Web Design Research - August 2004

5 tips to make your website research friendly

Due to the wealth of information available in websites, the internet is a great place for people to research purchases before they buy. Consumers often want to explore their options by comparing various products and vendors before they make a decision.

This is where your website should have an "easy to follow" web design layout in place.

Additionally, there are many instances where people know they need to purchase a particular product, but they don't really know anything about it.
For example, I recently had to make a determination about which type of home insulation is best suited to the Sunshine Coast & the difference between Mooloolaba, Buderim or Brisbane. Coast vs. hinterland vs city.

Since I know nothing about insulation, I went online to research the question. This research process has to be done before I can ever hope to actually buy insulation. There is a difference between Mooloolaba & Mountain Creek - 10 kms away. There is also a difference between Brisbane and Sunshine Coast - 100 kilometres apart.

Since research is such an important part of the purchasing process for many people, you should work to make your site research-friendly. Here's how to do it:

1) Condition your thinking.

If you are marketing to an audience who already understands the various options for the products they want to buy, then you can approach them from that perspective. But an entirely different approach is necessary for someone who isn't already familiar with the product or service. Adjust your thought process accordingly.

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2) Define your terms.

Make sure visitors know the lingo. If you have to use terms that are not part of everyday language, define them.

For example, being in the web development industry, I still have people come to me and ask what "hosting" means. Although that term is basic to my vocabulary, there are still people who don't understand the concept.

3) Provide a good overview and explain the process.

Someone who is familiar with your industry will already have the "big picture" about how your products or services work. They may only be looking to compare minor details. But for someone who only has vague concept of your industry, you'll need to provide a basic overview.

For example, many clients that I've worked with have needed to sign up for a gateway for their site, but they don't have the faintest idea what a gateway is. A site that focuses on the differences between the "Simple Integration Method" and the "Advanced Integration Method" won't help--a visitor has to know what a gateway IS before he or she can choose between those two options.

So give a brief overview of what your product is and how it works. In many cases, particularly if you provide a service, it is helpful to explain the step-by-step process of how that service comes about.

For instance, in my field, many of my clients don't know how the process of building a website works--how does one get from no website to having a fully-functional internet presence? They need a breakdown of all the steps involved. This knowledge helps them plan and make better decisions.

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4) Provide the resources to help customers make decisions.

Someone who is researching their options needs help figuring out how to make a decision. Depending on your product or service, it's helpful to offer such things as:

- info about how to use the product

- a description of who should use the product (or which types of people should choose which model)

- a comparison chart showing the differences between models (in practical terms)

- any other information you can think of that would aid in decision-making

5) Make sure the details visitors need are easy to locate.

Work hard to ensure that your information is clearly organized. Try to ensure that visitors can find details, definitions, and explanations at a glance. After all, it doesn't help much to provide information if visitors can't find it.

Also, if you have lots content, make sure to have a good search tool on your site.

Making your site research-friendly will pay off in several ways. First, having good information-rich content will give you extra credibility in the minds of your visitors (not to mention that it will boost your search engine rankings). You'll also look knowledgeable and helpful. And if your company is the one who is able to help visitors make sense of the issues, they'll be much more likely to purchase from you than your competitor.

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