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Let the web be the web

Let the web be the web

It is regularly quoted that offline marketing is passive, online marketing is active.  Consequently offline communication is about getting passive people to sit up and notice, and online communication is about fulfilling the needs of already engaged potential customers.  But I wonder do we truly grasp that the internet’s interactivity is its defining characteristic, and the massive impact that has on online communication strategy?

Passive is defined by as “not participating readily or actively” as opposed to active “engaged in action; characterized by energetic work, participation, etc”.  The rules of engagement therefore, of promoting your company to someone who is a non participant, versus someone who is energetically engaged, are entirely different.

If we then take it to the next step and consider the word interactive, it is described as “engaging with a human user, to obtain data or commands and to give immediate results or updated information”.  This is fundamental to everything we do online, and challenges us to remember that our customers expect to command (yes, command) us to give them results or information.  It means that before we think about what we say, we need to think about the expectations of our customers, and focus design around them.

So let the web be web, and don’t try to design it like it’s something else.

The new disciplines of building great navigation, structuring content in an outward facing direction and planning customer journeys now take on primary importance.  Deciding how many menu options are on your home page, and what they are called is at least as important as the colours you choose to display it.  Moving your content away from your internal company structures to outward facing customer segments or geography segments is now the difference between closing and missing the sale.  And enabling your customers to jump seamlessly from subject area to subject area based on their preferences will ensure that you save them time.

This seems easy.  Simplistically, even patronisingly so.  But have a look across even the Top 20 busiest websites in Ireland and you’ll see that it remains maddeningly ignored.

It pains me that so many websites still get published without the core tasks of organising navigation and categorising content being completed.  Or that home pages get designed without asking the question “what are the most common things our most important customers want to do when they come to the site”.

Dale Carnegie, writer, lecturer and author of the famous book “How to win friends and influence people” often said that to be renowned as a great conversationalist it was important always to ask more questions than give answers, and more important to listen than to speak.  His words seem like a perfect roadmap for online communications, your website is full of answers for your customers, but you don’t push those answers down their throats.  You build a navigation system which allows your customers to ask questions important to them, and only once you give them the power of the question have you earned the right to sell to them.

At the time of writing it has been a week since Google increased the font size on their search text box and buttons.  Those changes, whilst relatively minor visually, will have a significant impact on user satisfaction, user behaviour, and consequently page impressions and sales.  The web is a world where the choice of font size can impact your bottom line!  (Keep watching Google – whether or not they return font size to its previous scale will be a big clue as to whether the impact was positive or negative.)

A more accurate way to express this is that the power you give your customers to ask the questions which matter most to them, is directly related to how willing they will be to listen to your answers.  And that surely has a massive bearing on how your organisation performs online.

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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