Welcome to the third of a 4-part series that will focus on the dimensions of a successful website. Today I’ll be addressing the topic of organization. I’ve had tremendous positive response to this series already receiving dozens of emails, comments and inbound links from all over the Internet so clearly I’m hitting on a valuable topic that many business owners understand the importance of leveraging the Internet as an important ingredient in gaining and maintaining a competitive advantage in what many would refer to as the new economy, one that is significantly more volatile than historically.
Before I get into the topic I’d like to re-iterate what I consider to be a successful website.
For those of you who have read parts 1 and 2, please feel free to skip this.
To me, a successful site is one that accomplishes all of the following goals consistently on an ongoing basis.
- Revenue generated by the website (directly or indirectly) exceeds the expenses of operating the website.
- Positive cashflow (revenue minus expense) is growing year over year at least 15% (please note: this doesn’t sound like a lot but due to the power of compounding, your profits will triple over 9 years at this rate)
- Your customer base is consistently growing and you have a way to communicate with and solicit repeat business
* Please note: I do realize that not all websites are in existence to earn additional revenues and some websites may be created solely for the purpose of reducing expenses (e.g. online technical support, online help, etc.). The criteria of this type of website is essentially the same, however, its goals are reached by reducing expenses as opposed to increasing revenues.
Once any of these goals are no longer being successfully accomplished, it’s time for a refresh; your website has either aged too much and is no longer current or competitive with other companies in your industry. Remember, just because your site is doing fantastic for you today, it can all change overnight when one of your competitors takes charge of their Internet presence and revamps it entirely!
Before getting into discussing the importance of design, I’ll re-iterate the four main dimensions that I intend to address during my four-part series:
Graphical elements that make up the design of the website, reflecting the image of your business to your leads and clients.
Determines how information is organized so that leads and clients can find what they’re looking for quickly and efficiently.
Enables your leads and clients to perform a task on your Internet presence (e.g. send an email, request a quotation or callback, etc.)
So what’s website organization? It’s the process of determining how content will be organized within a website to meet one or more goal(s).
I’ve chosen to talk about the organization of a website next within this series because at this point if you’ve completed steps 1 and 2, you will have determined all of the content that you would like to be included within your website and the presentation that you will use to sell your products or services to your target audience(s). Now it’s time to organize the content in order to best accomplish the goals that you’ve set out to complete.
Start by writing down your three main goals. You can look at more goals later, but, for the purpose of this exercise, limit yourself to three. Every time you make a decision, you must qualify it against the three main goals that you’ve outlined. If your decision doesn’t fulfill one of your three main goals, then it’s simple, like when you were in school, erase and try again. It’s vital that you make the best decisions for your business at this point. If you start off with an unclear or disorganized plan that only partially accomplish your three main goals, you won’t get the results that you desire.
Most books and articles will tell you to create an inventory of assets and then create hierarchies and taxonomies, then delve into a number of technical descriptions of how critical it is and well… you’re lost… don’t worry… I won’t ask you do to that. I do things differently because even though I understand the benefits of that approach, it’s an unnecessary complication for the majority of projects. If you’re reading other articles you simply don’t understand and you’re concerned about “missing out” on something… just relax. There are many ways to skin a cat and my approach will be easier (that poor cat… he’s lucky he has seven lives).
Stop, breathe and relax… Now, visualize yourself on another planet (I used to ask people to visualize being in another city but it was not strong enough to convince people to think outside the box, our imaginations are far too repressed as children). You’ve arrived and no longer own your business. You go out looking for the very products and services that you used to sell and land on the website of Martian on Mars Inc. What questions would you have first? What would help you to decide on whom to do business with? Quickly… identify the first 5 things that pop into your head… NOW! You’re probably pretty darned close to having already decided the main menu areas. You may need to add or remove one or two, but beyond that would only make the organization of the site more difficult to find what you’re looking for.
Next step is to create a website structure chart based upon your brainstorming and the start drilling down from there. Here’s an example website structure diagram to give you an idea of what I expect you to be planning.
A couple of tips:
- If an area has too many links or feels too busy, then continue to simplify. It’s not perfect yet.
- Maintain consistency throughout your site, if you have a number of products and services that compliment each other, ensure it’s easy to navigate between them
- Ensure that you plan to leverage standards throughout your site that users expect to be present in order to help them navigate quickly and efficiently (e.g. header, menus, submenus (when necessary), breadcrumb trails, footer, etc.)
Know what’s true and know what isn’t:
- There’s a fallacy that exists that claims that a website visitor should get to the information they desire within two clicks or less. While this goal can be accomplished in some instances, it shouldn’t actually be the primary goal. Using this approach as a rule of thumb in many cases would clutter a website with so many menu items that visitors will be unable to quickly decide which link to click. We’ve got government beaurocracy in place to ensure that there’s enough indecision for everyone, we don’t need that to spill into our websites as well. The amount of time it takes a website visitor to find the information they are seeking is infinitely more important than the number of clicks.
Most company sites that sell products or services can be broken down as follows. In fact, I’ve studied so many statistics that I can even predict the percentage of traffic that each section of the site will receive after visitors arrive at the homepage based upon the thousands of websites traffic that I’ve assessed to date. I’ve included the statistics for both your amusement and education:
- About Us
- Products (or) Services
- Product 1
- Product 2
- Product 3
- Contact Us
What does this tell you? Website visitors want answers quickly. Most visitors (65%+) will first review your portfolio of previous work (service-based businesses) or products (product-based businesses). Once a visitor has confirmed interest in your products or services they’ll typically view testimonials (50%+) or learn more about your company (25%+) next. These are going to be your most vital pages to focus on the quality first. You see? Potential customers go right for the information they require and then they drop off once they’ve received it very quickly if they are not interested. You have 15 seconds to make a first impression or you’ve lost the chance to gain a customer, likely forever. Your content and design play a tremendous role in impacting this, however, so does the organization of your site. If you ignore any one of the elements of a successful website, including organization; you’ve added unnecessary risk and increased the possibility of losing a sale to your competitors. How to make this clear… do not make it difficult for your visitors to find the information that they’re seeking, they’ll go to another site (one of your competitors) where they can find the information quicker and… we both know what’ll happen. I know, I know… you don’t want to hear it… fine, then see it!
So what? Your competitor is up by one, right? Wrong way of thinking… if this happens over and over again you could find yourself with a competitive disadvantage that is so significant that there’s just no way for you to compete. It’s all about momentum and the more success that you have, the better odds will be that your cashflow is stronger, which in turn will enable you to invest into continuing to widen the gap between you and your competitors, ensuring that you remain on the leading side of that scoreboard you saw earlier. Even if you are already a leader in your industry, resting on your laurels and accepting the status quo is the wrong approach or you could find yourself in a similar conundrum that Research In Motion (creators of BlackBerry) are currently in; once upon a time they were virtually the monopoly of the smartphone industry but present reality dictates that this was in fact a fairy tale as they’ve been toppled by their competitors and now find themselves in a very challenging and disadvantageous position.
Sound like an over-exaggeration? It’s not! It always amazes me how often key stakeholders in companies undermine how critical the effectiveness of their website presence truly is. It’s ironic that they wouldn’t keep underperforming sales staff on their payroll, well then why do they turn a blind eye to an underperforming website? The reality is that many of the larger companies have websites with significant investments in content and design, leveraged by their significant investments from more traditional marketing methods; but yet, fall significantly short on their navigational planning. It simply feels like it was assembled during an executive retreat weekend that included the consumption of more bottles of alcohol than minutes spent determining the navigational structure of their most powerful salesperson, their Internet presence!
I honestly hope that I’ve opened your eyes to how vital it is to ensure that your website is organized as efficiently as possible to ensure that your website visitors can find the information that they are seeking as fast as possible. Simply put, if a visitor can’t find that information within the first 15 seconds or less, they’ll be closing your site and buying from your competitors and that’s a fact.
CEO, N-VisionIT Interactive