Your Business Principles Apply Online

(Part One)

by Dave Calibey, Digital Media Director of Donaldson Group

Treat your customers right. Offer a fair product at a fair price. Stand by your word.

Successful business owners run their businesses according to a set of common principles and often credit their success to them.

These same business owners are sometimes confused about how to use the Internet to help their businesses succeed, however. Fortunately, the principles they run their business by in the real world apply online as well.

Here are the first five of 10 online principles you are likely following in your business already that also apply online.

1. Location, Location, Location

Whether at the corner of First and Main or next to the anchor store at the mall, you want your retail establishment to be where your customers are. This same concept applies to your online presence. For instance:

  • If your customers routinely visit a specific set of destination sites, it might make sense to promote your company there
  • If you sell boutique items to women between 40 and 60 years of age, you should probably have an account with Pinterest

You also want to make it easy for your customers to find your store or office. To do this online, make sure your company is accurately and consistently cataloged with the appropriate local search listings.

 2. Clear the Entranceway

You would never place a large obstacle in front of your entrance that aggravates or confuses your customers. That’s why shopkeepers complain when street construction occurs in front of their stores.

Yet it’s not unusual to be confounded by an annoying pop-up advertisement that blocks access to a favorite site. Please allow your visitors immediate access to what they are looking for on your site.

 Motion can Distract and Confuse

Some sites have constant distracting motion on their pages. Like a disruptive salesperson, movement draws the eye, hinders comprehension and spoils the experience. If you have a rotating banner on your site, rotate through the images once and then stop.

The goal for your homepage, as with your store, is to create an inviting entrance that helps customers focus and quickly find what they want. Don’t block the doorway.

 3. Acknowledge Your Customers

My family and I are routinely greeted by the owner when we stop by our favorite store. A tall gentleman with a bold mustache and a deep voice, he always remembers us, compliments my wife, jokes with my children and generally makes us feel like we’re his favorite, his most important customers. We love shopping there and do so often.

 Show Your Customers that You Know Them

By contrast, like you I frequently receive and am annoyed by that misguided piece of direct mail – the letter from my bank asking me to sign up for an account I already have with them; the coupon for discounted day-care though my kids are in college. How effective do you think those efforts are?

Like my favorite shopkeeper, the best sites use information about of their customers to acknowledge, greet and make them feel welcome. The best email programs segment their subscribers, send different messages based on relationships and offer specials to thank loyal customers.

 4. Don’t Make It About You

When that shopkeeper greets us, he asks about my wife’s garden, the boys’ sports, my job. He doesn’t make it about him. Unfortunately, many websites are like a boring first date where your dinner partner brags on endlessly about himself. Here’s our mission. Here’s the outside of our building. Here’s our management team. Those things should be on your website, but in the proper place.

Your site should be first and foremost about your customers and their needs. When designing and developing, it you need to practice customer-centered design – not self-centered design.

 5. Help Visitors Find What They’re Looking For

There’s both an art and a science to store layout. When done effectively, customers easily find things where they expect to find them. You find the lawnmower oil near the lawnmowers. You also find it in the automotive department with the other oil.

How you plan your website content deserves the same level of attention. Your navigation and information architecture should be designed so that visitors easily and intuitively find what they are looking for.

 Sometimes They Simply Need Help

Let’s face it, though, when shopping you sometimes need help finding an item. To assist you, stores provide signs over the aisles, store directories, information booths and (hopefully) trained staff.

In addition to well-crafted navigation, your site should provide quick-links, intelligently designed search and even a live chat capability to help visitors accomplish their goals.

So you see, the principles that guide successful websites are the same as those that successful business people practice everyday. I’ll cover five more in my next post.

Meantime, if you know of other common business principles that apply online, please share them below. I’d love to hear from you.