Here I am going to offer some additional perspectives on thinking about Web design based on the book that I published, Streetwise Relationship Marketing on the Internet, written by Roger Parker.

As you might notice, I am offering several alternative perspectives and a number of thoughts on Web design. What I suggest is that you consider them all and either find one approach that resonates best for your situation, or perhaps put together a little bit of advice from one perspective and a little bit of advice from other perspectives to come up with your own website plan.

Roger Parker summarizes that the goal of a successful Web initiative is to find the perfect fit between information your market wants or needs and information that supports your firm or organization’s marketing goals.

A poor website is one-sided. It emphasizes information solely from the business owner’s point of view. A popular website is one that provides information the market wants but doesn’t support the firm’s marketing goals. An effective website, however, provides information that satisfies both the firm’s and the visitor’s goals.

There are several approaches you might take to determine your market’s information needs:

  1. Intuitive—provide the information you think they need.
  2. Historical—base your website’s information on previous sales experiences.
  3. Goal-driven—provide content based on your firm’s marketing goals.
  4. Competitor—survey your competitors’ websites and see what types of information they provide.
  5. Analytical—base information on an analysis of website traffic.
  6. Partnership—create a partnership with your market and let them determine the information you provide on your website.

Intuitive Approach

The intuitive approach is the weakest approach of all. Interestingly enough, it’s also the most stressful and time-consuming because you’re forced to guess, rather than rely on more solid forms of evidence.

The intuitive approach is based on putting yourself in your prospect’s shoes and asking, “If I were a prospect in the market for the product or service I’m offering, what information would I need to make a choice?” The problem is that you—as a business owner or organization executive—know too much; you suffer from knowledge-induced myopia. What’s important to you may not be important to your prospects and customers. More important, what’s boring or common sense to you may be news to your prospects.

This is a battle that you’ll be facing throughout your Web initiative—the battle to view your website from the market’s point of view.

Historical Approach

Another approach is to review the concerns and questions that are typically brought up during previous sales presentations and identify the issues that are important to your market. The goal is to identify the questions that you and your sales force are asked over and over again and incorporate as much of this information into your website as possible.

Asking questions represents the best way to do this. Typical questions include:

  1. What are the three most frequently asked questions customers ask when purchasing your product or service?
  2. What other questions typically come up?
  3. What are your qualifications for providing the product or service?
  4. How is your firm different from others providing the same product or service?
  5. What are the procedures involved in buying and using the product or service?
  6. What are the next purchases customers frequently make, or ask about?

To the degree that you view your website as a sales presentation, you’ll be on the road to identifying your market’s information needs.

Goal-Driven Approach

Another approach is to identify your firm’s marketing needs as specifically as possible. What are the goals of your website? Increased business and referrals is not a sufficient answer. Instead, break your business down into the categories of products or services you provide and establish goals for each category. For example, if you’re an author and consultant:

  1. How many copies of each book do you want to sell direct over the Web to new readers each month?
  2. How many copies of each book do you want to sell each month to readers who previously purchased other books?
  3. How many requests for information about speaking engagements do you want to generate each month?
  4. How many requests for information about your consulting services do you want to generate each month?

After you have identified your goals, try to identify the information that your market will need to accomplish these goals. For example, if you want to sell 35 books, you will probably want to include a table of contents, copies of reviews from satisfied readers, and possibly a sample chapter.

Once you have established your goals, it becomes a lot easier to identify the information necessary to achieve them. Use the following questions as a guide to establishing realistic marketing goals.

  • How many new prospects do you want to contact you each month?
  • How many C-level clients do you want to upgrade to B-level clients? How many B-level clients do you want to upgrade to A-level clients?
  • How many new consulting clients do you want to generate per month?
  • How many books do you want to sell per month?
  • How many support calls do you want to eliminate?
  • How many repeat sales do you want to generate?

Competitor Approach

Your website should never be developed in isolation from those of your competitors. There are several reasons you should closely monitor your competitors’ websites:

  1. At the very least, you want to makes sure your website is dramatically different from those of your competitors. If your primary competitors use red, you should use blue. If they use a serif typeface, you should consider a sans serif typeface. Your marketing communications should never be confused with your competitors’.
  2. A glance at your competitors’ websites may suggest categories of information you may have overlooked.
  3. In the worst-case scenario, you may be forced to react to prices or promotions on a competitor’s website. You don’t want to appear to be more expensive or less qualified than your competitors.
  4. How frequently updated are your competitors’ websites? Monitoring your competitors’ websites will give you a clue as to how frequently you should update your website. If your competitors’ websites are updated weekly, yours should be too. If you don’t, you’ll be sending out a “less professional” image.

Analytical Approach

A more advanced approach is based on monitoring the performance of your website. Website traffic reports can provide you with information such as:

  1. How many visitors did your home page attract?
  2. Which pages enjoyed the most traffic?
  3. Which pages were visited first?
  4. Which pages enjoyed the least traffic?
  5. How long did visitors stay at each page?
  6. What was the last page of your website visited?

This information can be invaluable. By identifying your most popular pages—pages that are frequently visited and where visitors stay a long time—you can identify the topics of greatest interest to your market. Conversely, after a short time, by identifying website traffic reports, you will be able to identify the topics that are of least importance to your market as evidenced by fewer and shorter visits. Then it’s simply a matter of providing more articles on topics that treat popular topics in greater detail.

There are numerous software programs that permit you to analyze website traffic. If you are hosting your own website on your own server, you’ll have to purchase these programs and interpret the results yourself—increasing your investment, learning curve, and workload. In most cases, however, your Internet service provider already has these programs and, for an additional cost each month, can prepare reports analyzing website traffic on your site, identifying the most popular pages and the time spent on them.

These website traffic reports can also indicate the order in which pages are visited at your site. After visitors arrived at the home page, for example, which page was usually the first one visited? Website traffic can also indicate the sequence of page visits: which pages are typically visited first, which pages are rarely visited, and which are visited last.

By analyzing website traffic reports, you can learn from your visitors. Instead of guessing which topics are of most importance, you can analyze your visitors’ behavior and learn from it. You can replace guesswork and hunches with information and knowledge.

Partnership

A more fruitful approach is to constantly ask your website visitors to evaluate your website’s content and then be guided by their reactions. Forms represent the easiest way to do this, so visitors can quickly communicate their likes and dislikes to you.

If your website includes a visitor registration form, a simple pair of text boxes asking, “What was the most useful part of this website?” and “What was the least useful part of this website?” can provide you with valuable information. An even better approach is to include an opportunity for visitor evaluation or feedback on each page of your website. Option boxes represent the best approach because they make it easy for visitors to respond by offering a choice of several mutually exclusive options (visitors can’t respond that the page was both “very useful” and “not very useful”). Added to the bottom of each page, along with Submit and Reset buttons, option boxes don’t take up much space, and it is easy to compile the results.

A typical option box might read, “How would you rate the contents of this article?”

  • Very useful
  • Somewhat useful
  • Not very useful
  • A waste of time

You can assign values to each option. For example:

  • “Very useful” would be assigned the number 2.
  • “Somewhat useful” would be assigned the number 1.
  • “Not very useful” would be assigned negative 1.
  • “A waste of time” would be assigned negative 2.

Visitor evaluations could go directly into a database on your website, permitting easy evaluation. There would be a separate column for each article. Negative responses would cancel positive responses, making it easy to score each article by simply adding up the responses.

Another approach would be to add a “Comment” or “Feedback” text box to the bottom of each article. Comments and feedback for each article could be directed to a different database or email address. To succeed, your comment or feedback box should have a specific headline: “What other topics should have been covered in this article?” or “Does this article suggest any questions you’d like answered?”

Depending on the goals of your website, you could build a dialogue with your website visitors by adding (copying and pasting) comments to the end of each article. This would dramatically show visitors that you are interested in their responses.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Combine the information your market wants or needs with the information that supports your firm’s marketing goals.
  • Never develop in isolation from your competition.
  • Don’t guess. Get the data, and study your website traffic.
  • Develop a relationship through feedback.