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To Get More From Your Website Think Of It As Your Employee

By Shaun Tinney
4 minute read | Last Updated: March 12, 2016

Understand the jobs your website needs to do and give it the content and features it needs to become a star.

In part 1 of this series we discussed thinking of your site like a store, building a digital showroom by creating content that supports product research and purchase. Part 2 covered the necessary shift in management thinking to create a valuable website. In this segment we’ll focus on giving each section of your site a job description, and using that to judge its performance.

Because we want to make a site that helps customers accomplish things, we don’t ask our clients which features they want us to include in their site. Unless of course the site is being designed exclusively for their use. This shift in perspective means most preconceived features get dropped immediately in favor of things customers will actually use.

There are jobs to be done by your website

Before arriving at a single site feature, we ask a lot of people a lot of questions. The people we speak to, survey and test our ideas with are unique. They don’t work for us, or for our clients. They have all kinds of different needs. What they share is a desire to easily shop online from the web, mobile, and in-store displays.

In order to create a site that provides value to a client, start by providing value to their customers. This can be accomplished easily by understanding the jobs to be done, then creating a site that is held to a standard of performance.

Customers need help finding the right product and completing their purchase. Each page should reflect this and work to fulfill these needs. In this regard, each feature, graphic, and piece of content serves a specific job function. Most brands fail to assign an appropriate job description to each site feature, and track how well it is performing its job.

Do the least you can

Resources are limited so it is important to invest them where they’ll have the most impact. Don’t create content for content’s sake. Look at the few things that will make the most difference for your customers and improve those. Apply Zipf’s law to your analytics to find your best selling products, highest viewed pages, top search terms, and the few paths that lead to conversions. That will give you a place to begin making improvements.

In order to get anywhere useful, you’ll need to create channel for useful and timely suggestions: feedback loops. Establishing a feedback loop with Customer Service is an excellent way to immediately get the kind of feedback you can use to improve features and site content. To be effective in the long run you’ll need to test content and features directly with your customers, but start by involving Customer Service in your process.

If the top reasons people call Customer Service are to ask about product features, stock availability, or warranty information, then the site is not helping customers research and complete a purchase. The site is failing at the job your customers need it to perform. Feedback helps to reallocate resources and attention to where they are most needed. Immediately, the content or feature that is failing can be improved. Running content experiments will also help identify the best solutions. There isn’t a one-size fits all content strategy; make changes and follow up to see what is working best.

Help people do things

Because the most important customer needs are understood, the site’s most important job functions are easy to identify. When the most important job functions are identified, the most effective features, content and graphics can be employed.

With the top paths, products, search terms and pages identified, the next step is to optimize for effectiveness. It’s very tempting to add elements to the site, especially now that you’re armed with customer service data. Resist temptation. Begin by reducing. Remove what is not necessary; discard those elements that are marginally improving effectiveness.

Nature provides an excellent example for designers to emulate. In multiple studies, scientists found that common slime mold was able to identify key resources and efficiently connect them — all without a brain or nervous system. In fact, when resources were placed on a map in relative position to major cities, the mold created paths that resembled the country’s transportation networks. It took decades for teams of human engineers to complete the same exercise. Using analytics data, brands are able to identify site resources important to customers and optimize for effectiveness. This method of relying on customers to determine important resources allows brands to remove poorly performing features and maximize sales in the process.

Anything that isn’t supporting a customer goal is just getting in the way. It makes the site harder to navigate, search, and manage. Focus on creating useful content along the most used paths by removing all the content that doesn’t help your customers find the right product.

Anything that isn’t supporting a customer goal is just getting in the way. Click To Tweet

Rather than constantly rebuilding your site in hopes of getting better results, focus on creating content that helps your customers. The results will tell you how to spend your digital budget intelligently. Part 4 of this series will take a look at some of the ways to effectively invest in digital platforms.