An Avoidable Disaster

by DanB

A recent project I was working on reminded me how few people
begin with the end in mind while building their website. In
this particular instance a Web “designer” was brought in to
redesign a Web site. The end result? Sales leads from the Web
site plummeted. I’m mean they went completely to zero. These
leads were worth about $500,000 in sales every month. The
sudden drop is what prompted the company to call me.

The company called me in to evaluate the situation. I asked
them one question. Armed with the answer to that question I
analyzed the sites statistics before and after the
reorganization. The answers were painfully obvious.

Not only did the redesign kill sales but the “designer” renamed
every page on the site breaking many links for visitors coming
from search engines. All the visitor saw was “404 Page Not
Found”. Not a great first impression. The sites internal search
engine produced the same result. Seems the designer didn’t know
how to update internal search engine after he was done. Worse
he didn’t want to admit that he didn’t know.

It gets worse! The “designer” was completely at a loss as to
why sales had stopped. He charged them his hefty fee and had no
solutions to offer the company who’s primary sales source was
now dried up.

He was very resistant to my suggestions on how to rectify the
situation. After all he designed it and it worked – for him.
Too bad the paying customers couldn’t make heads or tails of
things. The company is no longer in business.

Was this result avoidable? Absolutely. Is there a lesson in
this for all of us? Absolutely.

A good thing for you to do now is ask yourself the same
question. What is the question? Glad you asked. When I tell you
it will sound so simple that you might put it off. Don’t make
that mistake. Here it is:

“How do you know when you’ve had a successful visitor to your
web site?”

There you go. I told you it was simple.

In other words what result or outcome do you want from your
visitors? Do you want to sell them something? Gain a subscriber
to your newsletter? Solve an existing customers problem?
Persuade someone to your point of view? What do you want? Until
you can answer that question how can you efficiently design
your web site?

Let’s look at a few examples.

Say your outcome is to gain a new subscriber for your
newsletter. Anything that detracts from this outcome should be
avoided. Before you put a nifty graphic on the page advertising
some product ask yourself – “Will this graphic help my visitor
decide to subscribe to my newsletter?” If the answer is no -
don’t put it on the page!

If your outcome is to make a sale don’t waste time making fancy
buttons, graphics, and menus. Unless your audience expects it.

One reader of this newsletter runs a site that sells Wedding
and Baby gifts. In her case the design carries a lot of weight.
It sets the mood. Now I don’t mean you should have an ugly web
site. Far from it. Just don’t let the design detract from your

Is your outcome to give out information? Design your pages
around that information and concentrate on making the
information easy to find.

View every page and every page element on your web site in
light of your outcome.

Your web site may have several outcomes. Can you still be
effective? Yes. But it isn’t easy. Start by thinking of your
site in terms of little “pockets”. Each pocket has it’s own
outcome. You might have a sales pocket, a “contact me” pocket,
a “sign up to my newsletter” pocket, etc. The outcome for your
main page now becomes “quickly help my visitors find the pocket
they need.”

What if you are using an outside designer? Make sure they know
and understand what your ultimate outcome is. If the designs
they bring you do not show a *very* clear understanding of your
outcome drop them immediately and find someone who can. You
don’t have the time or money to spend on someone who doesn’t
understand how to work toward your objectives.

We’ve talked about two concepts here – outcomes and “pockets of
functionality”. You’ve also seen how they relate to each other.
Spend some time on your outcomes. Define them fully. Not just
“make a sale”. Get specific – what do you want to sell and how
will you know when you have reached your outcome.

It’s easy to say “I’ll know I’m selling when I see the sales
come in!” But if you don’t get more specific than that, how
will you know when you reach your outcome? Perhaps it is
“selling my product at full price to Doctors.” Maybe your
outcome is “my customers come in on Tuesdays with my latest
offer printed out.” Being specific gives you a sharp focus.
That sharp focus lowers your stress and saves you time.

Now you have it. A core step to building a web site that meets
your outcomes. Notice that I said simple – not easy! Building
to your outcome is essential and will help you later when you
are deciding what to implement.

So discover your ultimate outcome for your Web site. See what
your visitor does that makes it successful. Hear what they tell
you that makes them glad they stopped by. Feel the burdens
lifted as you solve their problems. Make that outcome real to
you and the people who help you. Then make everything on your
site contribute to that outcome. And I do mean everything. Then
your outcome will become real for your visitors.

Dan Butler
Originally published in the DButler Update 19 May 2002

Copyright 2002 – Dan Butler. All Rights Reserved.

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