This post is the 3rd post about the Web Feature Discovery Process. If you want to read all three articles, click here, to start with article 1, and click here to get to article 2.
So far in this series of articles, I have described dealing and identifying Assets and dealing with People, the two ingredients needed to build any web site feature. The next step is information discovery. The first article talked about Assets. Assets, as I describe in the first article, need to be understood and evaluated in an open and free environment, not restricted by management that has already indicated the final outcome. Knowing the exact, final website product on day one is ok as a goal, but to know the exact way it will work is a not just a mistake, it can create a terrible work environment for those who see the mistakes and can’t fix them. You start with a general idea of where you want to go in development of web features, and great spec’s can make this possible, but there is a transformation that needs to occur between concept and final product, and that is where a lot of websites go awry by simply never fixing what needs to be fixed.
Information discovery is all about looking through the data, which leads to idea discovery. But even before you go through reams of data, you need to figure out what you are trying to accomplish. This is a bit of a conundrum, like which came first the chicken or the egg. Let’s say you have a web page or a web site that is already doing its job. Your site could be a simple page or 2 or be as large as a 20,000 SKU online catalog. I’ve built both sites in the past. The question is how do you figure out that you need to add a form to collect information or to place ads on the site? How do you know if the site should be a marketplace or a straight e-commerce site. This is not just about data here. This is about business and business models. If you have worked on developing websites, and at this point in time, and a few million people have, based on the fact that millions own domains, you probably know a thing or 2 about making your own website.
In my first post on this subject, I described assets, where you have to look at few key pieces of information. Is there any anomalies showing a possible opportunity, or as Google in their web analytics product calls it, Intelligence? Is this site getting tremendous numbers of visitors? Is this site already collecting email addresses? One site I know of, because I am a part owner, gets an email address added to the system every 10 minutes during the day. This asset is important, because email addresses can be, should be used properly, by properly, I mean when people give you an email address, they are expecting an immediate response. The value of the email starts to go down when you wait 6 months till you email them. The fresher, the more valuable, and that’s because people have a small period of time to read that email you will send them. This has lead to the concept of email sequences. First time I had heard about this was from my business partner, who pointed out a company called InfusionSoft, that is big on it. It’s really a simple concept. You have a series of emails that get sent out to a person that signs up that go out in phases, like one a day, one a week, perhaps growing in length of time. Each email has a different message that is part of an overall strategy. You don’t need InfusionSoft to do this, but they are great at it.
Let The Wind Tell You Where To Go
Often data is telling you something. For instance, on Whois.net, we noticed a high amount of international visitors, yet we did not offer the ability to look up international domains. So we solved the customer’s quandry by offering what they were looking for. So one clue is looking at the key words people search on to get to your site in Google Analytics or Adobe’s/Omniture’s Site Catalyst. This is a simple task and 90% of online marketers know this. What they don’t look for is the missing link. The missing piece is what ties information to a new potential set of features. Another good example is on checkout of most registration sites, there is a term we now call “Co-registration”. Co-registration means the customer was here to signup for x, and you added another potential thing for them to get at the same time. We have considered using this in the event business website I am a partner in. Another interesting anomaly I noticed in the dating business recently, is that people are using Iphones and Android apps to signup, in significant numbers. This is where you have to brain-storm, not about features, but about assumptions. You can confirm these assumptions, through research. My assumption that people are using smartphones, specifically at work during the day, because it offers more privacy, and the employer can’t track you specifically. This is one of many reasons, but the end result is we need to have an app for the Iphone and Android… That is simple detective work. This is the big breakthrough. It is finding a new channel. The big question is having the resources to capitalize on this new channel. It may not be a new channel to you, but to a lot of executives out there, who don’t know how to deal with this channel, it is a strange new world.
In the retail side its called Cross-Sell or Up-Sell. Just sign-up for Godaddy and you will get your complete lesson on up-sell and cross-sell. They are the masters at this. I used to have people say that is not what I would put on the checkout, because it does lead to Friction, one of the key points in the MarketingExperiments.com formula, where it will actually causes less conversion potentially. This all depends on the site. On a dating site, yes, it can slow the process down, especially if the person is not ready to convert. On a retail site, however, when people have made up their minds to buy, only a broken, poorly designed web page can stop them, especially if the deal is an amazingly good value. So most features are figured out as extensions of what you already have in place. If you build on your success, you will succeed even more. There is no need to be radical, as you will find out the hard way…
Slash And Burn
If you let the status quo dictate what you do, or worse, let the current sales and marketing team make all the decisions, you could end up with a situation I call “slash and burn”. I came across the concept of slash and burn, while working on a few sites. The analogy of slash burn comes from the military tactic of burning the crops as you retreat, so your enemy will not have the luxury of food. It refers to the, sometimes unforeseen, consequences of making a decision to kill one part of a website in order to enhance another. This is a human decision process, typically driven by revenues. The best example was on this Whois.net site, where, when I arrived at this company, the previous people who managed it, had attempted to drive all the traffic through links on the site to hosting sales on another site, because that is where the money was for them. This was a major mistake in my mind. Yes, they had driven people to where they make money, but that is not why they came to Whois.net. They were there to look up domains that were available, find out who owns them, and potential buy them.
Another very important point I learned from MarketingExperiments.com, and I will discuss them a lot here, is that consistency is real important in the process of building out web features. You have to start at the beginning of the customer path. The beginning is when they are sitting at their computer on Ipad. Let’s say they have not even turned it on. They are interested in South Florida Real Estate, as an example. They open the computer and type those words into Google. Google presents them with relevant results. Let’s say your site is in those results. When you click on one of the links, and let’s say its one of the top paid links, you are delivered to a web page. The words you put in should arrive right in your face at the top of the page in big bold letters. If not, you are not getting a consistent experience. This is true for many of the paid links, because they are using something called Long Tail, which has a few meanings. To me, it means extending the search words they are buying out to more obscure words, to pay less and get more traffic. This would typically mean they are looking to buy “Real Estate”, but it was cheaper to buy “South Florida Real Estate”. This is great for smaller sites and pages that are meant to be for finding this exact stuff, but when you arrive at a generic Real Estate Seminar, you are disappointed. This is not Google’s fault, it’s about people trying to get traffic, and the result is a lot of inconsistency. Your consistency is critical in making your site found well and sticky, a term these marketing guys love to use (meaning they stick around).
Don’t Make Me Think
If you have not read this book, “Don’t Make Me Think” and you work in the web field, you should get it, read it, and live by it. The book’s simplicity, and I will hopefully sum it up here, is that people have developed common methods of experience online. This means that they are expecting the same words, in the same spot, each time they arrive at a web page. A good example is the word “About” or the word “Search”. The book basically says if you say “Quick Search”, you are going to confuse people, and therefor making them think, like is really “Quick” or different. More importantly, if your site is missing any of these common elements, such as the words “About”, “Contact” or “Search”, there is a customer disconnect. And you need to understand that “Search” is a feature. So for the basics, you need to make sure the customer experience is not so different they run away. That also means that placing the word “Search” in the upper right of the page is preferential to let’s say the bottom left. From the web features perspective, deliver to customers at least the minimum they are expecting on the site. More and more, customers are expecting a web form on the home page and sometimes many site pages, where they can put their email address in, maybe with their first name or some additional data and get on that companies’ mailing list.
Short Form or The Long Form
One of questions is whether or not to put a short form or a long form onto a home page. So, inevitably with these kinds of web forms, information collection forms, you have techniques that are learned over time. You can learn this stuff by observing and taking the best of breed (they call it) and do things like this. One of the methods that is recommended is you ask for a small amount of information up front, like just an email address or email address with a first name. On the second page, you would then ask for additional information, saying that they are now on the list and they can further tell you more information about themselves. This two step process like everything, reduces friction on the first step and allows the website visitor to make intelligent choices on the second step. One thing I ran into when working for a hosting company was a situation where they required a domain name when buying hosting. This was a system requirement. It turned out to be a very costly financial requirement. The reason is, and like everything, it came down to how people react. The visitor, in many cases, had not decided on a domain name, so often they would just pick up and leave to figure it out…
This Web Feature discovery process article is 3 in a series of 3 so far. The articles about Web Feature Discovery will continue in a new article next month.