Most b-to-b sites don't meet customer needs: Gartner

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In business-to-business marketing it's essential to provide information about your products and services that reflects what your customers need and want. However, many Web sites fail to do this.

In fact, 75% of business Web sites do not meet customers' requirements and will need to be redesigned, according to research by the Gartner Group, Fairfield, Conn. What these sites lack is good information design -- the organization and presentation of information so customers can easily locate what they want to find.

Make info easy to find

Information design is concerned with structuring and displaying information so that it's easily identifiable and accessible to the user. For example, in a print magazine the table of contents, section headings and graphics all help readers locate information.

In interactive media, information design is essential because it's easier for users to get lost. Every page must inform users of where they are on the site and how to find the information they want.

Designing information on your site so that it successfully fulfills the needs of your customers is a collaborative effort. Marketing managers who understand what information their customers want to know should work with information designers who have experience organizing and visualizing information in an interactive medium.

Positive Web interaction

The result of this collaboration will be a Web site your customers will enjoy using. When customers have a positive interaction with your company at the Web site, they will want to continue to interact and do business with your company.

Achieving a Web site with good information design relies on two basic principles: Thinking about the information goals of your users and designing the site so they can achieve those goals efficiently. The following will help you plan a site that offers your customers easy access to the information they need.

Place contact upfront

ïImportant information should be immediately accessible. If 80% of your users are seeking 20% of your information, that information should be the most visible and easiest to access.

For example, basic contact information for your company should be on (or accessible from) the main menu page. Related information should be grouped together rather than scattered in different sections of the site.

Anticipating when and where visitors to your site will need information communicates to them that you understand and are able to meet their needs. That's a message that will make them more likely to become, or remain, your customers.

  • Links should be clearly labeled.

    As users scan a Web page, the names of your links provide a quick overview of the structure of your site.

    Users wary of ambiguous links

    Following a link is also an investment in time. Because of this, your customers will be wary of following links with ambiguous labels. Even commonly used labels (such as "What's New") can be unclear if used without further clarification.

  • Users should never feel lost. A user may come to a particular page through several routes. Therefore, each page should be self-sufficient and should explain, or provide links to, any unusual terms or procedures.

    Similarly, each page should let users know where they are within the site and provide, at the minimum, an identifiable link to the home page or a key section. For a very large Web site, consider including a search function, pull-down menus, an index of products and services and a well-designed site map.

  • Test, listen and revise. Have someone outside the initial design team analyze your Web site to determine if it's meeting the information needs of your customers.

    Provide place for feedback

    Provide a place for your customers to offer feedback about your Web site, and incorporate those suggestions when revising your site. A site that responds to customers' requests is truly interactive, communicating to your customers that your company is responsive to their needs.

    Christopher Davis is a senior consultant at Web Zeit, an Internet strategy and development consultancy in New York.

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