Different Strokes For Different Folks

Let people choose their own route.

Marco disagrees with me, I disagree with Marco and we work very well together.

Whenever I look at a web site I seem to be looking at it through the eyes of a first-time user. I play the “newbie.”

When Marco looks at a site he looks at it from the point of view of someone who knows the Internet intimately and has already visited that site a hundred times.

So you can imagine what happens when Marco and I sit down to create a web site together. We disagree. We’re looking for different solutions for the opposing groups we “represent.”

If he and I were working on a piece of print literature -me writing and him designing – we’d likely still be arguing.

But when you design a site on the web, you can please both groups at once.

Let me step back and explain myself. Marco and I are working on a site that sells stuff. The other day we were looking at creating a structure for that all-important pathway between the homepage and the page when you finally confirm your purchase.

This pathway is a tough thing to create for the first-time buyer at the site. The first-time buyer has no loyalty to the site and is the most likely to bail out before completing the order. For the second-time buyer, you likely already have a profile and a record of their default delivery address, etc.

This is a pain, because the new visitor, the one with the lowest commitment to your site, is also the visitor from whom you need to collect the most information.

(Hands up everyone who has given up on ordering something mid-way through the “registration” process as a first-time visitor on a site.)

With this in mind, I sit down to try to create a pathway that is going to keep the newbie visitor online, but also get us the information we need. Meanwhile, Marco is rolling his eyes back in frustration – because his “experienced” visitors just want to get in, make the purchase and go.

Offline, you’d likely have to compromise. But online you don’t have to do that. Because you can create separate pathways to the same end. You can create a choice.

This sounds pretty obvious. But after you’ve spent a few hours checking out other sites, it’s pretty depressing.

As Marco and I flipped through the various sites, I’d shake my head in disbelief at how hard people make it for their first-time visitors. Meanwhile, Marco would groan at what a hassle it was for existing customers to just get in there and buy something.

Mind you, there was an interesting exception to this involving a certain Canadian online bookstore. In their case, it was so easy for a new customer to buy that when I received my email confirmation I realized that I had somehow purchased three copies of the same book.

Had I messed up? Absolutely. Was it my fault? Nope. I may, somehow, still be the ultimate newbie, but there are a lot of us out there. So make sure you cater to our special newbie needs.

The solution to the newbie/oldie conflict that Marco and I are dealing with is the creation of simple “pathway options” within the purchase process. You can’t do this in print, but you can do it online.

Some of you may be thinking, “Geez, what’s he going on about here. Lots of sites have “First Time Visitor” buttons and “Quick Buy” buttons. They already create different pathways that cater to different audiences.”

I don’t think so.

Many sites that sell stuff do offer different pathways. But in many cases these pathways appear to have been created to satisfy the needs of the site creator – not the site visitor.

What I’m talking about is giving your visitors choices that reflect THEIR different needs. It’s a mindset thing. You don’t come from the perspective of:

“WE NEED different information from different people, so we’ll push them down different pathways.”

I would suggest that you come from the perspective of:

“OUR VISITORS NEED different information, depending on who they are. So we’ll make different pathways available to them.”

There’s a big, big difference there.

And while you’re at it, how about finding some way to reward those first-time visitors as they wade through your boring and lengthy registration process?

Finally, here’s a statistic I’d love to find. Maybe one of you can help me.

Industry-wide, what percentage of people who try to buy something from a site for the first time bail out before actually making the purchase?

(And what would site owners pay to reduce that bail-out figure by 10 percent? Big entrepreneurial opportunity for someone here.)

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