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PROBLEM: "I Don't Know How to Plan My Website"


Everyone wants to be on the Internet. Its our modern version of the Genie in the bottle -- rub the web and it will grant your wish for fame and riches. The following information is not about getting rich on the web, but how to begin planning and creating your web site so that your message will have the best chance of persuading your visitors to buy from you. These articles are for companies which already have a site and want to make it more effective, and those who are just considering going online.

A while back, Steve told me that his business was going online. "It's a really cool site," he said. "It has tons of pictures, flashing buttons, animation, even sound. It's like a carnival." Steve's carnival lasted about eight months before it was taken down. Why? Because it didn't do its job -- it didn't help Steve move his products. Now Steve tells people that using the Internet for business is a big waste of time. The way Steve did it, it is.

There are tens of thousands of Steves out there who have tried and failed to market over the Internet. The ones I've talked to have made a lot of specific mistakes, but most can be summed up in one sentence: They didn't understand the medium. They thought it was television, or a magazine or a brochure. That kind of thinking always happens when a powerful new medium arrives on the scene. In the ‘50s, advertisers tried to make television fit into their radio way of thinking -- that TV was just radio with pictures. It didn't work. You must understand the Internet is not just television with a keyboard. That's the most critical lesson about Internet marketing you can learn. Your visitors don't think of themselves as part of an audience, but as an individual customer who has arrived at your front door seeking information. And that is how they want to be treated.

The Internet will take its place with the book, the telephone, the radio, and the television as one of the great communication inventions which change the way we live, work, think and behave. We cannot see its impact from here, just as no one could recognize the profound impact of television in 1948, or the desktop computer in 1972 (when I saw one demonstrated and thought, "What a lot of work just to multiply a few numbers.")

The second lesson is this: We're all just feeling our way in figuring out how to best market over the Internet. Ideas that were once accepted as gospel -- like "We can sell all our information online" -- were dust just a couple of years later.

The changes in the Internet are breathtaking in their speed. What was impossible last month is possible today, and will be supplanted next month by something better. Real time video, make your own movies and Web site robot hosts are arriving. Can voice controlled navigation and even virtual reality sites be far behind? As Bette Davis said, "Fasten you seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride."

The successful company will never lose sight of this fundamental fact: Whether the customer encounters your message by television, radio, print or the web, buying still first takes place in the mind. The fundamental rules of recognizing and satisfying the motivations of your customers still apply.

So, how do you begin to create or analyze your Web site to maximize its marketing power? Step One is to determine why you want a Web site. Do you want to provide information, enhance customer service, offer premiums, sell products, prospect for customers, build name ID and image, etc.? While a number of companies are making money by direct selling, most find that their Web site is best for generating inquiries. You should be realistic. Your Web site probably won't make you rich.

 Step Two: Determine just who you want to (and can) reach online. You'll probably have several categories here, since the Internet is now attracting a wide range of people.

Don't forget to consider visitors from other countries. One important mindset you should adopt is that of thinking globally. About half of all Internet users are in the U.S., and many of those outside the U.S. easily read the English language, which is becoming the accepted primary language of the Internet. Can people in London or Perth or Tokyo use your product? They can sit in their offices thousands of miles away and, with a few clicks, look at what you have to offer, ask you some questions, and place their orders. Ten years ago not even Carlo Rossi could sell wine that easily, and now every mom-and-pop vineyard along the Fingerlakes of New York are shipping wine to moms and pops from Singapore to Sienna.

Imagine that your store has ten thousand doors, and just on the other side of those doors are offices and spare bedrooms in Phoenix, Dallas, Kansas, Florida, England, Japan, and every little town and big city in between. That's how close your customers are now.

Step Three: Write down all the reasons these visitors might want (or need or desire) your product, all the fears they may have associated with buying it ("won't work, poor value, breaks easily," etc.), and all the fears they may have associated with NOT buying it ("insurance costs too much, stain remains on the driveway, house remains unprotected," etc.) Remember, people don't want your product; they want to satisfy some motivation. Your product is just the means to that end. For more help in doing this analysis, look at "Meeting Customer Needs Is Not Enough."

Step Four: Write down all the features of your product, your product category, your offer, your guarantee, your service, etc. which will satisfy their motivations. For more help in doing this analysis and uncovering the hidden motivators in your product or service, look at "What Are You REALLY Selling?"

Only after you have this put together all this information are you ready to begin thinking about your Web site. Why? Because until you know who your targeted visitors will be, why they are looking around your storefront, and what they're looking for, you can't create a place that will be the most appealing to them.

But you still aren't ready to start designing your sight just yet. You must also take into account an entirely different set of motivations your visitors have about using the Internet. Here are a few things to remember about the minds of your Internet visitors:

  (A) They don't think of themselves as "an audience." Television viewers recognize that millions of others are watching the same program, but Internet viewers don't have that mindset. They have the mindset of a caller who has rung up the store, or dropped in to look at a product. They see themselves as individuals, and want to be treated that way.

  (B) They are looking for something. Most site visitors won't just be "browsing." They have come to find more information about something specific, whether it is a new laptop or the latest research on strokes. They want specific information, and they want it fast.

  (C) They have a lot of sites to choose from. Always remember that you are only a click away from oblivion. If they don't like what they find or how it is offered, they can be in the next merchant's store in a few seconds.

  (D) They are jealous of their time. They don't want to wait. The relatively small bandwidth now carrying Internet messages creates slow downloads, especially if there are large graphic (picture) files. While the full frame color shot of your store and smiling staff is taking twenty seconds to appear on their monitor, they are getting more impatient. By the time they see your store ("I wasted 20 seconds for this?!"), they are not smiling, and they don't care much for your site. No one likes waiting in line, even on the Internet.

  (E) They are not expert navigators. Imagine looking for a book in a library as big as Bank One ballpark, but with no librarians. That's what it is like for many people who try to find information online. It is easy for them to get frustrated and angry when your site doesn't take them by the hand and lead them to the right place.

  (F) They may like to look at visually exciting sites, but that isn't what makes most of them come back. People bookmark a site because it provides what they want, and makes it easy to get.

  (G) They are jealous of their privacy. Imagine a customer comes into your retail store. Does your clerk approach them with a clipboard and ask for their name, address, and favorite color? Of course not. That would be rude. Online visitors will reluctantly give you some information about themselves (much of it true), but only if there is something in it for them -- a gift, a prize in a drawing, a discount, etc. Treat them with consideration and courtesy, just like they were in your store.

  (H) They are worried about giving out their credit card number. This is slowly changing, but it is still overwhelmingly the biggest barrier to E-commerce today. They want to know that you have a secure payment system to protect them, and an alternate way to buy if they're still nervous.

Step Five: Your visitors want you to satisfy these motivations when they visit your site. Based on the above ideas, write down all the Internet-related needs, wants, fears and desires which YOUR visitors will have when visiting your Web site. Put yourself in their place -- a new visitor to a strange place who needs help and doesn't have anyone to ask.

Step Six: For each of these motivations, write down a feature which your Web site design should have in order to satisfy that motivation. For example, "Need for credit card security requires an encryption program."

Planning a good Web site takes time. It isn't just a matter of showing some hot animation. The pages of information which you write down as you go through this six step analysis will form the foundation for a Web site which is built for success.


Now let's 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 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.

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.

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.


(c) Gary Witt, 1999

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