The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Web Sites

May 31, 2005

Darren Guarnaccia

If you discovered a resource that would increase customer loyalty, as well as lower customer support costs, wouldn't you use it? Your company's Web site is a resource that has great potential to reach these goals, but may be relatively untapped. Truly effective Web sites are an elusive goal for most organizations.

Many companies successfully create visually appealing sites, but fall short of delivering sites that produce high yielding results. A countless number of customers leave Web sites without questions answered or products purchased. Marketers scratch their heads wondering what went wrong.

How are great Web sites developed? How can you guarantee your site produces the results you desire?

By leveraging the highly promoted principles of Steven Covey, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," your Web site will become a more valuable asset that will increase brand awareness, customer retention and produce qualified customer leads.

Habit #1: Your customers are in charge -- listen and respond to their needs.

Your Web development team's highest priority is to understand why customers visit your site. First, make a list of your customers' most important tasks and narrow that list down to the essentials.

Analytic tools such as click stream and application logs will help with this task, but only tell part of the story. Focus groups and online surveys or feedback forms are great tools to receive direct feedback from customers.

Habit # 2: Create goal-driven sites.

Creating a goal-driven site seems self evident, but you'd be surprised to learn that most companies tend to think a Web site is a marketing brochure with more real estate.

The very nature of the Web provides many more opportunities than this, which if properly harnessed, can pay big dividends.

The Web provides a targeted means to drive customers to specific outcomes or "calls-to-action." It is critical to ask yourself one simple question before starting any project: What is my desired outcome for the site users?

This question will provide focus and direction into every piece of content and functionality on your site. Whether the goal is to drive customers to fill out a contact request form, buy now, or to visit the nearest physical store it is key to always focus on the desired outcome for optimal effectiveness.

Habit #3: Prioritize your customers' experiences.

Two reasons customers switch to competing organizations are they feel they are not valued and the benefit of continuing to do business is no longer greater than the cost of doing business.

By putting your customers' experience first, you create perceived value and increase customer retention. Since it is always harder and more expensive to acquire new customers than keep old ones, why make more work for yourself?

Habit #4: Drive value back to your customer.

Organizations should value every piece of data a customer provides. This will create a win/win relationship between your organization and your customer as well as generate a tremendous amount of good will.

For example, many sites require customers to register before proceeding to restricted or premium areas. In many cases, registering provides little perceived value to the user.

To add insult to injury, the site does not appear to "use" a customer's data to enhance the user experience. For example, if your customer registers and enters her home zip code information and then desires to find a local store, your site should automatically display the five locations closest to the user's home address. The customer immediately sees the benefit of providing her personal information and gets to her goal (and your store) faster.

Habit # 5: Knowing what your customers don't provides value.

Capture and feedback mechanisms are important tools that allow you analyze to your site's effectiveness, but there are several other methods you can use to understand what your customers don't know.

Find out what your customers are searching for on your site by reviewing the search strings that produce invalid results. This is one of the most underused ways of understanding what customers want.

Habit #6: Create an ongoing dialog with your customer.

Web personalization technologies enable your site to create a "dialog" with individual site visitors. This dialog will continue at every site visit and can even drive users back to the site if they haven't visited for a specific period of time.

Target distinct messages to specific audiences. For instance, the site can display different products and messages based on a user's demographics or observed behavior. Personalization technologies make it possible to move the customer closer and closer to your company's desired "call-to-action".

This concept is also known as episodic marketing, as it is moving your customer forward to a desired behavior, one "episode" at a time.

By leveraging the power of a Web site's interactive nature, your company will generate more qualified leads that drive deeper into the sale funnel for your sales organization.

Habit #7: Optimize your site with the power of A/B split testing.

Marketers love metrics to backup marketing decisions. Web personalization technologies allow marketers to use their Web sites as a platform to rapidly and inexpensively test concepts and ideas. A/B split testing allows marketers to understand the effectiveness of specific Web content.

By applying these seven habits to your Web sites, your organization can see a rapid increase in customer loyalty and satisfaction as well as lower costs for customer support.

Covey's concepts are not brand new, but have evolved over the years. Due to the availability of content management and personalization applications, organizations can easily employ the habits discussed.

Now more than ever, these technologies are more affordable and short term ROI is attainable by even the smallest organization. Unlock your untapped resources and unleash the power of a highly effective Web site.

As Director of Technology for enterprise content management vendor RedDot Solutions Darren Guarnaccia works to identify trends in the enterprise content management space. Guarnaccia also manages channel and partner sales for RedDot.


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