Using feedback to build a better website

One of the real advantages of having a website unlike a printed brochure for example is that it can always be continually improved on.
I’m not suggesting that you should ever have an unfinished website, but what I am saying is you should never put a lid on it. Never think of it as finished. There’s always improvements that can be made; improvements which can make a difference to your profitability and efficiency.
Considering it to be a work in progress not only means that you can improve it, but it also means that by continually working on it, it doesn’t become stale and forgotten.
If we are constantly trying to ‘improve’ our website, how do we know if what we’re doing is working? How do we know the changes we make are not making things worse?
We need some sort of feedback to measure effectiveness, and we can get feedback in many ways.

Firstly, we can get feedback from STATISTICS.

Forget about the number of hits you get on your website. That really is the least significant number of all your stats. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take note of it, but there is more useful information to look at, such as:
Where is your traffic coming from? Your referrals could paint an interesting picture of where your users originate. A customer of mine was surprised to find that he was getting three times more traffic from a link he had not asked for than one on a popular tourist portal that he was paying for.
What are your main landing pages? If people are coming to your site through pages other than the home page, it’s important that they are still able to find their way around. Landing pages should be optimised to reflect their importance in the site.
What are your exit pages? Look to see which pages your users are leaving from. There could be opportunities to keep them on-site using microcopy and links.
Do you get a lot of bounces? Bounces are when someone arrives on your site and then leaves before going to any other page. These demonstrate a mistaken click or, worse a disappointment at what they find. Take a fresh look at bounce pages and ask yourself why they are not holding more interest.
One of the best ways of getting feedback from your stats is to set up goals in your analytics software. Goals are ‘defined’ paths through your site.
Say for example, your home page is an obvious landing page; you might want your users to follow a link to a special offer and then click a contact link to find out more information. In marketing terms, a goal on a website is a lead generated, and if your analytics software can be set up to measure your lead generation for you, that gives you an excellent metric to improve your website.
There are other goals you can set up too. An RSS feed, social media signup or newsletter signup could be a goal. If someone is interested enough in the information you publish, signing up to an RSS feed or a newsletter is one way of putting your brand in front of potential customers over and over again. And the best thing about it is they have chosen to receive your information.
On an ecommerce site, the payment page could be considered the ‘goal’ but that doesn’t give you much information, so set up goals for the products that are most profitable, or the ones that lead to more sales, or just special offers.
Pay particular attention to your stats when using print advertising or other marketing methods. You will almost certainly get increased hits following a marketing campaign, but if that doesn’t lead to a corresponding rise in goal conversions, something’s not working.
So these are all ways you can make improvements using feedback from your stats.

But you can get also feedback from your CUSTOMERS.

Customers are great tools to get feedback from, but you have to ask them the right questions.
One of the easiest questions to ask your customers is: do you like our website or what do you think of our website and this is a majorly flawed approach.
It is flawed because people don’t always say what they mean. Most people when asked do you like our website will just say yes because they haven’t had chance to give it any thought, and secondly because they might think they will offend you or may even be worried that you might want to more detail.
To get useful feedback from customers, you need to ask them relevant questions that you can act on. If you ask 100 people do you like our website and they all say yes, you can’t improve anything. And actually liking it has actually got little to do with whether it works.
So what we need to do is actually encourage negative feedback in order to find weak spots.
So we ask questions like:
Was our website easy to navigate? Someone might say yes, but it took me ages to find your phone number, or yes, but when I clicked the form to email you, nothing happened. Good feedback.
Did you find what you were looking for? They might say no, but it’s OK, I got one from somewhere else. Good feedback.
Was the checkout process simple? They might say yes, you are the only site that has this product for sale online. More good feedback.
Was there enough information? They could say all the products had a detailed description, but there was nothing to say how long delivery was going to be. Again, good feedback.
Did you go to another website after visiting ours? Yes, because I wanted product x, but you didn’t have it.
All these comments provide valuable feedback that you can use to improve your site.
How you get the feedback doesn’t matter, you can ask directly, use n online service like SurveyGizmo or Wufoo, or post the questions as an optional part of the checkout process, but the answers you get will all give you good information you can build on
And if you go down the survey route, save and analyse the information further.
And if feedback is useful to you as a website owner, then understand that feedback is useful to your customers too.
I’ve already mentioned an email form where nothing happened when it was clicked. Imagine how frustrating that must be to your users. Give them a thank you at least, better still an autoresponder message, or an estimate of how long it will take you to get back to them.
We use the web often enough in our daily lives now to know what service we like and expect. Think about the good things that other websites do and use similar techniques.

So, we’re onto our third way to get feedback and that’s through SOCIAL MEDIA

Most of your followers will be following you because they are actually interested in you, your products, and what you have to say.
Consider the benefits of each of the social networks and how they can help you. Remember your building brand and loyalty by being social. Build credibility by being open and helpful, so when you ask an honest question, you are likely to get an honest answer.
Let’s have a look at the networks individually:
On Twitter, messages are limited to 140 characters, but you can get a surprising amount of information into a short amount of space.
It’s not like email, it’s not like the telephone, just use it to generally communicate with your followers with short, succinct pieces of information and observations, using links, retweets and photos to illustrate your tweets.
Also use software like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to monitor searches for your own keywords and your company name, and even your competitors. If you’re following your competitors’ customers, and your competitors aren’t, you could easily pick up new business by being ahead of the game. Twitter is an ideal platform for encouraging feedback.
Facebook is different, it allows you to generate a much more focussed discussion, and you can post pictures, links, and video into the conversation and get feedback directly. As each comment is linked to the original post, it helps build a more structured conversation.
Use the extended features of Facebook to get your customers more involved. By building a community of customers you will start to generate feedback without even asking for it. Facebook is perfect for generating feedback.
A company in Forres used Facebook to post pictures of two new layouts of its website. The owner invited comments and he went back to his web developer with the changes. A perfect example of not only asking the right people to comment, ie people following his company, but also a good way of using social media for feedback.
Linked In has a feature on its website called Answers and this is where you can ask questions and get responses from businesspeople who have an ‘expert’ rating depending on how many questions they have successfully answered.
There’s no reason why you can’t use this for feedback-related queries.
If you have a blog, encourage comments on your posts, and add links to make it easy for readers to share your posts with their own social networks.
YouTube is also an excellent feedback medium. Post a video that poses a question directly or indirectly, and you’re likely to get a good response. The danger with YouTube is that it can get quite spammy, but it has good moderation controls, so if you can put up with a bit of spam, feedback on a video can provide valuable information.
And not forgetting forums, such as the 4Networking Business Forums, an excellent social network of over 30,000 members talking about business-related topics of every type and description.
You will probably be able to find forums on the internet related to most business activities. Join up and make a few friends before jumping in and asking for feedback.
Forums provide an opportunity other networks don’t in that you can really go to town on the detail. The commenting system on Facebook for example is small, but on a forum, there is room for detailed responses. And generally forum posts stick around for longer and index better with search engines.
So there are different reasons for using different networks and it doesn’t make sense to choose one over the other. You choose each for its relevance for your business.
So that’s how you can use feedback to make improvements to your website.

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