Research Can Make or Break Your E-Business

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In the ever-changing Internet world, too often being "first to market" overrides the need to do the comprehensive product testing and research that is typical for most successful consumer ventures. Businesses are rushing to design and implement Web sites without paying close attention to what the target audience actually wants from the sites.


In the traditional world of consumer brands, companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars testing packaging design, graphics, usability and demand before they introduce a product to market.


A simple redesign of a product logo often calls for extensive focus-group testing on perception, image and usability. Can you imagine Campbell's Soup changing its established logo design or packaging without thoroughly testing it with consumers?


Why then do companies think nothing of introducing Web sites or adding features and links to established Web sites without doing the proper research?


Net In Focus has conducted several focus groups where participants are placed in front of computers to investigate Web sites being evaluated. The group gives its opinions and recommendations for the sites.


Many of the findings pertain to specific parts of the individual Web sites, and some general opinions and attitudes can be applied to all Web site designs.


• People want lots of information available immediately on the front page. They do not want to navigate through a lot of pyrotechnics to get where they want to go. The designers of the Yahoo home page have been among the best in understanding this.


Given a choice between a Web site that is flashy but takes a long time to load and a Web site that is stodgy but loads quickly, the vast majority of Internet surfers will choose the quick-loading one.


• Pop-ups need to have relevance. Little seems to anger Web site visitors more than a pop-up that takes them away from where they want to go and sends them somewhere they have no desire to visit.


Most Internet users will accept a pop-up only if it gives them information or an experience that directly relates to why they are visiting that site in the first place.


• People who enjoy a Web site look for reasons to keep visiting the site. It is your obligation to consistently provide new content that will reward those who regularly come back to your site.


Nothing will dry up hits faster than a site that is not updated daily. The most damning comment we have heard is, "Sometimes I feel like I go to your Web site more often than you do."


• Ask for the minimum amount of information when registering visitors. Only ask new visitors for the minimum amount of information that you need: name, age, gender and e-mail address, for example. The more information that you ask for, the less likely the visitor will stick around.


If you give someone an enjoyable experience on your Web site, you will have plenty of chances later to ask for more information.


• Do not assume a high level of Internet knowledge from your visitors. Internet use is still growing rapidly, and this year millions of people will access the Internet for the first time. They do not have the same experience and knowledge as the early adapters who have been using the Internet for years.


In one group a woman sheepishly said, "This may sound silly, but I don't know what FAQ stands for." We then discovered that more than half of our group of Internet users did not know that either.


• Give people a chance to give you their feedback about your Web site. Also make sure that you respond to each message and comment you receive, no matter how silly or obvious the comment or question may be. Ignoring your visitors will surely lead to their ignoring your Web site.


Without fail the participants are thrilled and flattered to be given the opportunity to talk about what they like and don't like about a Web site. Take the opportunity to listen to your site's users and you will be rewarded with many illuminating findings about how people use your Web site.


• Donn Seidholz is CEO of Net In Focus, Somerville, NJ. Reach him at donn@netinfocus.com.
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