Posted Sunday, September 26, 2004
People rely heavily on sites that are most useful to them. They go to Dictionary.com to look up or translate words. They go to BankRate.com to use financial calculators. They go to SmallBusiness.com to get and give business advice. They go to Coupons.com to save money. They go to 1800flowers.com to quickly and easily order gifts for loved ones. They go to HomeDepot.com to learn how to install a ceiling fan.
All of these sites and others with a large, loyal visitor base have one thing in common: they provide a useful service or product to their visitors. Usefulness is one of the key factors in attracting repeat traffic. Here are some tips for making your site more useful and more competitive:
1. Teach something. There is a huge demand for concise, well-written how-to information. If you have a business Web site, you have an area of expertise. What can you teach your visitors?
2. Simplify a complex task. Many tasks are so complex that people have difficulty figuring out where to start and what to do. Some examples are buying a home, changing careers, or starting a business. By providing checklists, online wizards, or other tools to organize and automate complex tasks, you can make those tasks significantly easier for your visitors.
3. Offer extraordinary value. People calculate value by comparing what they get to how much it costs. Value exists for them when they perceive that they're getting more than they pay for. If you offer an expensive product or service, create value by showing how the benefits of purchase exceed the cost. If market conditions make it difficult for you to compete on price, increase the value of your offer by packaging it with "free" add-ons or companion products.
4. Provide superior quality. In today's competitive market, people simply expect high quality. To wow them, your site must provide that extra feature, service, or customer care that puts you in a different league than your competitors.
5. Offer unparalleled convenience. People take the path of least resistance. Make it a snap to find and use your Web site. Make it easy to remember. Design it for easy access. Make it clear what visitors can get from you and where they can get related material that you don't offer.
6. Assist with decision-making. People often have trouble sorting out the details that go into complex decision-making. Provide them with an organized, easy way to do that and they'll love you for it. For instance, a small business portal might offer a checklist or worksheet that helps entrepreneurs figure out what paperwork they must submit to local and state government to incorporate their business.
7. Invite participation. Allowing your visitors to participate in forums, share advice, publish articles, or otherwise interact with other visitors creates a sense of community. Since we all like to belong, sites that provide valuable communities for visitors tend to foster great loyalty among them.
8. Give something for nothing. People respond to getting good stuff free. Can you offer something free for which your competitors charge? Can you offer more or better free stuff than your competitors?
9. Differentiate. Take a close look at your competitors' sites. What do they lack? Set your site apart from theirs by offering a different mix, more content, better quality--whatever it takes to rise above the din. And then make sure you tell visitors why your site should be their first choice.
10. Diversify. Offer your audience as many different reasons as possible to find your site useful. Offer content, tools, and services for different levels of expertise, areas of interest, or professional focus.
By providing a more useful site, you encourage your visitors to not only return frequently, but linger. This can greatly increase the chance that they'll become paying customers. Take the time to carefully assess your site and make changes that enhance its usefulness. Doing so is one of the best investments you can make in your Web site and your business.
About the Author
Carole Pivarnik manages audience development and affiliate programs for SureCode Technologies, Inc., which offers full- featured, customizable Web databases that plug right into any site with no programming. Email her: email@example.com. Sign up for her free newsletter, Working Web Sites, or learn more about SureCode at (http://www.surecode.com).