Experiment With Your Site: Generate Good Ideas and Weed Out Bad Ones

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Once your business Web site is up and running, it's time to work on attracting customers and increasing sales. This phase of your business development should include online and offline marketing efforts, but should also focus on expanding and improving your Web site.

A unique feature of doing business on the Web is: You can change your site quickly and easily. By contrast, if you opened a restaurant, and after one month of operation discovered that your kitchen layout was inefficient, it would be time consuming and expensive to fix the problem. Not so for an e-business! In fact, you should be updating and improving your Web site continuously. Here are some things to consider as you forge ahead.

Solicit Feedback
Use an online survey or guest book to solicit feedback from your customers. When you tell family, friends, and colleagues about your site, be sure to ask them what they thought of it. How many pages did they look at? Did they find what they were looking for? Will they come back?

Once you know how your customers feel, give them what they want! Cynthia Miller, owner of Peaches and Boo Boo, a women's accessories ebusiness, makes regular changes to her site in response to customer feedback.

"I recently changed the colors on my site because customers were telling me that the site didn't look 'girlie' enough. I'm also planning to add pictures of my jewelry, shoes, and handbags to my home page because my visitors want to see pictures right up front. For my customer base, I've learned that a picture on the Web really is worth a thousand words."

Watch Your Traffic Patterns
Study your site statistics and traffic patterns. You'll learn which parts of your site work well, and which don't. For example, when you know how many people visit each day, and can compare that with how many orders are placed each day, you'll be able to judge the success of your site.

Key metrics you should know:

  • Which page most of your visitors see first (not all come through your homepage)

  • The last page visitors read before leaving

  • The most popular page(s)

  • The least popular page(s)

  • The percentage of visitors who don't go past your homepage

  • Where your visitors are coming from (also known as "referrer information")

Elizabeth Magallon-Fleury of Gourmet Goods to You says statistics about customer behavior helped her make important changes to her site.

"When we first launched our site, no one was going beyond our homepage. We quickly figured out that it was taking too long to load and visitors were growing impatient and leaving. As soon as we made changes so the page would load quickly, we saw an immediate climb in the number of people going deeper into our site."

Make Informed Decisions
Using both customer feedback and your site's statistical information helps you make informed decisions. Be sure to also consider whether you think each change will:

  • Improve your business's image

  • Generate more traffic

  • Create repeat business

  • Encourage homepage visitors to explore the site further

After all, change is good only if it helps you achieve your goals.

Audition Your Ideas
If making a major change to your site seems like too big of a risk, give it a test drive before you commit. Make the change in an isolated section of your site, and see how your visitors respond. You can even let them know that it's an experiment, and ask for their feedback before implementing the change site-wide. If you have several changes in mind, conduct a short email or online survey to determine your visitors' preferences.

Avoid Complacency
Don't let success lull you into complacency, and keep searching for new ideas. Keep and eye on newsgroups, search engines, other Web sites, and Internet-related periodicals—they're constant sources for ideas. Study your competitors. Borrow ideas from the best. Chances are you'll discover some great ideas for your site—and have fun doing it!