I can't help but mourn the number of sites I see that represent missed opportunities.
There may be nothing particularly "wrong" about the design, the underlying coding, or even the writing—but these websites aren't right, because they fail to connect with customers in any meaningful way (the way that ultimately brings customers to your door and cash to your register).
The root problem seems to be a lack of imagination that is further exacerbated by a poor understanding of the fundamentals. (Last year I wrote a blog post about a commercial website, that of Saddleback Leather Company, that really impressed me, because it suffers none of those shortcomings.)
If you're reviewing your own site—or working on one for a client—I encourage you to consider the following points.
1. Take your eyes off your competitors and put them where they belong: on your customers
Sure, you should take a glance at your competitors (hopefully, a backward one) from time to time. But too many enterprises initiate their Web efforts by reviewing their competitors' sites.
Without critical information about how well these sites perform, how can you know what's worth retaining or rejecting? Worse, competitor sites can be downright misleading. Too often, I've seen people reject exciting, potentially lucrative new ideas precisely because "no one else is doing it." Well, maybe that means it's a foolish idea. But maybe it means you can seize an opportunity others have overlooked.
The only way to know, or to make a reasonable guess, is to look at your customers—and I mean closely. How do they shop? How do they conduct research? What information do they need before they'll act, or even show interest? Which authorities do they trust? What encourages confidence and trust? Where do they "live," not just in flesh-life (hangouts, associations, communities) but in virtual-life? What media, traditional and online, do they read? Which bloggers do they follow? And where do they like to gather online (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.)?
Take the first step (it's free).
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