OMS Marketing Summit
Online Marketing

Live from OMS: Does Your Website Suck? Let Your Visitors Guide the Way.

By Gretel Going

February 5, 2009

URLPosted live from the Online Marketing Summit for the Online Marketing for Marketers blog.

Now I’m in a basic-level session where Michael Whitehouse, Senior Marketing Analyst of iPerceptions, is addressing the things that your site’s visitors tell you and how you can use that information to make your site better.

Michael gets pretty philosophical from the get-go, talking about Socrates and how his “Know Thyself” aphorism is directly relevant to why marketers should know their visitors. (Although, to clarify, this aphorism has been attributed to five other Greeks as well.) And I’m going to roll with it because another part of this philosophical discussion promises to answer the following existential questions about my online visitors:

Who is here?
Why are they here?
How am I doing?
What do I need to fix?

Sure, you and I both know that a great user experience pays off. Even so, what we might not know is exactly how it pays off. Here are a few main points…

Visitors who report great user experiences are:

  • Twice as likely to return to the site
  • Four times as likely to report enhanced brand opinion
  • Four times as likely to report higher future likelihood to purchase.

Unfortunately, there’s no magical formula that will make your site suck less and improve your users’ experience. It takes a lot of work, listening, analysis and management.

[I want to interject here really quickly to say that while this might be a cliche, I can’t tell you how many of our clients are looking for magical solutions (fairies, wizards, the whole thing). I actually had a guy say this to me last week: “What do you mean when you say, ‘If I build it they might not come?’ My friend told me I would make eight million dollars a year once I launched my site.” Yeah, buddy, that’s why you’re talking to us now: he was wrong and you’re still broke.] Now, let’s get to work.

Fortunately, while there isn’t necessarily a magical formula, there are some winning ones. What the successful sites–Google, MySpace, Amazon, to name some of the more obvious ones–have in common is that they know their audiences, and that they base their sites around them. They know who their audience is, what they want and need, and they use that information to match up their experience with those needs.

So what tools, practices, methodologies do you have at your disposal?

Start with the basics. Find out your visitors’ education, gender, location, career, etc. You can do a lot of this with simple, free analytics tools such as google analytics. Also, surveys, consumer feedback, comments, etc.

Align this knowledge with visitor intent. Let your visitors tell you why they’re on your site: To read a blog? Compare prices? Post a comment? Research? Upload a picture? Make a purchase? Watch a video? Make a reservation? Check shipping order? Download a file? Pair behavior with the type of user. For example, “teenage males from the east coast tend to do X.” (Although, that particular conclusion is pretty specific.)

Create real delineation. Distinguish between the people who are there to Learn (about your products for future purchase), Shop or Support (your brand).

–> Change your site’s Orientation to cater to distinct user segments.

Use powerful metrics to measure outcomes. When you’re building your site, these metrics become just as important. They allow you to know your bounce rate, conversions, and user behavior. Sure, we all know how to use metrics here, right? Maybe not. While we might know how to read it, we often don’t know how to analyze it correctly in order to make necessary improvements.

Conversion versus Task Completion. Michael contends that while the average website in North America converts at 2-3%, marketers obsess over conversion when they should really obsess over task completion. The difference lies in the three user behaviors we identified above–Learn, Shop & Support. If two thirds of your visitors (or more) are there to Learn or Support, then they aren’t even candidates for conversion. Only those who are there to Shop have the potential to convert. So, what tasks do you want “Learners” and “Supporters” to complete?

Feedback is the golden nugget. Listen to users’ feedback! These should force you to act. Metrics can be hard to read but feedback is very clear.

Qualitative datas from surveys. These often go hand in hand with organic user feedback. But as great as they are for gathering candid commentary, survey’s are interruptions. They’re not necessarily fun to do. Understand that if you ask people these question, you need to be unobtrusive, be polite and sample only what you need. If not, this type of interruption might interfere with their feedback.

The state of the user experience. Customer confidence is clearly down across the board. Marketers are thus challenged with providing a good user experience and negating this skepticism online.

Michael offers a quote from a Best Buy memo that supports this notion, as well as offers a solution about what marketers can do right now:

“We can’t change the overall level of consumer spending, but we can focus on deepening our relationships with customers wherever we interact with them: in our stores, on our websites and through our call centers. We must find ways to win the customers who are coming to us today.”

Michael also notes that the web businesses that will not only survive the downturn, but come out ahead, are those that will address customer confidence issues through their Web contact point.

So this is the end of my post. I’m sure you’re thinking, “but wait, I thought I was going to find out how to make my site not suck??” Remember: there’s no magic formula and listen to your visitors.

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