How to build a customer-focused website

By: Ewan McIntyre

Date: 22 July 2011

It may sound blindingly obvious, but by focusing on customers' needs when you design your website you stand the best chance of creating a site that customers will want to visit.

However, this can be easier said than done. Unless you really understand what customers want, you run the risk of creating a website that drives customers away rather than attracting them.

Carrying out some research before you start can help you identify what your customers really want. You need to know:

  • Who your target customers are
  • How they use your site
  • Whether your site is easy to use

Who’s your audience?

Ask yourself who your audience is. Are they current or prospective customers? Are they individuals or businesses? Where are they located?

Customer records can answer some of these questions but if you want to profile online customers there are some great online tools you can use. Tools like HitWise and Alexa can help you profile the people who visit your site, your competitors’ sites or even your industry as a whole.

How do customers behave on your site?

If you’re updating an existing site, answering this question is simple. There's a host of free and paid for web analytical tools that can give you a detailed picture of how customers behave online. Free tools like Google Analytics are simple to use and can help you identify who visits your site, what they look at, how long they spend online and which visits lead to sales.

Analytical tools can also help you identify what doesn't work, where potential customers drop out and the pages that generate complaints.

If you are launching a site from scratch, you could start by looking at your competitors' websites. What do they provide? How does that compare with what you offer? Do your customers use competitors' sites? What do they think of them? What works and doesn't work?

The best way to answer these questions is to ask customers directly. You can use online surveys like 4Qsurvey, send out questionnaires or carry out face-to-face interviews.

Getting feedback directly from your customers will help you hone your site to their wants and needs. It will also demonstrate to them that their needs matter to you.

Remember to ask customers what they might want to do in the future. Technologies are constantly evolving and your customers – particularly business customers – may be developing new systems and technologies that could help give your site a competitive advantage.

How usable is your site?

Put yourself in your customers' shoes. How easy is it to complete online tasks? Is it easy to find what you are looking for? Is it obvious what steps need to be taken to complete a task?

Eliminating usability issues will help you maximise sales and reduce the number of people who leave your site without completing their task.

There are plenty of experts that can review your site for you. Alternatively, you can use one of the many online resources like this great usability guide. It gives hints and tips on how you can do your own usability testing. But remember that you should be testing with actual customers in mind.

Once you know what your current and prospective customers want from your site, you can start to define the site’s structure, look, content and feel.

And finally…

Remember: it’s not enough to only think about customers' needs when you build your website. To ensure that your site remains customer focused, you must continually review your web metrics, talk to your customers and develop your website accordingly. In doing this, you’ll create a site that your customers will return to again and again.

Ewan McIntyre is the web implementation manager for Sage UK

This blog is a reworking of a blog that featured on the Sage blog

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.