eMarketing-Making the most of your Web

Source E-Business Live

What is the point of having a website for your business? It might sound like a straightforward question, but plenty of companies fail to realise that their site is essentially an eMarketing tool. Attendees at Enterprise Ireland's recent eMarketing Workshop learned about how to get value out of their company's website. In the first of two articles on the subject, we look at how design can play a crucial role in making your website work for you.

Helping customers

The primary aim of a company's website should be to make its customers' lives easier. "There is one main reason for a business to have a website and that's to help customers," said marketing consultant Paul Smith, speaking at the eMarketing event in Dublin. Businesses may want to tell customers all about the history of the company or a new product being launched, but when a user visits a website they usually just want to access the information they need and move on quickly.

However, many businesses do not recognise this as the primary motivation for customers and, as a result, the design of their website fails to meet customers' needs. "There is a good chance that your website sucks, that it really sucks!" said Gareth Dunlop, managing director of web development company Tibus. Dunlop advised companies to focus their websites on fulfilling users' desires and expectations. "Give the customer what they want as cleanly and efficiently as possible. They are not as interested in the company, the brand, or its values as you think they are. Companies need to build around customers' core needs."

Function vs form

A funky web design with moving graphics may look trendy to your marketing team, but the chances are it will not appeal to customers and may indeed prove irritating. The use of Flash animation can also reduce the likelihood that users will find the company's site through internet search engines. "Flash isn't search engine friendly," said Aileen O'Toole, managing director of consultancy firm AMAS.

The function of a website is more important than its form, so the focus should be on saving time and effort for consumers wishing to access its content. Sites such as aerlingus.com and Google present customers with the service they primarily want on the homepage, giving ease of access. "Avoid pretentious design," said Dunlop. "Clear the clutter and customers will thank you for it. There is no better example than Google. They do a whole world of things but when people visit Google.com the company realises that the odds are users just want to search."

Over-complicating a website can give rise to problems at various stages in the design process, but many of these could be avoided early on. "Never brief a web agency to produce a website with the 'wow' factor," said Dunlop. "Tell them you believe in the basics and this will be reflected in the design."

There are a few simple tips businesses should follow to ensure a smooth user experience for customers visiting their website:

  • Don't have too many links in the body text. This can create a cluttered look. Instead have links to the next step at the end of the text.
  • Allow your links to change colour. Once a customer has clicked on a link, the easiest way for them to know they have previously visited a page is to see a different colour on the link.
  • Underline links. This makes them easy to spot. At the same time, don't underline any text that isn't a link.
  • Use black text on a white background. Blue text on a luminous yellow background may be noticeable, but it's also quite tiresome on the eye. Customers are familiar with black on white, so stick with it.
Avoid surprises

If links on a website lead to PDF documents or open new windows, then the site needs to make it clear to the user that this will happen. Customers hate surprises, especially if they increase the time they spend trying to find what they want. If a PDF or new page is absolutely necessary, then give the customer plenty of warning so they can choose whether they want to access it.

Show customers the door

When it comes to design, time is a critical factor to keep in mind. Businesses want users to spend as much time as possible on their site, so they may opt to design the site in such a way as to make it difficult for them to leave. In the short term, this might seem like a good tactic, but it will prove wearisome to those visiting the site and make them less likely to return in the future.

Trying to keep customers on a site this way is like locking them into a shop so they can't go anywhere. "Show them the exit," said Dunlop. Customers will enter and leave a company's site as they please; the best thing you can do is ensure they have a pleasant experience while they're there.

In the next issue, we take a look at strategies for promoting your website, how to target customers, and how to shape your website to meet their needs.