Put customers first -- except on your website

flickr.com user Ed Yourdon

Customer needs are important, but a business website -- just like any other -- should be based primarily on what you want and what you intend. Then you can think about the customer.

The web is a great place for interaction, but it also risks information overload when it comes to customer feedback. If you listen too closely to what a minority of vocal customers say they want, you're unlikely to create a site that drives your business in the direction you'd like. 

Here are some basic elements to keep in mind when you're building a site that serves your purpose. 

Focus on your strategic goal, not just what a web site "needs." Most business owners (and web designers) create an overall website structure by saying, "Okay ... We need a home page, some product pages, a few resource pages, maybe a blog, an About Us and Contact page ... " All of which may be true, but what do you want customers actually to do? Every page should drive some type of customer action.

The home page should drive subsequent actions. Check out products, learn more about services, sign up for promotions or newsletters, and so on. A home page that tries to do too many things accomplishes none of them. Pick one or two actions you want customers to take, and focus on building your home page so visitors are most likely to do what you intend.

Product pages should make customer purchases easy. Provide information, specs and more? Absolutely, but what you really want customers to do is buy. Your intention is to sell products, so build product pages that serve the sales process.

Resource pages should provide information and lead to a subsequent action. Think about what you want a customer to do after they read the information provided: go to a product page and check out other resources or services. A resource page should always provide a clear gateway to another action you want the customer to take.

"Standard" pages should provide the information you want customers to know -- and information that serves your ultimate purpose. About Us pages should provide details that help customers feel more comfortable making a purchase. Contact Us pages should not only make it easy for customers to reach you, but also in the way that best serves your business. (If most of your sales require conversations with customers, should an email form be the featured contact method on your Contact page?) No page is a throwaway page; every page, even the "standard" ones, should serve a purpose -- a purpose you determine

Don't react too quickly to customer feedback. The sentiments of a small slice of vocal customers wants may not be right for your website or your business. Listen when it clearly makes sense, but don't alter your site in response to every comment. Otherwise your business is a follower, not a leader.

Don't force the customer to dig for value. Many websites soft-sell. Restraint can be an admirable trait. No one likes a pushy salesperson, even a virtual one. But your website only has seconds to engage a new visitor. Sell the benefits of what you provide too softly, and new visitors will leave and never return. Make sure your call to action is clear. "Purchase," "Check Out Now," "View Our Demo," "Free Sample"... Whatever the action you intend, make sure that action is easy to find and take.

Great calls to action resonate with customers because they clearly describe the benefit to the customer. When a customer recognizes tangible benefits or problems that will be solved with real solutions, they're happy.

Customers won't feel they're being sold when you help make their lives better.

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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.