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The web improvement paradox

We all want to improve our Web sites, right? Unfortunately, customers don’t always want your site to improve. Your customer’s actual needs may differ from what you think they need. Like baseball fans who expect an umpire to start out perfect and improve with age, your customers want two opposing qualities from your Web site. That’s the Web Improvement Paradox.


First, customers expect your Web site to be like everyone else’s. The title of Steve Krug’s excellent book, Don’t Make Me Think, sums up what customers want. They want to immediately understand what is expected of them for every click. It should work just the way they expect it to.
At the same time, your customers do want your Web site to keep improving. And you want your Web site to be better than your competitors’. But how can you make your site the same as the rest while being better at the same time?
You pick your spots.
Most of your site should be straightforward and unremarkable, in that customers “just know” what to do. If you think you have a better name for the link to your home page than “Home” (or you think you can improve on the words “Contact Us” or “About Us”), you can give it a try, but using the standard names is what customers expect. Doing what people expect usually makes your site easier to use, but you don’t have to make it look exactly the same. Just consider it a serving suggestion.
You can innovate in certain areas where it makes sense. To do so, you must listen to what your customers say and you must watch what they do. Every time you change one of the elements on your Web site, you should be consciously moving towards standardization (working the way the rest of the world does) or to innovation (a better mousetrap). When your site is different, but not better, that’s when customers get frustrated. Your job is to identify that situation and fix it.
As we marketers consider every element we can change on our Web sites, and consider changes we can make in our Web marketing, just remember that nothing works unless your customer understands it. You need to make sure that your Web site’s differences are truly improvements and not just differences. Marketers know better than anyone that a difference is a differentiator only if the customer cares about it. As the great automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche once said, “Change is easy. Improvement is far more difficult.”

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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, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com 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 ibm.com 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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