By Adam Smith, managing director of Rawnet
Consumer opinions about web sites in general demonstrate a real gap between creative and technical capabilities of most web design projects.
The simple truth is that the two aspects should not live in separate silos – there is absolutely no reason why a really creative web site shouldn’t be easy to use and produce real business benefits for clients.
Researching brands online is now a part of daily life. According to the Online Conversion Report, which Rawnet commissioned earlier this year polling 1962 consumers, 86 per cent of British consumers have now researched a company online before choosing whether or not to deal with them.
Additionally more than one in five (22 per cent) of British consumers claim to always research a company online before choosing whether or not to use them.
Even silver surfers are becoming increasingly web savvy, researching companies online before deciding whether or not to use them – 20 per cent of those surveyed aged over 45 claims to always do so. As a result of this increased scrutiny it is hardly surprising that websites are increasingly under the spotlight.
What is disappointing, however, is how frequently they are failing to deliver the information that consumers are demanding.
Failure to deliver
Brands are still falling way short of giving consumers what they are looking for when visiting their web sites, as the majority – 49 per cent claim only to occasionally be presented with exactly the information they were searching for.
This not only harms brand relationships but also has a immensely negative impact on potential business. Brands are spending millions of pounds on search engine marketing each year in trying to lure consumers to their websites yet are falling at the next hurdle of converting their visits into valuable relationships.
Online advertising spending leapt over the £3 billion level for the first time in the UK last year, according to the Advertising Association; with online advertising accounting for 16 per cent of all UK ad spend.
Earlier this year Group M estimated that search spend accounted for 63 per cent of all internet ad revenue in 2007 and will take a 65 per cent share this year.
Brands are essentially wasting this money by failing to convert visitors into potential business as only two per cent of consumers claim to always end up dealing with the company whose link they clicked first when searching on Google.
If you found that only two per cent of people visiting your high street shop bothered to walk to the fifth floor to find the checkout and pay for goods, you’d move the tills downstairs to make the experience as convenient as possible – but when it comes to web design the penny doesn’t seem to have dropped.
There are some exceptions to the rule, the research found that supermarket websites and those in the travel sector produced the best websites ahead of other transactional sectors such as banking, electronic retail and property. The worst performing websites were those in the ticketing and charity sectors.
A demand for personalisation
It is no coincidence that supermarket websites and those in the travel industry have the most positive perception amongst consumers given that they are some of the most forward thinking when it comes to the personalisation of web content. The research found that supermarkets (24 per cent) and travel (20 per cent) websites were the best at understanding consumers’ individual needs.
As the research shows, conversion is increasingly becoming an issue for organisations. In tighter economic conditions getting a lead, sale or enquiry is far more important than simply boosting a web site’s traffic. Having captured the consumer’s interest a web site needs to follow through on its promise of providing that individual with as personalised an experience as possible.
The research found that brands could boost sales, leads or enquiries by 44 per cent if their web site already knew, or could intuitively learn what they were most interested in and personalise their experience. However even at the most basic level, companies are failing to promote more of their services or products to web site visitors as almost one in two (47 per cent) of consumers claim to rarely or never end up being interested in more of a company’s services than the one they originally intended when visiting their web site.
Personalising the experience as closely as possible for your web site visitor is the single most effective manner of converting more into potential customers. The technology exists and is readily available to allow companies to understand who their site visitors are, and learn more about them as they navigate around your site, to feed them with relevant case studies or additional products.
The problem is that in many cases, marketers don’t realise that the technology is here, and it is effective and can go a long way to helping them improve their ROI amid tougher economic conditions.
Challenging the brief
Part of the problem lies in the fact that in many cases both brands and digital agencies are shooting themselves in the foot by failing to challenge the creative brief on web design projects. As a result – far too often agencies end up designing the website for their client, not their client’s customers.
Brands need to create a less adversarial environment where it is acceptable for agencies to challenge brand perceptions of what the purpose of their website is. It may be a bitter pill to swallow but what the brand thinks is great design or a must have technical feature, isn’t necessary great for the end user or usability.
We often see requests from clients to ‘make the logo bigger’, or ‘large phone number on every page’, however, this may not have any real benefit and in some cases, actually take away from the usability and design of the site.. Of course brand managers are ultimately responsible for a website’s success.
However web design needs to be a mutually managed relationship between client and agency. While brands may have a better understanding of the audience they are trying to reach – the agency will have much more experience in usability and at the end of the day that is what they are being paid for.
Getting the simple things right
Usability is simple and is often the single easiest thing to fix. It’s about only having what is necessary to facilitate that individual’s journey through your site, cutting corners for them and making the steps to purchase or sign up as simple and quick as possible.
Beyond that it is important to always remind people why they came to your site. As the research shows, visitors can often forget or lose interest in what they came for by the time they are made to sign up, register or scroll through several other pages. In the case of signing up or registering details, this is important from a marketing perspective, but it is amazing how many sites don’t return a user to the page of what they were trying to buy once they have registered, and in that a sale is lost.
Investing in search engine optimisaton is fine but it needs to be matched by a focus on the site consumers are being directed to. Brands need to be measuring not only according to how many visitors they attract to a site through search, but by what kind of content they served that visitor and what impact it had on converting them into a customer and ensuring that they return.
Failure to take this on board will lead to a situation where consumers continue to be left disappointed and will eventually turn to brands who are willing and able to offer them a personalised experience online.
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