Beyond the buzz

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The customer is always right after all

In an ideal world, building a web site requires a different process than developing any other piece of marketing material.

The simple fact is that a web site, by definition, offers a non-linear experience – in stark contrast to every other medium available. With a web site, the expectation from the audience is that they reserve the right to consume the product in any way and in any order they please. As the creator, you can try to lead them down a specific path, but if you don’t allow your audience to explore in alternate ways, you run a serious risk that your visitors will simply walk away. Dictators do not survive long online, if they do at all.

A hypothetical example: the creator of ABC.com organizes their product offerings within 8 different categories, each of which are in turn sub-divided into 3 to 4 different sub-categories; for certain products, they may even sub-categorize within those sub-categories.

It’s entirely reasonable that the creator of ABC.com would want to present their product offerings within a guided tour structure so that customers can see the breadth and depth of their entire catalog. This model of presenting the information supports a site visitor who isn’t familiar with ABC’s products and would appreciate a guided tour.

On the other hand, once this site visitor becomes familiar with ABC’s products, he would, just as reasonably, expect to be able to locate the products he’s interested in very quickly. An alternate scenario might be that on his last visit, he was particularly intrigued by a specific product, but he had forgotten to bookmark that page (thank goodness the creator of ABC.com did not build the entire site in flash because if he had, this visitor would not even be able to bookmark that item, even if he had tried to). Now, he’s back on ABC.com to locate that specific product…except that he can’t find it easily because the only way the site allows him to access its information is by clicking through one category link and sub-category link after another, and he can’t for love of God or his pet, remember which main category and sub-category or even sub-sub-category that product was put under.

Now, what do you think this visitor is likely going through right now? If you guessed Dante’s first circle of hell, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. In fact, I’d wager he gives up and never returns.

If our visitor is lucky, ABC.com’s creator remembered to put in a search function; and if our visitor is really lucky, the site creator built the search function to allow for variant terms and incorrect spellings. Now, I have a real-life example of this: once upon a time, I had a client whose site was powered by a serious search engine platform (both of which shall remain nameless). Do a search using “cleaning solution” and you’ll find the product “TSP Solution” which is used to clean walls; do a search using “tsp” or “TSP” and you’ll get…nothing.

So, the moral of this story is that the web, more than any other marketing medium, demands that those who create products for it, always always remember the consumer. Ignore the consumer at your own peril.

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Filed under: Usability

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