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Your Secret Online Marketing Tool: Website Feedback

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Editor’s Note – Usability plays a huge part in the success of your website, but it’s often given way too little attention in the rush to get a website live. A webmaster may think that if a user is really interested in the product or service, they will struggle through whatever usability challenges are in their way in order to make their purchase. Alas, that is far from reality. Even small barriers in the way of a stress-free purchase can cause a potential buyer to abandon the site and look for another business from which to buy. Furthermore, that tipping point of abandonment can occur at any point along the path and involve any part of the process, from finding out initial information all the way to final shopping cart details.

In this article, usability expert Kimberly Krause Berg tackles the issue of website feedback and the role it plays not just in usability but in helping ensure overall business success. She discusses ways in which you can get extra mileage from feedback collected (or received directly) from your online customers, using that information to improve your site and boost your actual site content. Considering feedback from a collection of different viewpoints, Kimberly’s article provides specific tips for turning website feedback into promotional material and to enhance your site overall. This article appeared in an issue of Search Marketing Standard magazine and was previously only available to premium members. The advice it provides is as relevant today as the day it first appeared!

The complete article follows:

Your Secret Online Marketing Tool: Website Feedback by Kimberly Krause Berg

Here’s a small trick I use with online order forms that helps me to identify one of the problems a website may have.  When contacted through one, I never ask for a business address or phone number right away.  I don’t want to know what these are.  As a website usability consultant, when I visit a client’s website for the first time, learning how to contact them is my first official task.  If I can’t locate this information, or it’s a pain in the neck to find, I’ve discovered their first customer service issue.

However, I would not recommend this tactic for your online business, especially if you are selling products.  Your responsibility is to gather accurate information for your transactions at first contact, so you can conduct business in an efficient, courteous manner. I, too, have times when I am more formal, depending on the project.

We all have a strong desire to conduct business or provide information in a positive, productive way. If we fail in this,  how do we know when we’ve failed?  Conversely, how do we know when we’ve succeeded? If we don’t make the effort to include a customer’s needs and desires in the interaction, and our competitors do, what message does this send?  A means of inviting user feedback is essential.

Dear Google, Your Application is Groovy

Search marketers know that local search is a new arena for promoting online businesses.  One way to do this is by informing Google Maps that a business exists.  When Google has this information, with data provided by a site owner or their Internet Marketing Consultant, it is more likely a search for their product or service – in their town – will display their business.

When I decided to enter my business into the Google Maps application (http://maps.google.com/), I found there were several steps to the application, with helpful user instructions to guide you.  When I reached the end, I had several options for how Google could verify that it was me submitting the data, rather than someone not associated with my business (or, heaven forbid, a competitor).  This extra effort towards accuracy signals a desire to be customer-service-oriented.

Since I believe in positive reinforcement, I wanted to send a “high five” to Google because I had a good experience using their application. However, on the last screen, there was no place to offer feedback of any kind.  I couldn’t rate it.  I couldn’t recommend it to someone.  I couldn’t send an email.  I couldn’t answer a one-question quick survey such as “Did you enjoy adding your business to Google Maps?” or “Did you have any problems entering your business and if so, please send us your experience.”

I know Google is user-centric.  This is a missed opportunity for user feedback.  It’s a missed opportunity to get a pat on the back for a job well done.  We all like to hear when we have done something a site visitor appreciates.

Feedback as User-Generated Content

Online customer feedback seems to be tucked away somewhere on the last page of a developer’s list of site requirements.  Forcing visitors to navigate their way through a thick forest of page elements just to locate how to communicate with you creates frustration. Worse, it is a lost opportunity to obtain user- generated content for your website.

User-generated content can be a great marketing arm if you understand how to invite feedback and apply it.

I have a book addiction, so to help support it, I buy from Amazon’s used book dealers who sell at discounted prices.  Shortly after a book arrives, Amazon inevitably follows up with an email invitation to answer a quick survey about the service provided by their third-party vendor.  The survey is simple, often only 1 or 2 easy questions focused on a rating scale, and in less than a minute it is done.

The only reason I even bother to respond is I know Amazon issues very short and simple surveys. They have earned my trust because I know what to expect from them.

I purchase products from Amazon as well. I recently bought an herbal product through them that my doctor recommended after knee surgery.  Amazon responded with an email containing a link to a product survey that permits user feedback in an interesting way.

We invite you to submit a review for the product you purchased or share an image that would benefit other customers. Your input will help customers choose the best products on Amazon.com.”

The survey is two questions long. The first asks if you are over 13. The second is a rating where you can assign 1 – 5 stars. Then there is a place to enter a title for your review, and a huge comment field in which to write your review.  A radio button allows you to submit a video review if that is your preference.

Consumers can link to the product page in their review.  They can “tag” reviews with keywords or a category label for the Amazon search engine. Accepted reviews appear on the site in 48 hours.

By getting customers involved, a website opens the door to user-generated content (USG). This is also another outlet for creative online marketers looking to place content and promote products.

Reach Out in the Darkness

By appealing to feelings and emotions, you will increase a customer’s desire to contact you. One sure-fire way of grabbing their heart is to suggest you will take something away that they care about.  For example, you can ask for feedback by presenting questions such as “Should we remove [insert beloved gadget or site pleaser here]?” Another popular approach is asking readers if they mind if you include a few ads.

The point is that you need not be afraid to take the initiative. Let your visitors know what you may be considering and offer them a chance to respond. If you strike a nerve, their feedback may be unwelcome if it spreads via their blog entry, but if you’re lucky, they’ll send praise. Take into consideration whether you want feedback to be public or private, but realize that sometimes you won’t have a choice.

In the early stages of Danny Sullivan’s new Sphinn site for search marketers, I blogged  about the lack of a place to post usability topics. My blog post caught the attention of Sullivan and his loyal band of developers. He responded in my blog, and our dialog became a news story. In the end, Sphinn added a usability category because the resulting user feedback justified the inclusion.

It didn’t stop there.  Sphinn readers are encouraged to ask questions, submit ideas for new features, and propose solutions to known problems in the forum-like space.  Danny or his staff responds publically.

By enabling most user feedback to be out in front, they are creating content.  Behind this content is an enormous message from Third Door Media that customer service is a top priority.

Free Candy for Your Feedback

A food shopping chain in my area places the customer service desk directly on the opposite side of the cash registers, where cashiers get fast help.  I once had a vegetable my cashier could not identify, so he just yelled across to the customer service desk for help to verify what I told him it was.  It used to be that retail stores stuck customer service in the farthest corner away from the action. Do you do this too?

You can turn feedback into a promotion device or funnel it into site enhancements.

1. Be there when they need you.  Place the Contact Us page in your global navigation so a link to it appears on every page.  Increase the font size of your toll-free phone number.

2. Provide a feedback form, but make it short.  Be sure to indicate up front that your form is “quick.”  Some visitors will balk at polls, surveys, or forms that require a time investment.  Make sure the drop-down menus have an “Other” category if appropriate.  Don’t require registration first.  Be very clear with visitors about what you intend to do with the feedback.

3. Watch labels. Amazon calls their customer service page “Help”, but that word conjures up the image of a FAQs page, not user feedback.  If you provide a form, say so by calling it “Feedback Form” or “Your Fast Feedback.”

4. Don’t make anyone feel insignificant. Amazon has an option to sign in before offering feedback and in smaller text offers permission from non-members to contact them. However, another link for “Express” feedback is for members.  Isn’t all feedback created equal?  Get permission to use any user-generated content on your site.

5. Invite product reviews, guest blog writers, paid product reviews, video, audio, snapshots.  Turn your customers into your personal salesforce by establishing trust. Let them edit or remove reviews later.  Link back and pass link juice.

Lastly, provide incentives such as coupons, free shipping, fee discounts, and free samples to those who were unhappy with a product.  Many companies truly loathe dissatisfied customers and will bend over backwards to please them.  Show you want their feedback by encouraging creative opportunities for them to do so.

You may be amazed at how many times a single comment from a user will point to a problem or confusion that you would never have noticed otherwise.  Sometimes it is difficult to take that step back and look at your content and website as it appears to someone who does not have the knowledge of, and experience with, your product or service.  It’s worth taking the time to offer the opportunity for customers to rank or rave – your website will thank you for it.

Image: Feedback — Original Billboard Content from Shutterstock

About the Author

Kim Krause Berg began working in website design in 1995. Her consulting business, Cre8pc (cre8pc.com), was launched in 1996, where she is a global Usability/IA/SEO consultant. Her training includes software testing, user interface and usability, information architecture, search engine marketing, and human factors design. In 1998, Kim founded Cre8asiteforums.

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