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How shoppers use your web site

Have you ever wondered exactly what tasks your site visitors undertake when they are shopping for something on your site? If so, you may want to investigate a technique called use cases, which allow analysis of your visitor’s behavior—so that you can tune your site to sell more.

In the past, we’ve discussed the Web Conversion Cycle, which models the reasons that customers come to your Web site. And the marketers among us might have been perfectly happy thinking about their Web Conversion Cycle, but you technical folks might be appalled. “Where is the evidence that this is what our users are actually doing?” (Like drug dealers, technical folks always call people “users.”) Now, being a gear head myself, I actually agree that we might want to get some facts about what our visitors are doing before we go off and redesign the whole Web site.
As luck would have it, a methodology exists to do exactly that, brought to us by the User-Centered Design (UCD) professionals. (While UCD folks are passionate about making everything more accessible and usable, you might note with some irony that they haven’t worked very hard at coming up with an easy-to-understand name.) The UCD types are scientists of human behavior, an eclectic mix of analytical and sociological skills, who tease the insights needed out of user testing.
When your UCD people have done enough testing, they can develop a set of use cases. Use cases are detailed depictions of each step that your visitors take to complete a task—a task such as buying your product. Users engage in similar interactions for similar tasks, such as filtering a product list.
Perhaps you haven’t performed user testing on your site—maybe you don’t even have any UCD people. It’s important that you model user’s behaviors so that you understand the lower level activities they engage in on your site. Use cases vary, but they may be some high-level similarities. Your use cases may address one or more of these user activities:

  • Browsing and Filtering. One strategy your visitors employ to find what they are looking for is to navigate and to refine lists of things—often by category. They look for the link that helps them get closer to their goal.
  • Searching. Visitors find desired offerings by typing words or identifiers associated with those offerings,
  • Viewing details. Clicking on a search result to see more information is one example, but any action that reveals more about of an item in the list fits the bill.
  • Viewing related information. Visitors frequently need to explore surrounding information so that they understand what they are reading. This is an especially important behavior after viewing details from a search result—when a visitor “parachutes” into your site from a search, understanding context can be very important.
  • Compare. Visitors often need to see several items in a list side-by-side so that they can see their similarities and differences—that helps them make choices between them.
  • Buy. Depending on your site, this use case might entail dropping an item into a cart and checking out, or could encompass myriad offline connections (such as pressing “Call me” buttons, starting a text chat, find stores or dealers, filling out contact forms, requesting quotes, and others).

Shoppers have a lot of strategies they use to find what they need and buy it. When you analyze the behavior of your visitors and tune your site to help them do what they want, your sales will go up.


Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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