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BUSINESS for BUSINESS Internet Marketing | Book & Articles | Articles | Breaking down Barriers to Website Enquiries

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Breaking down Barriers to Website Enquiries

By Nigel T Packer

Your company’s website is the window through which the world looks at your business.  It is your company’s advertisement, brochure, receptionist and representative.  Most buyers no longer bother to save printed literature, instead making an assumption that they will be able to find the same information – and more – on your website.

Customers use the internet in a demand-driven way, displaying searching and foraging behaviour with little patience or tolerance for a poor experience. Most users indicate that they would look at a company’s website long before making contact or requesting a quote.  In a Business to Business (B2B) world, whether international or not, the internet may not necessarily be the place that purchases are made, but it is certainly where the research is carried out before decisions are reached.  Most user activity on a B2B website is about research, complex or multi-priority decision making, and establishing shortlists for purchase or contracts.

On average B2B websites have a 14% lower ‘success’1 rate than mainstream websites or those that operate in a Business to Consumer (B2C) environment.  Research carried out into the needs of users of B2B websites shows that prices are priority information with product availability in second place.

As well as failing to answer users’ questions, they often inadvertently include or create barriers for prospective customers as they carry out research or shortlist suppliers.   These are often in the form of elements that people simply hate and could be avoided.

We have asked thousands of people the question, “What do you hate about websites?” Over the years little has changed.  The same answers are given again and again.  Currently the top answers are:

  • Welcome pages, animated or flash introductions

  • Contact details or telephone number missing or difficult to find

  • Information: can’t find answers to questions

  • Difficult to navigate, confusing or illogical structure

  • Slow to load or use

  • Info or prices can only be accessed after registration, login or enquiry form

  • Adverts and Pop-ups

Always near the top of the list are welcome pages, or website with flash introductions (that’s websites built using the software ‘Macromedia Flash’ not ‘flashy’ websites - although people hate those as well).  If you have, or are considering, a Flash (or flashy) introduction or welcome page for your website, ask yourself if you would make all your customers stand outside your shop or office and watch the corporate video before they come in?  I wonder what percentage would still be standing outside waiting when the video had finished.

Difficulties in finding information are always near the top of the list. Whether it is simply a missing or hard-to-find telephone number, or that the information the user needs urgently is locked away behind a ‘login or register’ facility.

This can have a number of causes, but most commonly it is either due to:

  • The fact that the information sought simply isn’t there,

  • That it is buried in a vast plethora of irrelevant detail

  • That the information is so poorly or illogically structured (from the point of view of the user) that it is just too difficult to find.

  • That the language or terminology used is either difficult to understand, long-winded, full of jargon or marketing-waffle.

If you work in a (B2B) environment, you might consider it reasonable to assume that your customers will understand the same terminology as you.  Beware of this assumption, even if your products or services have become the ‘Hoover’ of the translation industry, brand names, proprietary or bespoke products and new developments all carry with them the ability to confuse even the most knowledgeable of customers.  And what about all the new ones, or the potential customers outside your target sector who might have an alternative use for your products.  If you were face-to-face then you would be able to judge the customer’s reaction and respond accordingly with explanations.  Online however, you have no such luxury, if the customer is confused only the most determined are likely to contact you with questions; most will simply click the back button and leave.

People still complain about websites that are slow to load or use, perhaps web designers with their top-spec computers and high speed broadband haven’t yet realised that while broadband is now widespread, only 50% of UK internet users (at the time of writing) currently have the luxury of high speed access.  While this is a higher percentage in a business environment, there are still constant problems with bandwidth and wireless (and few users seem to actually be accessing the level that tempted or persuaded them to sign up).

Here in my office in Wales I can hear the distant chorus of voices saying: “Ah, but it is different for us as each contract or job is unique, it is not therefore possible to publish prices … or we can’t publish our prices because if we do our competitors will know what we charge.”

The answer to the latter part is another question: “Do you know what your competitors are charging? If so don’t you think that they know what you are?”  The answer to the former is that most service industries have trouble with this, one of the easiest (low-tech) ways to deal with this is to publish (anonymous) case studies and common scenarios ensuring that you communicate that these are examples and that each price is calculated individually for the customer.  While this will never give your users definitive answers and they will still have to contact you for prices, it does give them ball-park figures so that they have an idea of what kind of money is involved, meaning that they are more likely to make contact.

Remember, you can measure sales or the number of enquiries that you convert into sales, but it is not possible to measure the enquiries that you don’t get, the potential customers who simply leave due to these or other communication issues.

Much money is now spent on online advertising and SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) has become both the latest buzzword and the source of much disappointment and derision.  While SEO is essential to the success of your website in terms of getting results in search engine listings, there is no point in driving users to your website if they cannot use or understand it, easily and effectively, when they get there.

So, focus on your customers, think about what their needs and expectations are, make sure you answer their questions and provide them in a language (both international and industry-specific) that is appropriate to them. Above all, ensure your site is easy to use and does not present barriers to your users searching - and hopefully buying - behaviour.

notes

1 ‘Success’ at completing tasks such as finding specific information or carrying out functions

2 Statistics and research from NNG (Neilson Norman Group) at http://www.useit.com

3 Results from independent survey carried out in the UK (across a range of sectors) during August and ATC members’ websites during September 08

4 A recent survey and campaign by channel 5’s ‘The gadget show’ indicates that many broadband users are only getting 25% or less of the bandwidth they expected to receive.

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