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Redesigning Web Sites to Put Customers in Charge of Their Experience

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The role of Web sites in both consumer and business-to-business markets is changing and evolving, enabling customers to engage brands increasingly on their own terms. Users expect more today from Web sites, and competition online is fierce.

Web sites are part of a brand's presence and an integral part of the customer multichannel experience. The Web site experience plays an important role in the multichannel strategy, and good marketers should be aware of the best ways to take advantage of the online channel.

Marketers should be considering how to change their sites to keep up with customer expectations of the Web, and to increase conversions and enhance the brand experience.

As a result of these developments, all companies with public-facing Web sites may soon be challenged with a redesign. There is opportunity for marketers to take the lessons of customer-centricity and put them to work to optimize customer relationships online.

Put the Customer in Charge


A Web presence that is truly customer-centric will give the opportunity to the visitor to interact with the brand... drive conversion if that is its role... perhaps embrace the tenets of social media... and attempt to leverage viral marketing.

To put customers in charge of their online experience, the Web site should be built with the customer in mind:

  • A persona-based design will help ensure that the site is being built for behaviors that customers may exhibit.
  • The site should also provide choices for customers to interact with the brand, including but not limited to email, mobile, chat, and blogs.
  • Tools should be intuitive and relevant.
  • Web sites that put customers in charge may also provide multiple ways to receive content such as through dynamic text, RSS, podcasts, or video.

All of these elements are determined through Web site strategy, which is the required starting point.

Web Site Strategy

A Web strategy starts with data—research, analytics, and competitive data. Current site data should be examined for usage statistics, referring sites and search terms, and conversions.

It is important to analyze both current placement of offers and architecture usage.

Moving from current to future state also requires a thorough understanding of the marketplace. A competitive analysis should be done for both online and offline competitors to discover commonalities and take advantage of tactics those others may be employing or are missing.

If possible, marketers should pull data from Web analytics back to the marketing database and match Web click streams (the direction of a visitor's travel) to visitor profiles—only possible when the customer is identified when entering the site. From there, models can be developed and used to plan a redesign.

The overriding concept is that users seek out relevant content and their traversals on the Web can be used to plan better designs and user experience.

Planning for User Experience

In planning a site, a marketer is wise to view it as would a customer. Focus groups or user testing can help determine whether an intended approach is correct or needs adjustment.

Organize a site map and architecture around site goals. Remember that every page of the site is a potential entry point, so be sure that search engines can index all pages.

The user experience may be developed using market research, personas, and/or user testing to ensure that the site meets the needs of its constituents.

Design for Conversion

Digital marketing success hinges on conversion. The definition of conversion is unique to each site and company. The "Conversion Point" could be a registration, view of a goal page, depth of interaction on the site, a sale, or any other point that the marketer considers would make the visit successful.

Every point of interaction needs to prepare for the conversion points for the site, and that conversion should be able to be tracked.

Visitors may spend as little as three seconds on your homepage, so use this precious little time to provide obvious calls to action; for instance, place call-outs in the upper right side of the page. Update and change offers frequently to keep content fresh. Avoid continuous banners; use call-outs to bring attention to special offers on the homepage. Don't lead visitors down lengthy paths; if visitors must click more than a few times to get what they need, chances are good that they won't.

Conversion on interior pages is just as important as on the homepage given that natural-search visitors often enter the site on interior pages. Pages should have persistent calls to action and provide easy access to the rest of the site.

Get Social

Social media has emerged as a driving force that may play a role in your Web site strategy. It may make sense to incorporate social engagement into the site by providing the means and ability for visitors to communicate with each other.

Social engagement creates community and enables better one-to-one or one-to-many communications. One strategy may be to plan a destination for customers outside the brand Web site.

Decisions on social media strategy are best made through customer research.

Measure and Optimize

A marketer can't optimize what can't be measured. It is critical to measure all types of Web site elements, such as interaction levels (e.g., number of pages viewed per visit), sales, registrations, time spent on pages, and clickstreams.

It takes planning and continuous analysis to optimize interactions on a Web site effectively. Keep in mind the overall multichannel strategy, and make sure that the Web site fills the needs of customers.

Optimization decisions should take into account all of the channels that customers use, and the role the Web site plays in the multichannel strategy.

* * *

Companies that effectively embrace the needs of its customers by providing a user-centric online and offline experience will engage visitors and keep them coming back through the channel of their choice.


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Jeannette Kocsis is vice-president, digital marketing, for Harte-Hanks (www.harte-hanks.com), a worldwide direct and targeted marketing company. Contact her at 845-339-0022 or via jeannette_kocsis@harte-hanks.com.

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  • by Jon Tue Apr 15, 2008 via web

    Good intent. Did not understand why "Planning for User Experience" was buried so deep in the article. Point would be made better if it were the lead off.

    There is a danger in relying on analytics and trends to create perfect site functionality for the ideal user that may not in fact be part of your constituency. Customer-centric is not a philosophy, it is a plan of action that puts the customer relationship at the centre - ergo Planning for User Experience comes first.

    Jon
    "The Customer-centric Marketing Blog"

  • by Barbara Phillips Long Tue Apr 15, 2008 via web

    You say "In planning a site, a marketer is wise to view it as would a customer."

    The singular customer, in whom all customers resemble each other, is probably a flawed model. Get to know the dominant categories of customers, and design a site that can cater to two or three different types of customer, including the utilitarian customer who wants to get in and out quickly, the social customer who always wants interaction, and the occasional customer, who may want interaction when bored or when there's a crisis with a product or for some other identified use, depending on the nature of the site.

    Unless the site is strictly aimed at a very narrow demographic, make the site easy to use and intuitive for visitors whose computing skills range from basic to advanced. Don't assume that older customers aren't interested in social media, for instance, but don't assume that they are using the fastest connections and newest software. At the same time, don't assume that an older customer doesn't have up-to-date skills. Don't assume that a 20-something customer is familiar with social media. Make your site functional for the home user with a new laptop and broadband, but also for the occasional user who depends on the public library for computer access.

  • by Andrew "CustomerCarewords.com" Wed Apr 16, 2008 via web

    In redesigning or designing a website – its words that make the difference. Words are the building blocks of every website. Words matter. They always have. They always will. On the Web, words matter even more. The right words.

    The problem is that there are lots and lots of words. For any particular website, there are a small set of words that really matter, and then there are an awful lot of words that don't.

    How do you judge if a particular word matters or not? You don't. It's not for you to judge. It's for your customers to judge. Customers are highly impatient. They search and scan a page quickly, looking for their right words. You might want to communicate about "climate change", but if customers are searching for "global warming", you're out of luck. You may have "tight" jeans for sale but if customers prefer "skinny" jeans, you're out of luck. You might have great "low fares" but if customers want "cheap flights", you're out of luck.

    5% of your website delivers at least 25% of its value - That's your Long Neck! The Long Neck is where the business case of your websites lies. It is the small set of top tasks that your customers really come to your website for, it is the essence of your value, the essential core of your offer.

  • by suresh Wed Apr 23, 2008 via web

    its an interesting article!!

    how to create a blog that enhances the brand experience.?

  • by Detunji Iromini Sun Apr 27, 2008 via web

    In redesigning the website, tools are as important as all contributions to ensure that a customer hits the landing page happy and ready to consumate a transaction on the spot if possible.

    The likes of eBay, amazon etc and other companies selling finished products find it easy making a kill - The customer or visitor is at the site basically to transact and this would be achieved as long as the price is competitive and payment platforms (Europay, MasterCard, VISA, Amex etc) are available.

    For financial institutions where most customers are not financial literate enough to make an informed decision online, tools (Calculators - loan, Credit facilities, Account types etc) could further help influence the purchase habit of the customer over the competitors.

    The 20 somethings would rather start and conclude a transaction online as against calling or visiting the Brick & Mortar. Multichannels by way of customer service and Brand & Product extension have come to stay though still evolving. I am particularly interested in how this influences the Financial and the FMCG sectors.

    We've all contributed tremendously and conventional marketers must start to learn to embrace emerging channels to meet the customers (Social Media in particular) where decisions are now made as against the Corporate websites that projects everything about itself as good only - "Propaganda".

    A study on the influence of the web on marketing communications in Africa with focus on South Africa, Nigeria Egypt and Kenya would give an idea of the contribution from the continent to trends in Web Marketing and other emerging channels.

  • by Kristjan from Iceland Tue May 13, 2008 via web

    I so much agree with Andrew, words are so important. It still works great to make an internet site that talks to your customer the way you would talk to them in your own store. You make the store look clean and nice, with product displayed simple and in order,

    the same goes for an internet site. Make it noise free and don't lie about the benefits. If you can't identify a product benefit yourself you should not be in the business of selling that product.

    RSS feeds, newsletter programs and blogs are just addon tools for communication. You don't have to serve your customer in all those ways, but keep in mind that today sharing expereince is a big thing, so customer interaction is important.

    Just like the article says, use the tools that are relevant. Analytics are very important for identifing what you might actually be doing right, instead of thinking how am I doing things wrongh.

    Marketing budget is a big thing for company's today, measuring is important but do take risks, thats differentiation - viral marketing requires research, and stay qualitative and be creative, brainstorm and work with a team.

    Keep it honest, keep it simple and keep it fresh

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