The Internet is not a Small Town in Indiana
If you’ve ever lived or owned a business in Small Town USA, you know all too well the element of community that makes small businesses go. The patrons of the locally owned restaurants and grocery stores and auto repair shops are all very well familiar with the owners of these businesses, as they usually live in the area and it’s not uncommon for their businesses to have been around for generations.
The element of community is strengthened by the fact that more often than not, the owner of the business is also the same guy who operates the register. Loyalty to the local economy feels good knowing their hard earned dollars are going into the pockets of another hard working man or woman that they’ve known and trusted for years. Business owners know that these relationships are built one at a time and are the core of their survival.
So it’s only natural instinct to apply this same principle when your business ambitions expand into cyberspace. The first thing you’re naturally inclined to do is fill the homepage of your new website with a bunch of warm and fuzzy text telling the visitor about how your business was founded by your great-grandaddy Jebediah and has been in the Podunk community for 700 years and on and on. The problem is, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
The Internet has earned several monikers over the years, from ‘Information SuperHighway’ to ‘Global Village’. And, while these superlatives do have a fundamental level of accuracy to them, the fact is the Internet has both connected people and divided them at the same time.
The small town appeal of your business no longer applies when it comes to operating in an online space. Visitors to your site are there for a specific purpose – they’re looking to solve a problem. If your site solves that problem quickly and effectively without forcing the user to jump through a whole bunch of hoops, you’ll likely earn their business in the future. But, if you bombard them with a bunch of crap they don’t care about, they’ll probably click the ‘back’ button on their browser before the page even finishes loading.
In today’s world of e-commerce, visitors to your site don’t care about you. They only care about what’s in it for them. The reason is that there are so many different competing sites in most niches that it simplifies the equation to this: Your potential customers or clients will do business with whomever makes it the most convenient to do so. Period. No one is going to buy from you just because you’re a nice guy, or because your shop has been family owned and operated since the Civil War.
So when you’re planning the navigation of your site (you do have a plan for this, right?), take yourself out of the equation for a minute and consider how your users are going to interact with the site. Give them what they want, as conveniently as possible and you’ll be successful. Because in today’s world, the sites who provide the best user experience are the ones who win. I guess the old saying still applies; nice guys really do finish last.