Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to drive customers to your site…and make sure they never come back

The purpose of a business website is, of course, to get people to go to the site and do something…buy a product, click on an ad, respond to a query or a poll or “comment” section…and hopefully to come back again and again to do it…again and again.

SEO—search engine optimization—is a technique designed to get the search engines (like Google) to find your site and put it at least on the first page of “hits.” How many times do you search for something and go to the fiftieth…or even the fifth…page of hits, after all? Most of us give up after page two, and a significant number of us don’t even get to page two at all!

As a result, savvy web designers do their best to optimize a site to make it show up on that critical first page. But entirely too many of them neglect, ignore, or are just ignorant of things they do to the site design that ensures customers visit only once. Typically, knowledgeable web designers pay attention to such things as load time, site navigation, site security, SEO and page design and layout. While this may seem like a comprehensive list, there are rather a few other things that need to be addressed as well, things that can drive your customers permanently around the bend and never, ever, back to your site!

Sound: sites that open with sound…especially loud sound. Not all computers are equipped with a little button or knob or wheel that can be accessed in a heartbeat to mute the blaring noise…some of us have to do something with the keyboard to access the app that reduces volume or mutes it. Meanwhile, your site keeps broadcasting deafening sound around the office, announcing to all and sundry that somebody is surfing the web on the company computer or, in the case of access from home, waking up the baby or (in my case) scaring the little dog into a barking frenzy. What do I do when I open a site and the first thing I get is noise? I click the “close” box and I never, ever come back.

“Oh, these are amateur sites!” you say. Not true. Just yesterday I went to a professional site dedicated to medical stuff and as soon as the site came up, some male voice started speaking…he was reading the text on the page! Sorry, but I can read, the voiceover was redundant, unnecessary, and annoying. Better that there was a button on the page that I could click and get sound if I wanted it.

Bad ads: all commercial (and many non-commercial) sites have ads. But like anything else, there are good ones and there are bad ones. Certain bad ads will drive me away from your site and I will never, ever come back. These include pop-ups that are designed to defeat Firefox’s pop-up controller, flashing, blinking ads…those merely annoy me, but they can actually trigger epileptic seizures in some people. If you are showing those kinds of ads on your site, I won’t stay long enough to see what you have going on and if I remember you had one of those ads, I won’t be back.

Worst, however, are mouseover ads, especially ones with hidden “close” boxes. I will not focus on the advertised product or service, I will focus on finding that close box and once I do, my mental associations with the company will all be negative…as will my associations with your site! Some mouseover ads commit the additional sin of making noise as I roll over them…that guarantees that I will not even bother to hunt for the close box, I will go straight for the kill switch on your site and never be back.

Video: Not every body has unlimited download ability. The internet is a global medium and some countries make you buy your internet access by the gig. When that is how your access is structured, you don’t do much video because downloads suck up your bandwidth. So, when I open a site expecting text and a video begins loading, I instantly close the site lest it suck down half a month’s bandwidth in a single serving!! If you must put video on your site, please do two things: 1) make it optional…“Click here to download video”; 2) supply text, either a transcript of the conversation or a description of the action on the video. That way everyone who comes to your site can participate.

Navigation: Web designers do pay attention to navigation…or so I am told. From a number of websites I’ve seen, however, they don’t pay attention from a user’s point of view. I understand that home page real estate is a valuable place for ads, but I don’t understand why those ads are more important than the convenience of your users…sacrifice that convenience and you don’t have any users to read (and click on) your ads.

As a user, I do not want to hunt all over the place to find what I am looking for. For example, when I visit a retailer’s site, one of the things I want to know is your shipping info: do you ship overseas? Do you accept foreign credit cards? People inside the US will want to know about shipping, too…they will want to know how much you charge and what their options are. And they want to know this before they place their order, before they fill up the shopping cart, before they give you their credit card info. So, why not make it easy on us and give us a clickable tab called “policies” in which you include your shipping policies? You would be amazed at how much money web designers have saved me by creating sites on which I could not find shipping information!

And don’t be cutesy and hide the buttons necessary to access the site information. You may think it is more artistic to have a fancy splash screen that would be marred by an “enter here” button, but I, as a user, don’t gave a tinker’s damn about artistic…I don’t even want to see a splash screen! I want my data and I want it now and if you impede my progress to it, I will go to another site for it and won’t come back to yours!

Flash conceits: There is a very nice home and garden furnishing company in my town and their stuff is occasionally featured in local home design magazines. I saw some fabulous outdoor lamps in one, lamps that would be perfect on my patio…so I went to their website to find out more about them. Unfortunately, their web designer fancied him/herself to be an artiste…a Flash artiste…and I never really did get to the lamps…I got tired of the techno music (which I hate anyway) and the endless overwrought “artistic” displays of the company’s products (which included no info about them!) and closed the site.

There are a lot of people who buy things over the internet. Either it is more convenient for time-impacted people or, like me, we live where certain things are not available. And we buy internationally, especially if the item is something we really want but can’t get in our location. I don’t recall if it was Hermes or Louis Vuitton now, but one of them has such a lengthy self-indulgent Flash intro to the site that I never bothered to look at the products for sale…I ran out of patience with the cheesy artistic crap that simply would not stop (and took an eternity to load) that I shut it down and moved on.

Location: it may seem obvious to the Daily Bugle that it is located in Podunk, KY, but the internet is international and it is not obvious to some Basque shepherd accessing the internet from his Blackberry high in the Pyrenees. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have discovered just exactly what I want, only to find it is in another city, another province…another country, all because the website didn’t bother to indicate where the damned thing was located. I’m reasonably intelligent, so often I can figure out by the spelling or English syntax that a site is not American, that’s not good enough. If I am accessing news sites, I want to know if your information is local or if I’m sucking up a “wire service” story that is repeated, verbatim, on 10,000 other sites. If you are a business that depends on foot traffic, like a bank or a shop or a restaurant, I want to know where you are. And I don’t want to hunt all over your site for the info, trying this tab after that tab, hoping one of them will tell me if you are located in North Carolina or North Dakota!

And if you are located in a mall or a shopping area or some kind of complex, it is not good enough to give just the name of your mall or complex. What if I am a visitor to your fair city? Do you want to capture my souvenir dollars or do you want your competitors to get them? Tea for Two, Shop 14, Warm Springs Centre, corner Warm Springs and Waterford, Fourways, Gauteng is MUCH more likely to get my business than MyTea Shoppe, Lemontree Centre, Lonehill. Even if I know where Lonehill is, I may have no idea where Lemontree Centre is and guess what…you can’t look up a shopping centre on the index of most maps. If I can’t find you, I can’t spend my money in your business!

If you are a business and you have a web page, the objective of that page is not to draw traffic, it is to make money for you. Drawing traffic is just one step in that process…once you have the traffic there, you have to make it easy for them to do what they need to do to transfer their money into your pocket, and driving people away with loud noise, annoying ads, pointless artistic exercises and dead end navigation is not going to help you do that.

1 comment:

  1. Hooray and thank you! Let's hope now that some web designer reads your blog. It's not likely. Most of them cannot spell or use correct grammar, and they are not willing to hire an editor. The Central California valley I live in was remiss in putting the city names in the phone company's yellow pages for years. I'd still like them to state the more precise location/direction in their display ads. 2345 McHenry Avenue, between X and Y streets. Still, if you ask a person (or even an employee by phone) for directions, your response will likely be - oh, straight down this road. You can't miss it. At which point I tell him/or her I can indeed miss it when I am watching traffic. Where exactly is it? The response is, oh, just down this street. You can't miss it. I then ask, if it is one block, six blocks or a mile. I get a confused rather defensive response at that point - and the refrain, Oh, you just can't miss it. I do indeed "miss it" and am a source of irritation to the drivers behind me, who are sure I have, indeed, "missed it". AAAAAARG. Norine


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