for Creating a Customer-Friendly Web Site
by: Christopher Smith
What annoys an Internet
user the most? A quick unscientific survey of a local Internet café
suggests the top three turn-offs are:
Sites that are very slow
Ones that are confusing
Sites that do not contain
the promised information;
The single most common
reaction to sites like these is that the visitor very quickly moves on
to another web site. Clearly, if you get things wrong there is usually
no second chance.
How can you avoid this
happening to your business? Well, here are twenty tips to help you when
designing or redesigning your company’s web site.
Start with a clear
understanding of the purpose of your site.
Is the aim of your site to
sell, entertain, or inform? The design of your site should be consistent
with its purpose. The requirements for a site selling software online
will be very different from say the web site of a local community
Plan the site with the
customer in mind.
Imagine how your customers
(existing and prospects) will use your site. Consider their reasons for
visiting and their needs. Something that looks logical to you may not
appear so to a first-time visitor.
Design for cross-browser
Although Internet Explorer
dominates, do not overlook those people who use alternatives such as
Mozilla, Opera and Netscape. Make sure your site can be viewed in other
browsers; that way you will not unintentionally reduce the number of
visitors to your site.
Choose simplicity over
Unless you are a design
company showcasing its skills, keep things simple. Visitors (especially
frequent ones) may not be impressed by your complex animated graphics
especially if they serve no apparent useful purpose. Make it simple for
visitors to get to the content – that is what most of them are coming to
your site for anyway.
Make the navigation
intuitive and easy to use.
This is probably one of the
two most important aspects of designing a web site, the other being
content. Make your site’s navigation logical and clear. Ensure the most
important and most often-accessed information is easy to find. Link
names should be concise and self-explanatory. Test navigational links to
make sure they work and keep them up-to-date.
Your site should be as
visually appealing as possible.
Visual appeal is subjective
but the design of your site will undoubtedly influence customers’
perceptions of your business as a whole. An uncluttered layout, careful
choice of font size and colors and appropriate use of graphics and
images should go a long way to ensuring your site creates a good
impression of your business.
Apply a consistent design
or ’look and feel’ to your site.
Keep design consistent
across your site unless you want your visitors to ask themselves whether
they have wandered into another company’s site by accident.
Integrate your web site
design with your offline branding.
For many, the Internet is
still an alien environment so reassure your customers by applying the
same branding online as you do offline. After all, if you have spent a
lot of money building your brand why spend more appearing to build an
entirely different online brand (unless, of course, this is your
Keep page size manageable
to ensure speedy downloads.
Online visitors’ patience
is measured in milliseconds and not everyone has hi-speed or broadband
Internet connections. So, keep page sizes within reasonable limits to
ensure that they download quickly. Optimize graphic size and avoid
putting an image on a page unless it adds something for the visitor.
Ensure your site’s content
reflects its purpose.
If yours is a sales site
for example, ensure that your content concentrates on selling. Stay
focused and avoid the temptation to upload content that is not relevant
to your web site’s purpose.
Enable quick and easy
location of information.
Quite simply, most
customers will quickly leave your site if they cannot locate the
information they are seeking. Internet users increasingly require
information to be instantly available and there is no shortage of other
sites eager to take business from you. Think what information customers
are likely to want and do not hide it away.
Make sure content is
relevant, accurate and up-to-date.
Provide accurate and
relevant content and keep it up-to-date. Failure to do this will make
your company look inefficient and reflects badly on your customer
service levels. Search engines also appreciate content that is updated
Get visitors to interact
with your site and spend more time on it. Make a visit an interesting
experience for them by including useful online tools, etc. Just make
sure they are relevant to your site.
Personalize your site.
Depending on the technology
you have available to you, it may be possible to greet visitors to your
site by name and serve up content tailored specifically to their needs.
If you can do it then do so.
Give your customers the
opportunity to contact you via email, online forms, a call-back/call-me
facility, web chat, etc. Ask for their feedback via online surveys and
feedback forms. Invite them to subscribe to a customer newsletter.
It is common courtesy to
say ‘thank you’. Very little effort is required to set up an email
auto-responder. When requiring customers to complete and submit a form,
make sure there is a ‘thank you’ page or pop-up. It reassures the
customer that you have received their communication and does not leave
them wondering whether or not your site is working properly.
Make it a ‘seamless’
Aim to give customers the
same level of service online as you give them offline. Your goal should
be to facilitate the customer’s interaction with your company and allow
them to choose how to do business with you. You know that customers are
your most valuable asset and that retaining them is vitally important.
Give your customers
Reassure visitors to your
site by providing elements such as help pages, FAQ’s, a site map, terms
Ensure that your site works
properly and its content is up-to-date. Check error messages make sense
and forms and data entry fields are logical. Get someone to proofread
your site and spot any grammatical and spelling mistakes. The quality of
your site tells customers a lot about the quality of service they can
expect from you.
Get to know your customers.
Learn as much as you can
about your customers and the way they use your site (and, if you can,
find out how they use your competitors’ sites). Then use this learning
to improve your site and increase your return on investment.
The number of web sites is
growing every day and now just about anyone can create one. If you want
your site to stand out from the rest, plan it carefully and design it
with your customers in mind. Far too many web site owners just do not