When customers visit your website, they want information and they want it now. If they can't find what they're looking for, they can get frustrated pretty quickly and leave, or worse--they could wind up looking to one of your competitors for what they need.
It's important to keep the user experience in mind when it comes to your site. This means you need to find a balance between your need to promote your business and your customers' need to get the information they want.
So just what are customers looking for when them come to your site? Let's get right to it. Here--in no particular order--are the top 10 things customers are trying to find on your site:
1. Contact information, such as phone numbers, e-mail addresses and physical location
2. Product information, which means in-depth information on the products or services you provide, including prices
3. Samples of your products or previous work
4. Support, including product information, troubleshooting help, FAQs, etc.
5. The ability to shop, so customers can purchase products online or at least find a physical location where your products are being sold
6. Company information, such as background information on the business and the management team
7. News and announcements, including press releases and updated product or service enhancements
8. Employment opportunities
9. An easy way to get back to your home page. The home page is where all paths begin in the customer's mind, and they want to be able to get back to your home page easily.
10. Simple navigation that makes all these other items easy to find
Appearances Do Matter
Probably the most important item on this list is the last one... simple navigation. Even if your website effectively covers the other nine, this one item is the key because if the navigation on your site is difficult to understand or follow, your website visitors may never find all that wonderful information you so carefully put together.
Your first step is to find out if your site is as easy to navigate as you think it is. Ask friends who are unfamiliar with your site to find a particular piece of information on it, then listen carefully to their experience. You may just be surprised.
Once you know what you're dealing with, your goal is to make sure your navigation is as straightforward as possible. This can be achieved by creating a simple, streamlined, page layout design. Large amounts of disparate information can make a web page difficult to understand, so your page layout should be well structured and easy to scan for information.
Drop-down menus are pretty and tempting, but if you need them, your site may be too complex. Use them with care, and make sure they can be used in all browsers. Microsoft Internet Explorer isn't the only browser on the market--many users are switching back to Netscape or using Mozilla's Firefox to avoid Explorer's inherent security woes.
Keep your top-level navigation broad, and let visitors "drill down" to the next level. But keep the number of levels to a minimum. Visitors shouldn't have to click more that three times to get their information, though two clicks is better and one is fantastic.
If you provide a search function, make sure your search results are relevant and that they provide enough information for a visitor to determine where to go next.
If your site encompasses the ten elements I've noted above, you'll be well on your way to having an effective website that serves the needs of your business and your customers. But if traffic on your site isn't what you think it could be, take the time to carefully evaluate your site against these ten items and make sure each provides the maximum impact for your visitors and return customers.
Matthew Krabbenhoft is president and creative director of Austin, Texas-based Fat Hat Design Inc., a full-service design firm with an emphasis on web design, identity design, branding and print collateral. Copyright 2005 Fat Hat Design Inc.