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Articles - Your web site visitors - know them, love them!

Your visitors are your reason for existing on the web (well, I hope so anyway!). It is very difficult to improve your online business without some sort of feedback and an effective means of communicating with visitors to your web site. While 24/7 telephone support or live chat functions aren't viable for many webmasters, the humble feedback/support form can supply a treasure trove of information to assist you in refining your online business.

Why not just use an email address for support and feedback? Displaying an email address prominently is a great idea to allow the more eloquent and chatty visitors to communicate, but if a visitor has to compose an email from scratch, it may seem to them to be too much work - they may just move on to the next web site that offers the products and services that you do.

Friendly feedback forms

While a feedback/support form sounds very straightforward, it's not unusual for web site owners to implement these in less than an optimum fashion. Your web site feedback form should really encourage people to use it. Use appreciative language,drop down boxes, radio buttons, spaces for optional comments etc., to make filling in the form an easy and pleasurable task, but don't make it so long or so definitive that it scares people away. A well structured feedback/support form also allows you to gain the information you need in order to respond to enquiries in the first instance, rather than a back and forth series of emails with your visitors that will take up unnecessary time for all parties.

If you do intend on using dropdown boxes and radio buttons, always include an option that states "other" as you can't always cover every possible type of request/comment with a series of point and click helpers.

Remember also that sarcasm has no place on a feedback page. I've often seen wording such as the following on a feedback form.

"Before submitting your feedback or request to us, check the FAQ! We don't have time to respond to people who can't read!"

I'm not kidding, I've seen this type of statement on many sites. The level of anonymity the Internet offers is no excuse for rudeness, and it definitely doesn't improve online sales.

You can make the same statement in much more friendlier way.

"We welcome all feedback regarding our web site and the presentation of our information. Many of the questions submitted to us by visitors are covered in our FAQ, we invite you to review this page."

Common courtesy isn't just good manners, it's good marketing strategy....

It's also important not to request too much personal information from your web site visitors, or at least make the majority of personal information fields optional. Always ensure that you accompany your form with a brief statement about privacy i.e.; an assurance that the information that web site visitors provide will not be distributed to any other party for any purpose. If you have a full privacy statement, which is always a good idea, ensure that there is a link to the privacy page near the form.

It is also very important that after your form is submitted, that the visitor is transported to a thank you page. If the visitor is returned to the same page, they have no indication that the submission was successful. Your thank you page should not only confirm the submission, but also indicate the amount of time the person can expect a response in. It is also another excellent opportunity for promoting another section of your site e.g.:

"Thank you for your submission, one of our friendly team will contact you within 24 hours. Please continue browsing our site, have you reviewed our Product X section as yet? It's a great product that will etc. etc."

Promote, promote and then do some more promotion - that's what web marketing is all about. Combine that with please and thank you and you'll definitely boost online sales. 

Web store blindness

If you have spent hundreds of hours in developing your site, there is a good chance that you have become what is known in the retail trade as "store blind" - it happens to most of us, including myself on a fairly regular basis. Errors on your site that stand out to all and sundry become invisible to you, simply because you have seen the pages so many times and your brain sees what should be there instead of what actually is. 

In the bricks and mortar business world of medium to large enterprise, it isn't unusual for managers to be shifted from store to store after a year or so to keep them fresh and alert to problems within a particular store. While this strategy works very well, it isn't a practicable strategy in our situations.

Web site visitors - the best critics

This is where your visitors can become a very important resource. Encourage them to let you know when there are problems and be sure you respond promptly to them (within 24 hours or sooner where possible, thanking them for their input. Your visitors may also have ideas, or ask for other services on your site through this means of communication - you may run out of ideas for your web site, but I guarantee they won't! Some of the greatest inventions in the world have eventuated as a result of someone saying, "I wish there was something on the market that would.....".

From time to time, you'll receive communications from site visitors who will be very experienced in your particular field of interest and will have excellent communications skills. Seize these opportunities! These people may be very obliging if you ask them to carry out a full web site review. There's nothing better than a fresh set of alert eyes for proof reading! Even if you were to offer these people remuneration for their efforts, it will be money well spent. Payment for their services doesn't have to be monetary; it could be a subscription to one of your premium services or a heavy discount on a product.

While webmasters have a tendency to chat amongst themselves, gain the opinions of other webmasters and this kind of networking is great, nothing beats the opinions of those who matter most - your day-to-day web site visitors.

Negative and misunderstood feedback

You won't always hear what you want in feedback, so it is very important to keep an open mind when reviewing comments that are made. Because our sites are our "babies", it is easy to take offence to constructive criticism from others. Some feedback you receive may be poorly conveyed...don't take it personally. If you don't understand what the communication is regarding, politely respond and try and elicit more detail. We've noticed that many visitors to our site have English as a second language - the fact that these people make the attempt to communicate should be applauded and not scorned. Remember, a communication that may seem rude to you may only be that way as the person emailing you is struggling with an unfamiliar language.

One other positive spin-off of responding to feedback from visitors it that people whom you respond to will remember your site, and many will recommend it to others. Your response is all part of the branding process, and will help your products and services be at the forefront of a potential clients' mind.

The web site stirrer

From time to time you will also get the bored people who cruise the 'net taking every opportunity to slam-dunk sites, simply because they are bored. My advice on this point is to generally ignore messages that say things like "this site is @#@#ing useless" and nothing else. It isn't wise to respond defensively as it only encourages more of the same. Nobody wins a "flame" war. The time you spend bantering with these people is time that could be spent on actually improving your site - or sending someone who has taken the trouble to supply you with constructive feedback a nice thank you note.

Using these methods will not only help you improve your web site and increase your bottom line, it will also go towards making the Internet a friendlier place. While I recognize that we are all trying to make a living from our sites - we can do it in style!

For more learning resources on gaining feedback on your web site and increasing online sales: 

Web polls and surveys:

http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles/webpolls.htm 

Web site awards

http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles/websiteawards.htm

Ecommerce site basics - Part 2

http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles/ecommerce-site-s1p2.htm 

Don't forget to review our article/tutorial index; there's over 100 articles published on the subjects of web marketing, design and ecommerce!

Main article and tutorial index:

http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles/articlemain.htm 

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
Web Marketing, Internet Development & Ecommerce Resources
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