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2010-06-24: The first question you might ask when setting up a website is: what outcome do you want? More precisely, when people come to your website, what do you want them to do?
It's all very well building your profile and appearing professional, but when you go and see your accountant, they'll want to know the result of all that.
So, what do you want your website visitors to do? For those selling stuff, it's easy to say "we want visitors to buy something", but there are plenty of other things you might like people to do too, like:
  • sign up to your mailing list
  • like you on Facebook, follow you on Twitter, or comment on either
  • use your RSS feed
  • make a comment
  • contribute an idea
  • enter a competition
  • upload something (like a photograph)
  • provide some real-world info
  • vote
  • judge something, such as content (eg. "did this solve your problem?")
  • enquire or ask a question
  • open up a chat box
You can attach values to each of these, for instance, if someone opens a chat box on a product page, maybe they are ten times as likely to buy, so whereas an ordinary visitor might be worth £1, you might be able to get them to be worth £10 if you can get to speak to them on chat and answer their questions.
Given values, you can make judgments about which goals you want to put effort into. That gives you a business case for making changes, along the lines of "we have 1,000 visitors a day and we make £1,000 a day so each is worth £1. 1% are currently using chat, but if we can double that to 2% that's 20 visitors, we think sales will rise to £1,200 a day so we want to make changes x & y to the website in order to reach that 2% mark, the cost will be £500, but we'll make that back in 2.5 days".
Once you have a goal, you have a pathway (a route you will take your customers along from where they land on your website to where they take the action you want) and at least one call to action (text that says, for instance, "buy now").
Along the route you have to consider trust issues and the buying stage the customer is at, and give them ways to customise their order with upsells and downsells .. in both cases better to match your offer with what the customer wants.
All that comes from that first question. What do you want your website visitors to do?

By John Allsopp
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