Is your web site surfer-friendly?

In the world of optimization and the search for increased revenues, it is tempting to create our site pages in a way that deliberately “pushes” readers in one single direction.

Our own optimization tests have shown time and again that by keeping visitors focused on a single, linear pathway we can increase conversion rates.

But is that always how our visitors want to experience our sites? Do we focus too much on building and optimizing pages and pathways to serve our immediate financial needs – at the expense of providing an enjoyable experience for our readers, and building long-term loyalty?

This question jumped to my mind while reading an interesting article by Mark Kingdon this morning.

Among other things, he talks about the experiential difference between reading a print copy of The New York Times, and the online version.

He describes reading the print version as being an almost relaxing experience. But reading the same paper online requires a much deeper level of engagement and concentration.

I think there is a lot of truth in that. I believe reading information online does require more concentration. It is not a relaxing experience most of the time.

You have only to compare your body posture and head position in order to intuitively grasp the difference between the two media.

Is there an opportunity here? Should we be working harder at making our sites easier to browse?

While our focus as marketers is usually to direct people forward in the direction we want them to go, we might also do well to recognize that some visitors simply want to surf around our sites, at their own pace, and see what we have to offer them.

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As the world of optimization becomes more sophisticated, I suspect we would also do well to put aside some time to make sure our sites are “surfer friendly”.

This is something that could be tested, although it would be a long-term test.

Here’s the question to which I would like an answer:

Which type of customer delivers the most revenues in the long term?

a) The first-time buyer who is corralled down a tight sales path to the “buy now” page…

b) Or the first-time buyer who first surfs around the site in a relaxed manner, then finds a product or service of interest and finally makes his or her own way through to the “buy now” page.

I have no doubt one can maximize short-term revenues by applying the “corralled” version.

But what about in the long term? Which experience leads to the greatest long-term loyalty?

Finally, this isn’t an either/or scenario. It’s a matter of optimizing our sites in both ways, ensuring maximum revenues in both the short term and the long term.

In other words, keep the optimized sales funnels, but also create an architecture that makes it simple and enjoyable for people to wander around and enjoy your site.

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