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The stark lessons of the online equation

The stark lessons of the online equation

In every facet of business life, senior managers naturally focus their energies on those activities which they perceive derive greatest value to their businesses.  They consequently invest their time driving down costs, increasing sales, incentivising staff and improving marketing.  When it comes to web strategy however, they appear less sure where they should be investing resource.

To address this challenge they need to understand the essence of the online value equation.  Organisations want Customers want Content.

Organisations build websites to attract customers.

Customers may or may not transact online, they may or may not be current customers, but a company’s website exists for the benefit of its customers, ultimately to encourage as many as possible to spend as much as possible.

Customers come to websites to find content

Potential customers come to an organisation’s website to find answers to questions.  They wish to interact, or consider interacting with that organisation in some manner.  They will decide whether or not to do this depending on the quality of the content which they read.

What questions do customers as described above typically want answered, from an organisation’s website?  What is their client list like?  Do they deliver in my area?  Can I buy online?  Are they cheaper than their competitors?  How soon can I receive the goods?  What is the phone number?  What does their product look like?  Why is their product or service unique?

Customers perceive the value of your website based on its ability to answer those questions.

However those questions are different for every business.  Depending on your industry / products / services, your customers will have a unique set of questions they want answers to before deciding whether or not to engage with you.  You need to know exactly why your customers buy from you, and the key questions they want answers to during the sales process.

All of the important decisions regarding your project then need to be based around delivering those answers clearly and coherently to your customers.  The design must clearly state them on the home page and subsequent pages.  The headlines and introductory paragraphs shouldn’t be wasted “welcoming” people to the site, they should start engaging immediately with customers, addressing the issues which are important to them.

Jakob Nielsen, a leading worldwide usability expert with 25 years experience, reminds us that the building blocks of online value are quick download, intuitive navigation, relevant information and fresh content.  In short, every aspect of your web strategy should be there to serve the content, in the form of words, pictures, audio and video.  Even the choice of content format (should a piece of information be spoken, or written?) should be driven by your customers, by displaying it in a way which is most convenient for them, and allows them to answer their questions most easily.

It is almost unheard of that a web project would progress without a strong graphical brief, thorough project management methodology, and detailed programming specificiation, usually managed by senior people.  But all too often the content is written by a junior, someone who happens to be available at the time, whoever doesn’t have much else on their plate at the time.

The irony of course is that it is the content which will decide whether you close the sale, or lose the sale.

Understand the value equation by putting content at the centre of your web strategy; make every decision around your website based on the need to quickly address the questions which matter most to your customers.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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