I was reading the extraordinary piece called 18 Questions Your CEO Forgot to Ask When Building Your Website compiled and written by Todd Malicoat. He asks, “Why are you always retrofitting and re-optimizing?” The question that I’m asked the most is, “Why isn’t my site working the way I want it to?”
The most common scenerio I work with are those people and companies who have a finished site and are in the “retrofitting and re-optimizing” stage. They’re frustrated. Everyone has ideas and suggestions for repairs, and when these also fail to bring improvements, what do they do then?
Value and Task
You ask the website owner (CEO, stakeholder(s), whomever) what the value proposition of the website is. It’s really just a fancy way of asking, “What is this site going to do for visitors?” What’s in it for them (not you)?
To help answer this, designers want to know how your product, service or information will help someone with something they need or want. A website perfoms best when it nails the tasks involved in delivering a need, want or desire right from the start, which is often the homepage. Next, and this is the part that is so often not designed into a site, pages from inside the website must also help visitors accomplish tasks on the page itself or by linking to where it can be performed.
Your visitors want to do something while they are thinking about doing it rather than coming back to that task later.
There is a site I love that sells gazebos and other detached buildings. The homepage displays many models and addresses the reasons why people might want one. It’s clear that you can order it online. If you click on a category, you are immediately able to start designing your dream gazebo by selecting a wide variety of things from windows and doors to the types of materials. The website shows you what you’re building as you design it. You can order it then, or contact customer service or hire them to ship and build it for you. In two clicks, any visitor is able to complete or begin several tasks. It took over a year to get the design right.
The first version of the original site was about their products, with a sub-set of requirements about how to order them. It was unorganized and not focused on tasks. This new site cleverly understands people’s emotions like excitement and our human ability to fantasize about how to spend our money.
The second version of the website is focused on their potential customers and drop-by visitors needs, from why these buildings were beneficial, to visualizing one, to designing it, to working out shipping and ordering and get this, as you design your building, the price changes so you know what you are spending.
Persusasion is About Benefits and Tasks That Meet Visitors Needs
From a site visitor’s perspective, they want to know immediatly what they will get and how they can get it.
Most websites devote all their content and navigation to the “what” part and forget the importance of the task side. Quite often, the “how to get” part is stuck at the bottom of a long page, or inside the website somewhere. Sometimes there’s an entire FAQ page to read because the task of doing something is so complicated or there are too many rules or specifications. You can persuade all you want to, but if someone has to work to fill out a form, or make a purchase, you may have just lost them.
SEO’s and search engine marketers focus on getting web pages found in search engines. They, too, are interested in task scenerios. Some create landing pages that are designed to complete a task assignment. A text ad will say “Buy this book at 50% off” and the link will take the visitor to a page that has the book description and order form (preferably not a link to another page to the form). The call to action is to purchase now and purchase it here. Persuasive content describes the book and why someone will benefit from purchasing it (they save money, they feel smarter, they have money left over for Starbucks…)
Does your homepage help vistiors do something they want to do right away?
This is why splash pages don’t work.
Will visitors want to use, return to and refer the website?
This is what you ask the CEO.