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Is Your Website Earning Its Keep?
The point of a Web site is to capture what lands there. Otherwise, spiders would be extinct
Is your Web site delivering new, paying customers? Too many sites don't. Pretty colors, snazzy Flash animations, and roll-over navigation may be fun for your designers and programmers. But your Web site has a job to do. It's a machine for transforming visitors into customers. And it does that job, by and large, with good old-fashioned text.
The Web machine, functioning properly, works like this. A large number of potential customers come to your site looking for a specific piece of information. Of these visitors, a smaller number are interested enough to get in contact with your company. And of these, a smaller number yet will become actual customers.
So - is your Web site transforming visitors into customers? Or is it simply sitting there looking pretty? To find out, answer the following questions:
1. Is the primary focus of your Web site on your customers and how they derive value from your company's products and services?
2. Can visitors to your site obtain something for free - and without having to provide their own personal information?
3. Can visitors to your site easily figure out who at your company can best help them, and how to get in touch with that person, whether by phone, fax, snail mail, or e-mail?
4. Have you tested your Web site, using standard usability measures, to validate your answers to the previous three questions?
If you answered "no" or "I'm not sure" to any of these questions, then your Web site may not be earning its keep. So here are four tips for transforming your Web site's snoozy text into the language of a hot-blooded marketing machine:
1.) Focus on the customer, not yourself. Your Web site should not be centered on sections entitled "Who we are," or "What we do." Instead, focus on how customers benefit by using your products or services. To tell them, use a variety of techniques: bullet lists of customer benefits, brief case studies, testimonials from past customers, and more. Also, make sure you site's home page clearly states your value proposition - how your company helps customers in a way that is different and better than the competition.
Here are some good examples of text from actual home pages. Note how they focus on the benefits these companies bring to customers:
1.) "IBM solutions integrate hardware, software, and services to meet the challenges of your industry."
2.) "P&G...Welcome to your home for everyday solutions. Innovative products, smart tips, samples, and offers to help simplify your life."
3.) "Accenture is committed to uncovering the key ingredients to help our clients become high-performance businesses."
And here are some not-so-good examples. Here the emphasis is on the companies themselves, with no sense of benefit to the customer. We've added some comments to indicate how these might be improved:
1.) "Ford Motor Company: 100 Years of Automotive Achievement."
Comment: A century in business is impressive. But I'm looking for a great new car. What have you got that's less than, oh, 99 years old?
2.) "Welcome to the world of Sony."
Comment: Thanks for the welcome, but I don't want to live in the Sony world. What have you got to make my world better?
3.) "AT&T: The world's networking company."
Comment: Now that you've got the globe covered, what can you do for me?
2.) Give away something for free. Everyone loves a freebie, and that includes visitors to your Web site. Let them sample your wares and taste the benefits they'll enjoy once they become your full-fledged customer. Just make sure that everything you give away includes your company's name and full contact information. The idea is that users of your freebies will be so delighted by the value you've provided for free, they'll want to get even more value by becoming a paying customer. But if they can't get in touch with you, the entire process breaks down.
What to give away online? Something that reflects the way your company delivers value to its customers. Here are some examples to start you thinking:
   White papers, articles, book chapters: Giving away high-value ideas is great marketing for technology vendors, consulting and training firms, and other companies offering value via "intellectual capital." For example, Deloitte, the high-end management consulting firm, offers samples of its consultants' expertise on a Web page entitled "Insights and Ideas." Visitors can view a list of the latest articles, read concise summaries, and download PDF versions of the full articles. Wisely, Deloitte avoids the common mistake of requiring visitors to register or provide personal information before downloading the articles. The point is to give something away. Just be sure all articles include full contact information, so motivated readers can get in touch with you!
   Newsletters: Don't take the "news" in "newsletter" too literally. A retailer could use a newsletter to alert readers to special sales and promotions. An insurer might use its newsletter to notify policyholders of changes to premiums and benefits. A utility could offer a newsletter telling consumers about conservation measures that can lower their energy bills. Whatever information you offer, keep the frequency low - once a month is probably sufficient. Also, don't require a great deal of personal information from subscribers; simply ask for a first and last name, and an e-mail address.
   Product samples: Assuming your product can be parceled into small pieces, let visitors download coupons they can redeem in the mail, or at a retail location, for a product sample. Schering-Plough Healthcare, the maker of Claritin allergy-relief medication, offered two free pills to any visitor of its Web site. The same offer also gave visitors a free subscription to "Moments of Clarity," a monthly e-zine published by Schering-Plough that also contains money-saving coupons.
   Contests and giveaways: Everyone loves to be a winner. Let visitors enter contests, drawings, and sweepstakes. The prize should be somehow related to the way your company provides value. Princeton Review, a company that helps students with university admissions, offered visitors to its site a chance to win a free laptop computer that they could use for distance learning. The sweepstakes, called "Learn More & Win," was offered to all visitors who requested information on Princeton Review's distance-learning program.
   Price quotes: For many products and services, coming up with a final price can be complicated and difficult. Some Web sites provide free price quotes to help visitors with their pre-shopping research. Others even include price quotes from their competitors. For that to work, you need to be confident you can compete on price!
3.) Give them your phone number. And all your other contact information, too. Make sure visitors to your Web site can easily get in touch with key people at your company. I am continually amazed by how many companies fail to do this. Remember, unless you work for a pure e-tailer, your Web site is a tool for marketing, not selling. That means you Web site, by itself, sells nothing. Instead, your site attracts potential customers, then inspires them to get in touch with a live person at your company - someone who can eventually make the sale.
Therefore, you want to make it easy, easy, easy for visitors to find the names of people at your company who can help them. That means providing, for all key people, their names, photos, e-mail addresses, snail-mail addresses, fax numbers, and direct telephone numbers. Do not hide this information! Discretion may be an admirable trait in our personal relations, but on a marketing Web site, it is an unmitigated disaster.
4.) Take the test. Wondering how effective your current site is? Ask a friend or family member to test the site's usability. Give them a real task, such as "Find the fax number of the company's southeast U.S. sales manager." If your Web site is like most, the results will leave you unpleasantly surprised.
For example, in a recently usability test my firm conducted for a consulting firm that specializes in corporate creativity, we asked test subjects to find the telephone or fax numbers for the firm's lead consultants. It's a fairly simple task, and the firm's managers assured me that this information would be found quickly and easily. Yet our test subjects were completely unable to find the contact information - no matter how much time we gave them. We had uncovered at least one good reason why the firm was failing to attract new clients.
To transform your Web site into a marketing machine, focus on the customer, give visitors a freebie, make it easy to get in touch with you, and test your site. Once you do, you'll transform online visitors into paying customers.
PETER KRASS is the president of Petros Consulting (, a firm that helps clients improve written communications to attract, nurture, and develop excellent customers, quality suppliers, committed employees, and long-term partners. Call or write Peter at 718-398-5811,
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