Decisions, decisions, decisions - life is full of them. While some are easier than others, decisions usually come down to having the information you need when you need it, so you can act. That's exactly what visitors want on a Web site, but that's not usually what they get.
Most Web sites today often speak about their products or services, but rarely do they actually help customers make a decision. Like a grocery store that offers more than a dozen types of detergent but gives no direction on which one is ideally suited for my needs, most Web sites have pages and pages of content, but offer little direction in getting the right information to the right person at the right time. In other words, marketers need to do a better job of helping potential customers make decisions on their Web sites.
The Necessary Shift
To facilitate the decision-making process on your site, you first need to shift your perspective to one of customer advocacy. If more sites were advocates for their customers, the content would be better, navigation and linking would be more intuitive, and users would more readily be able to decide if a company was the right fit for them or not.
Specifically, you should look at your site through your customers' eyes. When doing so, consider whether the onus of demonstrating value clearly falls on the Web site, or if customers have to figure it out for themselves. For example, the Progressive Insurance home page does a great job of clearly demonstrating its value by listing competitors' quotes next to its own. Not only does it provide customers with valuable information, but it also helps them to be perceived as a trusted resource.
But beyond this fresh perspective, you need actual strategies that will help you develop an improved decision-making process on your site.
Review your analytics: Analytics can provide information about user behavior, including which keywords people associate with your site and which pages they find more valuable or engaging. You can then leverage these keywords in your copy throughout the site, and by using free tools provided by the engines, you can determine if there are any high-volume derivatives that should also be targeted. This will enhance your ability to rank in more prominent positions (or at all) and ensure that the language you use on your site is consistent with what your audience uses. Knowing the best-converting or highest-trafficked pages on your site will also help direct your content building efforts so you can better meet users' needs.
Improve internal search: An improved internal search function can help users navigate your site more efficiently and help them get the information they need to make decisions. Consider laying out search results in clusters around key themes, or allowing users to filter out results based on certain criteria (date, location, etc.). Check out the slider search bars on Kayak's search result pages, as they do exactly that.
Take inventory: While it is important to provide good information on your site, too much of it can have an adverse effect, especially if it's not laid out logically or users can't quickly find what they need. Audit your content to determine if what you have is both helpful and in a logical place; then identify any gaps. This can be done in a variety of ways; one of the most common of which is grouping existing pages by themes to create a taxonomy of pages. There are several tools that exist to help scrape pages on larger sites, but Google's "site: keyword/keyword theme" operator is a simple tool that can help you determine the pages on your site that Google already finds relevant for the targeted keyword.
Develop personas: No two customers have the same problem or needs. Given that, marketers should create personas that can help users easily identify with a segment. Doing so will help them follow a path that is much more aligned with their needs. But accomplishing this requires a deep understanding of your core audience. Today, there are numerous companies that specialize in persona development; however, Usability.gov is a good place to start to gather some information on the topic.
Create solution-based navigation: Review the top/side navigation on your site, and consider whether or not it explains your offerings in a way that makes sense to your visitors. If it contains company or internal jargon, then you may want to reconsider how your information is presented. For instance, you could change the wording and subsequent links to help answer the problem that you think you can solve for potential customers. Doing so will provide more clarity for users and a better defined path that is based on their particular needs.
Offer click to chat: Consumers like making purchases in a retail store because they can get advice from a real person. To capitalize on this behavior, marketers should offer real-time help/live chat on their site. Doing so will help your customers better connect with your brand, and they'll see you as a solutions provider. Fortunately, there are many services available to facilitate this process, including ATG or LivePerson. Or you can investigate your options by searching for "click to chat software."
Provide real tools: If a tool provides great information, it can help you make a decision. But think about the tools on your site. Sure, they may have a purpose, but I'll bet that the bounce rate on your tools page is fairly high, and that it doesn't actually drive people to convert. For example, perhaps you have a calculator on your site. But does it just spit out a number, or does it actually help guide someone to a decision? To develop a truly effective tool, first identify the greatest barrier to someone purchasing your product or service.
In this economy, marketers can't afford to let potential customers get lost, confused, or overwhelmed on their sites. Smart marketers will follow the above tips to develop an experience that gets visitors what they need when they need it, so they can make a decision.
This column originally appeared in the March 2010 edition of SES Magazine.
Mark Blanchard is a client ser vices director at iProspect and oversees strategy and execution of campaigns for clients in various industries, including travel, insurance, retail, and education. Part of the iProspect team since 2004, Blanchard was previously the director of knowledge management and innovation for the search engine marketing firm. A native of Canada, Blanchard is certified in Google AdWords and Analytics and is a Yahoo ambassador. He holds an MBA from the University of Massachusetts.