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Self-Help Articles on Psychological Marketing
 

MARKETING ON THE INTERNET
Part 2: NAVIGATION
by Gary Austin Witt, Ph.D.

This is the second column on marketing your product or service on the Internet. This month we'll look at some key navigation issues. This is a critical topic. Dr. Ralph Wilson, publisher of one of the best Internet marketing newsletters, "Web Marketing Today" (http://www.wilsonweb.com), writes, "Inadequate navigation design is probably the MAIN failing of business websites."

Most companies want to have their own Web site. They hear estimates from Forrester Research that within five years there will be a BILLION PEOPLE online worldwide, and that within three years Internet business-to-business sales alone will exceed three TRILLION dollars!

But the competition is fierce, and global. Assuming some visitors have overcome the first enormous hurdle of finding out that your site exists, you've then got to convince them you have what they want. To do that, you must help them find the exact information they need, quickly and easily. That's the role of your navigation tools.

As noted lin the first article in this series, you should first analyze
(1) why you want a Web site,
(2) the demographic descriptions of exactly who you want to reach,
(3) the chief reasons they might have for buying -- their needs, wants, fears and desires, and
(4) the features of your product or service which can best satisfy each of these primary motivations. (See "What are You Really Selling?") Those answers form the foundation of any successful marketing strategy, no matter what medium you are using to communicate.

Armed with these answers, you can plan the content and structure of your Web site. You might decide to create it yourself, or select a professional company like azfamily.com to do it for you. Whatever your choice, you'll need to be sure the finished site is "friendly" to your visitors.

Start with some big pieces of paper. At the top, write down all the reasons visitors might want to find your site. Under each reason, list the important questions they might have when they visit your site. That is the information you'll need to provide on your Web site. Take some time with this, ask some current customers, and look at it from the visitor's viewpoint. (See "Meeting Customer Needs Is Not Enough.") Add any other information you want them to know, such as discounts, promotions, special services, etc. Now you have what you need to begin writing the text for your Web site. In nearly every situation, text, not graphics, will play a larger role in making your site successful

Next, put all these specific topics into categories (like "Price List" or "New Products.") If you find you have many categories, group them into some sections with titles like "About Our Company." or "Services." Make sure that the section and category names you pick will help visitors quickly get to the information that answers their questions. Categories answering the most frequent questions should be at the top of the list. This list should appear on the first page of your Web site.

You'll need to block out all the specific pages in your site, the content for each, and their links to other pages. That's too much for this article, but you could profitably look at World Wide Web Marketing, by Jim Sterne, 1999. Once you know what your site is going to look like, you need to plan how to present the information in a way your visitors will appreciate. Here are some questions to help guide you.

(1) Will your domain name help visitors to find you? There are millions of Web sites out there, including probably tens of thousands of businesses like yours. To sell customers online, you first have to get them to your "front door." The words in your domain name (that's the official name of your site) are some of the key words used by search engines to find relevant Web sites. If you have a furniture store, having the word "furniture" as part of your name will help search engines and visitors find you. There are many tricks to get your Web site listed higher by search engines, many of them specific to individual engines. We'll send you this and other Internet marketing information if you e-mail us at freeinfo@marketingpsychology.com.

Turn your Web site name into a branding tool by using your company or product name, such as www.lazyboychairs.com. If possible, don't use numbers, underline marks, meaningless words or abbreviations few people will understand. The best names create a meaningful idea or image, like www.leatherfurniture.com.

Make sure you register your domain name first. Many "good" names are already taken. Go to http://www.networksolutions.com/ to check out the name you want. There are many companies that can help you register and host your domain (Web site). Be sure to compare prices and what you get for your money -- it varies widely.

(2) Will your homepage (the first page visitors see) download quickly? Nothing frustrates most Internet users more than waiting for a page to download -- usually because it is top heavy with pictures. The latest research found that the average person will leave a site which doesn't download within EIGHT seconds. Keep the area each picture covers to a minimum, and be sure every picture is important TO THE VISITOR. One good technique is to create a series of small photos ("thumbnails") on the page, each of which the visitor can click to see a full screen version. Animated visuals can also take time to download. While they can be cute, you should remember that most visitors are coming "into your store" for information, not entertainment.

(3) Can visitors immediately see how to navigate your Web site? Many sites have dozens of pages. Your visitors want to get to the exact page they need quickly, which means within two or three clicks. If your navigation tools are unclear, too general, or non-existent, your visitors will be frustrated. It is critical that you give visitors a menu of options (remember your list of categories?) on the homepage. The best way to make the menu helpful is to select clear, specific terms for each category of information. Visitors would much rather look down a long list of options if it will get them where they want to go. One good "information" site to check out is www.golfweb.com. Golfers keep coming back because of all the information available, and the ease with which they can get to it.

If you have over thirty or forty different categories of information within several section titles, consider putting them in a drop-down menu which appears when a visitor selects a section name. That's an easy way to provide many choices without overwhelming the visitor visually with fifty or more specific topics.

A navigation menu on the left side of the page is fast becoming the design standard. It shows visitors all the navigation options you offer. It's a good idea to provide this basic navigation tool on every page. Never abandon your visitor to the "back" button alone. If you have a large Web site with many topics, consider providing a "search" option that will lead visitors right to the information they want.

I'd also recommend three standard links for any site: One allows the visitor to send you an e-mail, another shows the visitor answers to some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), and the last provides Help in navigating the site, filling out forms, definitions, accomplishing what they came to do, and providing helpful ideas for any possible confusing situation.

(4) Does the design of your Web site reflect its goals? The primary actions you want visitors to take should be "front and center." Do you want them to ask for a catalog, request a salesperson to call, order a product, fill in a questionnaire, sign up for a newsletter, etc.? Tell them what you want them to do, encourage them to do it by promising some kind of reward, and then make it easy to do. You should always design your site to facilitate some action which will bring them closer to you, not simply provide information.

(5) Is the overall layout of the homepage and other pages clean, organized and professional? Most of your visitors will only know you from your Web site. What kind of impression will it make on them? You can dress your site to look businesslike, casual, goofball, etc. Like your clothing, the way you "dress" your site will create a strong first impression of your company and its products. Your site doesn't need to look Spartan or blah, but it shouldn't look disorganized, sloppy or amateurish. For example, compare the golf site above with another one at http://www.zebra.net/~ejwright/.

(6) Are the pages so wide that visitors have to scroll sideways? People don't like to scroll anyway, but they especially dislike scrolling sideways because they don't keep all of the information in the same paragraph on screen. It is also wise not to force visitors to scroll down too far, say over two screens, especially if the navigation buttons and menus are at the top.

(7) Can visitors immediately tell who you are and what you offer? Having your name, brand, slogan, and type of product(s) at the top of the homepage gives you an opportunity for another branding impression, just like your store's name above the door. It is a good idea on your homepage to list the various ways people can get in touch with you (address, phone, fax, e-mail, etc.) All some people want to know is where to send their order or who to call for a catalog. Make it easy for people to tell you what they want.

(8) Are you making it hard for visitors to print out information from your Web site? The worst offender are Web pages that use white or light lettering on a dark background -- the printed pages are almost solid ink.

If the page has graphics, navigation aids, or other material not useful to your visitor on a printed page, consider creating a link to a full text page formatted for a printer -- it's just another little "touch" to show visitors that you want to provide the best service for them. Make sure all of your company information is on the printed page for easy reference.

Next time we'll look at ways the content of your Web site can boost or blast your marketing effort. Here's one last idea: Before deciding on your Web page design, spend an evening on the Internet looking at a hundred or more sites for all kinds of products, including those of your competitors. Write down all the things you really like as a visitor, and all those things that drive you batty. Use that list to help you design your "visitor friendly" Web site.

Be sure to look at these other helpful articles about Internet Marketing:

(c) Gary Witt, 1999

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