Take Ownership Of Your Online Presence

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Suzanne McKee

Suzanne McKee

You wouldn’t put the trash out front and a padlock on the front door of your physical location. Yet, your website is cluttered and the navigation difficult to, well, navigate. If you’re not putting the same effort into your online presence as your physical presence, you need to start.

In fact, it’s so important there is an entire area in the technology and design communities focused solely on it. It’s called UX (User Experience) and if you haven’t heard of it or think it doesn’t apply to your business, it’s time to reconsider and take control of what your online presence is saying about you.

Even if you’re strictly B2B and you are not trying to attract the consumer market, an effective website is critical. Remember, the decision makers at businesses are people, and people research online before they make purchasing decisions. According to a recent study by GE Capital Retail Bank, 81 percent of consumers go online to research before heading to the store. I feel strongly that this same behavior applies to business decision makers, as well.

Your online presence gives you credibility, helps you build trust and informs customers about your business. For the purposes of this article, I have focused on the website element of your online presence but keep in mind that these principles apply to any digital projects that you are embarking on (web applications, mobile apps or other emerging devices and platforms).

How Your Site Works And Looks, And The Impression It Leaves Is Crucial
Attention to UX design tells your customer that you care about every interaction you have with them and that you want them to have positive experiences at every turn — even if they’re just looking for your business hours. It means knowing why people visit your site and designing it with that in mind. (See “9 Steps For Developing A Website That Represents Your Business.”)

Are you a retail outlet, as well as a wholesale operation? Make sure it’s obvious what information is for which type of customer.

Do you specialize in providing cultural information and have endless articles and other content? Categorize and present your information clearly, then add a powerful search feature that makes it seamless to find what visitors are interested in.

Does your site include eCommerce? It’s critical that from the moment users enter your site to the moment they check out, every step is easy and makes sense. Otherwise, they’ll leave and you’ll miss out on a sale.

UX design is much more than graphic design alone. It is the underlying understanding that every aspect of the site should be driven by user needs and expectations. It is not simply selecting a color palette and making sure your logo looks correct. Graphic design encompasses much more than this and is an integral component that is vitally important to get right. But no design can fix a structure that is inherently confusing and hard to navigate.

Usability Testing (And Why It’s Important)
Testing your concepts and verifying that you are headed in the right direction before you build out your entire site is crucial at every step along the way. It’s easy to rely on your assumptions, but you need to step outside of your comfort zone and what you think you know about what your customers are looking for. Find out what your customers really care about.

To help you with that, there are a few ways to test your direction. Some full-service agencies will be able to test your site through rigorous user testing in a controlled setting or with a slightly more relaxed method through remote testing of the site. A more realistic method is to enlist friends, family, colleagues and a select group of customers who are willing to be testers for you to review your plan, look at your designs and explore your site. Then ask them to be completely honest with you and (most importantly) be open to their thoughts and potential criticisms and allow yourself to change some things if necessary.

Don’t Let Your Budget Dictate Your Decisions
The quintessential question — this sounds great, but what is it going to cost? The answer, of course, is not black and white. A web project can span from a couple thousand dollars to much (much) more.

Not all companies can afford to hire a full-service web development team with experts in every field and many companies do not employ web developers and designers in-house. Yet, it’s important to have the right talent involved for a successful project. Contract and freelance workers are great options to fill this void and still fit within a reasonable budget.

Also, look within your organization and make sure you are utilizing the talent you do have in-house. Go to your growing experts and ask them to help with culture content, talk to sales to help get the customer perspective. A web project does not have to be handled completely by the marketing department. Every area of your business has something valuable to contribute.

User Experience Is Customer Service
This may all seem a bit overwhelming but when you break down the steps and remember that you are already focused on UX in every other aspect of your business, it becomes much more manageable. In other words, you are already dedicated to a positive customer experience in your daily interactions and how you present your physical operations. Now you just need to make sure that your online experience encompasses this same commitment.

Technology Speak
User experience (UX) involves a person’s behaviors, attitudes and emotions about using a particular product, system or service. User experience includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership. Source: Wikipedia

Get Answers With Google Analytics
A great tool that can help you understand your actual web visitors is Google Analytics. It is a free tool that will tell you where people are coming to your site from. It can give insight to the purpose of their visit by showing you what pages and information they are interested in and at which point they leave the site. It can be very telling if a large percentage of your visitors leave the site from the same page or section.

Suzanne McKee ( suzannem@eplantsource.com ) is director of marketing at ePlantSource, where she is responsible for providing an intuitive user interface for customers.
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    3 comments on “Take Ownership Of Your Online Presence

    1. andrea

      Thanks for the article.
      Another essential thing is checking all links work… ;-)
      It’s frustrating for users, and could lose you potential business, or at least a lead.

    2. Pingback: Great Article On Website Management » Mid-West Wire Products Inc.