It annoys me every time I’m out somewhere and use my iPhone to check a website for some information I urgently need: the page comes up small and illegible on the screen. That just won’t do in the mobile era we live in today. Companies need to set up their websites so they work properly on mobile devices. This minor irritation got me thinking about what exactly makes a good website, in other words, the sort of website I like to use.
I think that speed still tops the list. And speed does not always mean the bandwidth that is available at the time. You can also improve speed through sophisticated design and the technology on the site. Design is another important element for me. Sure, tastes differ, but logical user navigation is definitely something you can create objectively to a large extent.
I like it when the information I’m searching for appears as if by magic. I’ve always liked the way Amazon recommends books or articles. Obviously, the site “taps into” my data, buying history, and the pages I visited and makes recommendations based on this information. I’d like to see other websites do something similar. Information – it doesn’t always involve a purchase – could be customized for me. I want sites to recognize me as a visitor or customer. “Hi Stefan, you’ll be interested in this…” And if it really does interest me, then I’ll be happy.
Obviously, I want my data to be treated sensitively. Amazon (and all other websites) is welcome to suggest things to me as described above. On the other hand, there is no way I’d want my data or profile to be forwarded. And it annoys me when sales techniques are too aggressive, for example, when I get irritating e-mails, e-newsletters or pop-ups.
I can’t stand pop-ups and too much advertising. There is hardly anything more irritating than pop-up windows, mostly with some sort of promotion, when you enter a site. This is why I have installed a pop-up and advertising blocker. Of course, some of the sites I enjoy using only provide their services free of charge because they sell advertising space. But there is advertising and advertising. It’s one thing to manipulate people skillfully and another to try to manipulate them by hitting over the head with a pop-up hammer!
I like seeing other customers’ opinions or ratings. Of course, there are the usual customer statements, increasingly in the form of videos featuring interviews or user reports. These are definitely useful and provide guidance. I find unfiltered statements more authentic, for example, when a website has a link to a Facebook page, where people really interact and you find more than just advertising. Another option is to connect customers in online communities or even to host your own customer community on the company’s website – of course, you also need to let people discuss things there.
There are times when I definitely enjoy getting involved in a public discussion on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. However, there are also certain business topics where I prefer to be in a community on the company’s website and to take part in a more protected dialogue. These topics are often more sensitive and more of a business nature, and this should be reflected in how the company deals with the information and data. And in such cases, I set great store on this information not being owned by a hosting platform funded by advertising.
People talk a lot about dialogue on websites. I am happy to get involved in such dialogue if there is a clear benefit for me. There is definitely a benefit when customers share their experiences. As I said above, I would often like my participation in a dialogue to be more confidential and secure than it is on Facebook. I would like it to take place in a trustworthy and safe community.
Access to contact persons and experts from a company is another important benefit, regardless of whether this involves support and hotlines or input for further product development. At times it is good to have one-to-one communication with contact persons from a company. However, it is often useful when other customers can also join in the dialogue. It is helpful to know which product features other customers want so that we can work together to persuade the company to implement them. It is good to know what experiences – the famous best practices – other people have had, and to learn from them. I also like to be able to find out how other people solved a particular problem. These are some of the issues that I would like to discuss openly in a protected community. I find that it generates trust when companies use social technologies on their website to allow dialogue between them and their customers. This dialogue should be as open as possible.
I am very active in social media channels and actively share information with my Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and fans. This is why tight integration of the social networks in a company’s website is important to me. This has various dimensions, starting with the option to “like” something and to recommend it via Twitter, Google+ or Facebook and to follow a potential discussion on these channels (that is, the discussions on these channels should be integrated into the company’s website).
And last but not least, I like things to be personal. Anonymous “glossy” sites are nice, but I feel that more trust is created when you can see real people from the company. This is why I am a fan of communities, as I said, and why I like it when you don’t just get a nice glossy presentation, but can also read a blog on certain topics. It doesn’t always have to be the CEO who writes it. In fact, when a blog is written by a CEO, it is often official and no different from one of those glossy brochures. A blog can and should be written by an expert on a topic, by an identifiable authority who is “socially” recognizable and willing to engage in dialogue.
When it comes to social media channels, I have one other special wish. I hate having to fill out interminable forms on websites, for instance to be able to download a white paper. My own employer is certainly a specialist in these types of forms and questionnaires… I have often given up on such sites and got the information I needed somewhere else. Of course, I have mixed feelings on this topic. I can understand that a company wants to know who is using their website and what these users potentially want to buy. This is why companies naturally want as much information as possible so they can follow up potential sales. But I believe that the time of asking for this sort of data has come to an end. It is legitimate to ask who is downloading something. But in that case I’d ask companies to allow user authentication via Twitter, Facebook or similar standards. I’d like them to gather the data they want through analysis of surfing behavior and social analytics and to try to conduct a real dialogue.
So far, so good. I have now come up with ten preferences. What have I forgotten? I’d be really pleased to hear your ideas and suggestions on what makes an exceptional web experience.
My top ten web experience priorities
- Excellent design and user prompts
- Personalized information
- Data protection and clear opt-in/opt-out options for receipt of further information
- Ideal support for mobile devices
- Limited advertising, no pop-ups, and no lengthy forms to fill out, for example when you want to download something
- Integration of social media channels for discussion and authentication purposes
- The option to participate in protected discussions with other customers and those interested in a topic
- Access to and dialogue with experts (from the company or other customers)
- Login and identification (where necessary) via existing social network accounts