I met with a potential client last week. He was telling me about their business goals and how they needed their online marketing to increase their revenue over the next two years. We talked about SEO/SEM, social media, preroll advertising and what was going to happen with mobile advertising. He was interested in all of it. I then started to ask about their site and what they felt like the needed to be done. The CEO looked at me and told me that they have gone through a complete redesign last year and that they felt like they were covered.
Now, I of course had looked at their site prior to the meeting and was pretty sure they would need to scrap it. This of course coming from an online business perspective and not a “I don’t like the color” perspective. Their site has numerous issues (including an awful color scheme) and I felt that if we conducted usability studies we would find that any chance of an online transaction would be slim at best.
Now, I knew they weren’t going to pay for that and I really did not want to irritate the CEO and yet when we do business we do it as a trusted partner and not a whipping boy. So I started to explain how online marketing worked from an “atomic” perspective.
I told the following story: A user is looking for a product or service and they go to Google to begin their search. They type the term in and Google brings back results. Now, if their site is optimized the results will bring back their page that features that specific product/service and move forward with the transaction. This is of course preferred as the customer gets exposure to the brand (if the page is done correctly) and the business gets the revenue. If the business has entered their products into Google Base, that product will show up in the results and the customer can move forward with the transaction. If their site is not optimized but their home page is, it will come up in the results and the user will be dumped off on the home page left to their own devices to find the product. This is how most sites are.
Now at this point they have already used search to get them their and are probably not very excited about having to use another search to find what they want. Some will. Some won’t. I have seen in usability studies that at this point, most people start to use the site navigation to find what they are looking for and this is where the problem lies.
My favorite definition of marketing is:
Marketing consists of the strategies and tactics used to identify, create and maintain satisfying relationships with customers that result in value for both the customer and the marketer.
Most relevant to this discussion (with respect to the definition) is tactics and specifically; usability. One of the key elements to successful relationships of any type is helping that person. Usability is akin to providing an accurate map for a friend to a desired destination. Online businesses that don’t understand usability, don’t understand marketing. You’re site is not just to share information. It’s to market your business in such a way that value is created for you and your customer. This is difficult for many businesses as they tend to focus inwardly when they need to see their business through their customer’s eyes. (I see this issue daily.) This does not mean that every online business should focus solely on usability and ignore look and feel. (I thoroughly enjoy showing customers Jakob Nielsen’s site after they tell me that usability is the only thing that matters to them.) However, it does mean that if usability is not addressed, the marketing efforts of an online business will suffer.