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Revenue-Producing Principles for the Web

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By consistently employing the right principles, a business owner or business decision maker can leverage the web to increase profits. There are basic principles affecting a web presence that are not industry or business specific, and by understanding and applying them, a business can greatly increase the amount of money saved or generated.

Sometimes business owners or executives don't view the Internet in the most appropriate way, and therefore miss vast opportunities for success. The people who make the decisions for their sites sometimes act like the Wizard of Oz, pulling and pushing levers behind a curtain that provide an illusion, but not necessarily reality. They forget to apply, or choose to ignore, fundamental principles.

Often, while looking for information on the Net, I'll happen upon a web site that misses the boat completely. I'll leave that site in a flash, never to go there again, and never to spend my money there. Don't let that be your site. I am not only referring to retail sites. The principles I am referring to apply to any kind of web site, regardless of whether a user can buy directly from the site or not.

Let me provide some examples of these cross-industry, fundamental principles that will help any business. The user's experience, wants, needs, and preferences all need to be paramount when creating or maintaining a web site, a part of a site or a web service. This is a concept missed by myriad companies, but is a principle that will offer great benefits if practiced consistently. Always look at your site from the point of view of your visitors.

The web is often a place where a company puts its best foot forward and neglects to be forthcoming. Many corporate sites are just sophisticated advertisements. Another term for this is `brochure- ware'. A user who is engaged in the site and views it as an experience will be more receptive to the company and what it has to sell. Receptivity is directly related to their experience.

Notice how I use the word `experience'? Offering an experience to a visitor is a basic principle of the web. There is a difference between providing a user with an experience when visiting a site and simply offering brochure-ware. The latter is non-engaging, static, one dimensional and boring, causing visitors to leave more quickly and often not return. The web is a medium that is supposed to be interactive. This means that the more chances a site gives the user to interact with it, the better. This makes a site `sticky', meaning it results in visitors staying on the site longer and returning later. What are examples of interactivity? Clicking, pushing buttons, answering surveys, joining a community, expressing themselves in an open forum, and anything else that can be devised that will allow a user to take some kind of action.

Many businesses also make the mistake of assuming they know what their users want to experience. Why assume when one can ask? It's very easy to survey existing and prospective customers now. In fact, a company's web site is a perfect place and can facilitate an ongoing dialogue between a user and company. This is a great example of interactivity.

Setting up a survey on a web site is simple. Let's say a business is trying to determine what they could offer on their next web site version that would truly satisfy their customers. This company could create an html form that links off their homepage. There could be only a few key questions; it doesn't necessarily need to be a long questionnaire. In fact, the briefer, the better chance a user will fill it out.

A very important, arguably the most important, key to the success of an online survey, would be to offer an incentive for filling it out. You will get a far better response rate if there is something in it for the person filling it out. This demonstrates the principle of reciprocity. It's hard to get something for nothing. If you want to get a visitor to fill out a form on your site (thus giving you their information), you have to offer them something in return. It doesn't have to be much, but something. It could be a discount on a purchase, a coupon, or a free downloadable tutorial pertaining to the business you're in.

Another neglected principle is accessibility. I regularly see organizations consciously erect web sites that act as gigantic barriers between them and their customers. They use these digital ramparts to hide behind. It is very frustrating to go to a company's site and not be able to find a phone number. It is equally annoying to send an email to a company, using an address they provided on their site, and not get a reply for a many days, weeks, or not at all. If a visitor takes the time to write an email, it is best to treat that message exactly like a phone call, and with the same urgency.

The principles of looking through the eyes of your visitor, open communication and representation, reciprocity, and accessibility are important to follow to streamline your web presence. We all want to make more profit and get a better return on our investment of a web site, so thinking in terms of what the user wants and needs is an excellent first step.

Article by Jason O'Connor
© 2003


Jason O'Connor is President of Oak Web Works - The synthesis of Web design, technology and marketing

Jason is an expert at Web design and programming, e-strategy, and e-marketing

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