Mastering the Web: Your Web site is not about you

Are you getting the most out of your company’s Web site? Do you get a small number of leads or a low interaction rate with your site? Do you feel like the site could be doing more to engage your customers?

The solution to these problems may not lie in a new modern design or expensive technology. It may lie in the content or focus of the site.

Think about the visitors to your site. Are they interested in your perspective on the marketplace, your history or even the list of your products and services? Perhaps, but they are likely more interested in specifically how your company can help them. When visitors come to your site, they have a problem that they are looking to solve. If they get to your site and find a list of selling points for certain products or content that describes various groups of the company, they will have to make up their own mind on how the information they see applies to them.

It is easy to put information about your company on the Web site. It is more difficult, but much more effective, to have content that speaks to the needs of visitors in their language.

The solution

Determine the needs of your visitors. You will likely know this based on the type of business you have, but if you need more clarity in this area, even a little bit of user research will help clarify specific visitor requirements. Generally, visitor needs come in three flavors:

• Purchase needs — potential customers need data and information that will help them make a decision on which product/service/donation to purchase.

• Transactional needs – a visitor needs to interact with your company to get something accomplished.

• Entertainment needs – a visitor is looking for content that is engaging and entertaining.

Imagine you don’t work for your company; put yourself in your visitor’s shoes. What is the content that meets your needs? You may have to reorganize the layout and navigational structure of the Web site to put the content visitors are looking for in a higher spot in the visual hierarchy of the site. For each page or decision you make about the content on the site, ask yourself, What visitor need am I solving right now?”

Speak from the visitor’s perspective. To help you stay focused on visitors, develop content for the site in the style and voice that they would use. Don’t speak about how great the company/product/service is; speak about how you can help them.

This can be as easy as a simple change in perspective, for example:

• Bad: Our widget is 100 times faster than the competition

• Good: Get your work done in 1 hour with our widget

Cut your content in half – then cut it again. You can write volumes about how great your company is. But on the Web, people just don’t read that much. Visitors come to your Web site with a goal in mind, and unless that goal is to read an article, they will pay little attention to paragraphs of content about your company. Reduce the content about your company to the most salient points and direct them to contact you if they really want more.

It’s OK to keep an About Us section. All the great information you have about your company can go in there. If visitors click on that section they are explicitly inquiring about a piece of information about your company. However, the About Us section should not occupy one of the primary spots in the site navigation or hierarchy. Make it available, but not the most important thing on the site. When you are developing content for your site, evaluate each page – does it meet a primary need or is it About Us info?

A new Web site design can show that you are an up-to-date, vibrant company. New Web site technology can make it easier to manage the site content or provide useful functionality. However, companies that are not getting the most out of their Web site should first look at improving its information and overall content. Align content with visitor needs instead of internal company organization and jargon, and you will see a marked improvement in visitor engagement and effectiveness of your Web site.

Michael Hawley is vice president of experience design for Portsmouth-based Mad*Pow (