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Vol. 1 issue #77  Aug 29, 2003


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Anticipate Your Customers' Navigation Strategies
2003 By  Jamie Kiley

If you want a truly successful site, it's imperative that you learn to anticipate how your visitors operate. After all, your site is dependent on how your customers think, not how you think.

What does this mean in a practical sense? For starters, it means you must learn how your visitors think about their needs, as well as how they search for solutions. Then you must design your site accordingly.

Here are two questions you need to answer:

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1. On what criteria do your visitors judge your products? 

What do your visitors consider to be important when they are evaluating a product on your site? You need to know what features or benefits are going to be relevant to them and which ones will influence their decision to buy.

For example, suppose you sell children's books. You might list the title, price, and description for each book, but no grade level. But that may be the piece of information that is most important to your visitors.

In the event that the customer values criteria for which you DON'T provide answers, you'll lose the customer. In other words, if they are evaluating based on size, or material, or lifetime, or something else, and you don't cover that criteria, you have failed to answer their needs.

Even if your site gives all the necessary information, sites often place the emphasis on the wrong information. In other words, they don't understand which information is MOST important to visitors. 
My field of web design is a perfect illustration. When people are thinking about getting a website, there are multiple criteria they consider. Of course, they want to know how much it's going to cost. But they also want to know what level of quality they will get, how many bells and whistles they'll get, what the level of support will be when their site is up and running, as well as how easy it will be for them to edit their site after it's finished. 

Price, level of quality, bells and whistles, support and customizability areall values that I could emphasize. But as aweb designer, it's important for me to understand which of these values isMOST important to my visitors.

If you emphasize a particular benefit or feature when your visitors caremore about something else, you're not going toconnect with them as easily. Sorting out what your customers consider important will help show more quickly and effectively how your product meets your customers' needs. You'll also be able to better anticipate questions or problems a visitor might have.

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2. How does a visitor search for a product? 

Besides knowing what is important to a visitor when they are evaluating a product, you must anticipate how a customer will want to look for a particular product on your site. This question is most relevant for sites that contain at least 5 different products, not single services.

Sometimes, this question overlaps with the first question, since visitors will want to search for a product by whatever criteria they consider to be most important. However, sometimes the answers to the two questions are different. For example, with a jewelry site, the value that might be most important to a visitor might be quality, but the criteria they want to search by might be size or length, age-appropriateness, or occasion. 

Here are some ways by which visitors may want to browse: 

- Price
- Age group
- Lifestyle
- Size, length or weight
- Materials/ingredients/components - Some people will be most concerned about the various things that the product has inside it.
- Color or style
- Gender
- Occasion
- Date - Some people will be looking for your newest items, or will want something that was released at a certain time.
- Popularity
- Brand

For example, one of my clients who offers software training needed to let students search for classes by the name of the class as well as by the date the class was being offered. Another client who owns a toy store needed to let customers browse toys by age group, learning style, popularity, and brand.

Be sure not to limit the ways visitors can browse through your products. If you offer only one method by which to search, and your customers don't think of your products in those terms, you'll fail to meet their needs, and they may never be able to find the right product. 

The bottom line? Make sure you understand what visitors care about in a product and how they want to search for that product.

There are 605.6 million people online. Can they find your business? Jamie Kiley creates powerful and engaging websites that make sure YOUR company gets noticed. Visit http://www.kianta.com for a free quote. 

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