What Business Users Want from Your Web Site

Great business web sites meet the needs of their visitors. For over three years, I’ve been doing research, finding out what sites experienced business users visit often, and why they go back. And they do go back. A Business Week poll indicated that 87% of the visits of business users were to web sites they’d been to before.

You want your business site to be so good that your visitors bookmark it. Here’s what they want. They want lots of information. They want the site and pages to load fast. And they want it to be easy for them to get around and find what they want.

Lots of Relevant Information

Business web users aren’t looking for entertainment. They don’t care if you’ve got cool animations or nifty javascript. All they want is information.

Load up your site with information. What information should that be? The answer is, whatever your ideal customers and prospects are interested in. Think about what questions people ask you.

Talk to everyone in your business who deals directly with customers and prospects. Identify the problems that your customers and prospects have that you can help them solve.

You’ve probably already got a lot of good informational material. If you’re prepared brochures, proposals, customer help sheets, – just about anything that you send to customers or prospects – then you’ve got lots of good material. Even better, you’ve got it in digital form so it’s easy to get up on the web.

Remember that you don’t have to do this all at once. If you put up one new page of information a week, you’ll be adding fifty pages a year.

Fast Loading

Visitors, especially new visitors, don’t want to wait around while your pages load. If you don’t get them up fast, your visitors will hit the stop button and go elsewhere.

How fast is fast? For your entry pages (the ones people come to first when they visit your site) load times should be 12 seconds or less. Figure that your visitors will be using a 28.8 modem. That’s the most common speed right now.

How do you make that happen? The easiest way is to keep graphics and other enhancements to a minimum. Make sure the graphics you do use are as small (in file size) as possible and that your designer sets them up to load as fast as possible.

And if you need fancy stuff or large graphics? First, make sure you really need them. Identify the purpose for every graphic or other enhancement.

If you do need graphics or fancy stuff, put them on pages that aren’t entry pages. Once you’ve established value, folks will usually wait for slow loading pages. They’re even more likely to do so if you tell them things will be slow. Say something like, “This next page will take a while to load.”

Easy Navigation

If visitors can’t find their way around your site, they get frustrated. And if they’re frustrated, they don’t hang around.

Make sure navigation choices are visible wherever people are on your site. For some reason, it became a web design convention to put navigation choices at the bottom of web pages. That’s OK, but put them at the top, too. Side menus can help folks see choices, too.

Put your navigation choices are in text, instead of graphics. That’s faster than graphics and it also means that visitors who aren’t looking at graphics will see your choices.

Put text tags on all your graphics. That way those folks who aren’t loading images will know what they’re missing.

With the exception of menus, limit the number of choices you offer visitors. Four choices is a good top limit.

Give your site the “Three Click” test. Can a visitor find just about any piece of information in three clicks or less? If they can they’ll experience your site as one where it’s easy to find information.

Give your visitors aids to search the site. A search engine, complete index, or site map can do that for you.

That’s all there is to it. It’s simple but it’s not easy. Great business sites, the ones visitors come back to have lots of relevant information. They load fast. And they’re easy to use.

Note: This article was written in 1998, but it’s still valid today. The only change I’d make in late 2000 is to update the current standard. I’m now telling clients and audiences that they should have their entry pages load in ten seconds or less for first-time visitors who will be using a dial-up connection such as AOL and a 56K modem.

While it’s true that lots of users at work have high speed connections, the vast majority of those signing on from home or hotel rooms will be using dial-up.

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