Dec 9, 2009 by Aaron Rubman
Websites are tools, and the tools that endure are the tools that serve a purpose. Shovels are good at making holes, cars are good at moving people from one place to another. If you want people to use your website, it must serve a purpose. However, it is not sufficient for the site to serve a purpose for you, it must serve a purpose for whomever you want to use it.
What Purpose Should Your Website Serve?
And Whom Does it Serve?
There are any number of purposes a website might serve, but let’s take a look at some of the more common ones:
I want to use my website to market my business.
Let’s face it, we all want better exposure, but if you approach your designer only thinking about how you want to present yourself, then you’re only actually serving one person, you. If you are the only person using your site, it’s probably not doing much to help your marketing.
Think about what you can do for the people who you want to visit your site. What can you do for them?
Here are some purposes that are more audience driven:
- Inform people about the merits of my industry.
- Help people find the best contractor for their job.
- Tell people what problems I can solve.
- Foster discussions about topics relevant to my business.
Remember, it’s okay to admit that you don’t do everything. If you are interested in marketing, it is better to draw more eyes to your site, build some client qualification into your pages, and gently direct those who don’t need your services elsewhere than it is to build a dead end site that only helps people who already know you.
I want to use my website to gather information on my customer base.
When designing your website to serve in an information gathering capacity, you are designing it to be a tool for your own use. If the information you receive is useful in marketing, customer service, or planning for future site expansions, then this purpose is being satisfied.
MB/I uses Google Analytics to track traffic because it is affordable, comprehensive, and widely supported. Through Google’s tracking system, you can learn which of your pages are most popular, what pages eventually lead to online sales, where your visitors are coming from, which online searches draw people to your website, who is referring traffic to you, and what technologies your visitors use. And this information is tracked over time, so you can even observe changing trends in your customer base, and see how it responds to specific campaigns.
I want to use my website to sell products.
Selling products online is what e-commerce is all about. However, Amazon did not get to where it is today just by selling products. It also helps visitors to find products they want to buy, gives them incentives to buy more, and helps them track products they cannot currently afford.
If you think about the action from the point of view of helping someone to buy rather than helping yourself to sell, you can break the act of shopping down into several distinct tasks. A good website design will help visitors with several of these tasks, and not just the purchase itself.
So, for the sake of argument, let’s say that you sell bicycles. What tasks go into the act of buying a bicycle online?
- You decide to buy a bicycle.
- You decide what type of bicycle is best for your needs (mountain bike, racing bike, &c.).
- You decide what makes and models you would accept (which may entail asking an expert).
- You decide where to buy your bicycle.
- You visit the store website (if you haven’t already)
- You confirm your chosen store has the bicycle you want.
- You confirm that the frame size is correct for your physical dimensions.
- You find the bicycle you want.
- You buy the bicycle.
- You decide which secondary parts you need to maintain and secure the bike.
- You buy the secondary parts.
- You leave the site (and go to your next destination).
- You wait for the bicycle to arrive (or arrange to pick it up).
- You construct the bicycle.
- You confirm that the bicycle works.
An effective bike selling site doesn’t just allow visitors to buy bikes, it also helps people determine which model of bike they want, suggests relevant secondary purchases, provides sizing and assembly information, and suggests other online destinations of relevance to bikers.
Here at Marissa Berger Interactive
It is because each purpose appeals to a different audience and is developed in a different way that the folks here at Marissa Berger Interactive with me make it a point to discuss the many purposes of your project at the beginning of the design process. By considering your goals and the goals of your visitors we are able to make a useful site that integrates those technologies that will improve the experience of everyone who will use your site.