simply what the company does or offers, while failing to mention why a prospect should choose them over another alternative. In this era of uber-choice, as soon as a prospect is finished researching a company online, the next thing they do is pop right over to the competition. They are looking for a reason to choose one over the other. This is one of the reasons so many brands are associating themselves with causes such as environmentalism. Studies show that this is how most millennials are making their purchasing decisions, not by price but by social responsibility.
Into the Future of the Web
A lot of people think that the Internet is just another form of advertising and they can approach it the same way. I have a line I tell clients when they ask about social media, just so they understand the approach and commitment: Moving from paid media to social media is like moving from a prostitute to a debutante; it takes more time, effort, etiquette and sensitivity, but it pays off in the long run. You’re developing a relationship with a customer, not just a one-time transaction.
When you tout your products on a billboard, people know it’s an advertisement. When you interact with people using the same method they use to communicate with friends and family, you have to tread lightly. You’re entering into a give-and-take relationship. If you’re going to take their time and attention, you’d better give them something in return.
Not only in the digital world but in general, today’s consumers are both smart and jaded. They are blasted with more than two million ad messages a year and no longer accept claims at face value. If you look at it in context of marketing vehicles over the last 40 years you’ll see a trend of the consumer demanding more control. From satellite radio to on-demand TV to adoption of the Internet to near addiction to social tools, consumers have demanded and gained more control over their media consumption.
Currently, I’m working with the Coffee Collective, a consortium of more than 100 coffee-related web sites, blogs and apps with a goal to offer education and support to consumers while providing a digital conduit for coffee retailers. It allows companies to create a free account at CoffeeCollective.com where they can submit news, press releases, events, promotions, products, poll topics, guest articles, environmental issues, economic projections, or sponsor content. Coffee companies can gain media attention, endear themselves to consumers, and help to raise general coffee awareness, while getting a third party buffer to increase credibility.
Everything we are building, we are approaching in a consumer-centric way, and I recommend this to anyone who is considering making enhancements to their own web presence. Make things easy and fun, and encourage product feedback.
The Pew Research Center is a leading analyst group, whose findings showed that two-thirds (66 percent) of online Americans purchase products online. Of this group, 78 percent cite convenience as a factor and 68 percent declare that it saves them time. Also within this group, 43 percent are frustrated by the lack of information they encounter when using the Internet to find out about products and services and 32 percent are confused by information found when shopping. With those kind of numbers in mind, it seems obvious that digital solutions are one of the keys to bridging the gap between the knowledge and information coffee professionals have with what coffee drinkers want to know.
Jennifer Gyllenskog is a partner and lead web strategist at Attract Interact in Salt Lake City. She consults with clients, ad agencies and lectures regarding web marketing. She also owns Coffee Guide and co-founded The Coffee Collective. You can learn more and sign up for a free member account at CoffeeCollective.com.