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Be Active to Succeed

As I mentioned in Planning for a Successful Application/Website, social media has changed the landscape of the Internet.  Static informational pages are still helpful but users have become spoiled with all of the bells and whistles that savvy developers continue to churn out.

While all of the bells and whistles are great, simply adding them to your website will not necessarily result in a better experience for you or your users.  Today I’m going to walk you through a new way to look at Internet applications and websites.  

What is a Passive website?

Websites up until recently were fairly straight forward.  Yes, you had static (plain non-changing content) and dynamic (pages created on the fly with data from a database) but both had one driver; the end-user.  The mode was “Passive”.

Passive websites require spending time in Google Analytics and trying to figure out how to update the website to get more people to 1. Stay on the site and 2. Navigate to where we want them to go. ie. the order form.

Tip: If you have never used Google Analytics before you need to get familiar with it right now.  It’s fantastic and free and just a dozen years ago would have cost you upwards of $10,000 from another company for a fraction of the data and functionality.

The goal of any application or website is to keep the user interacting and moving where you want them to go.  If you are Facebook you want the user to keep hitting “like” and posting their information otherwise your website is a dying one and will soon be forgotten.  If you are Amazon you want your users to consider other items when they are checking out.  This leads us to “active” websites.

What is an Active website?

Once again I’ll mention Google.  They were really first to introduce “Active” websites.  We can learn a lot from Google.

Google makes billions of dollars a year because of a few things.  One, they perfected the search engine.  It is fast and very accurate.  Two, they built a self serve advertising platform.  By placing these text ads beside the search results Google has built a huge business.  (Facebook is still looking to monetize their website.)

By laying the foundation for advertisements based around their search engine, Google took this one step further by allowing users to take a cut of their profits by placing ads on the user’s websites.  As a result, Ad Sense allowed Google to place advertisements on millions of websites with ZERO work or maintenance on their part.  Brilliant but this is not the “Active” website that I am getting at.

Google is a perfect example of an active website because they tailor the web ads to your preferences.  Once the user agrees (and pretty much 99% do) Google tracks your searches.  Knowing what you searched for in the past allows Google to continually place relevant ads on all of those millions of websites I mentioned earlier.  Google doesn’t just look at previous data; they use it in real-time.

Google is a perfect example of an Active website.  An Active website allows the user to drive but essentially it’s the website that is suggesting and pulling the user in the direction it wants.

Another great example of an active website is Facebook.  They have continually improved the site to generate interaction.  You can like, share, comment, invite and message just to name a few.  Notice these are all “action” verbs.

How to make your website Active; not Passive

So where do you go from here?  The first thing you need to ask yourself is “Where am I taking this user?”.  You need to know where you want the user to end up before you can chart the course to get there.

Here are some examples:

If you are an eCommerce site then your final destination is the order form but that should not be the end-all destination by any means.  Think about how you get the user to add similar or other products to their cart before checkout… think Amazon.

If you are a blogger and have no products then you want the user to stay on your website.  So, your final destination is another blog post.

If you are a social network your final destination is no place in particular.  You want users to keep going in circles basically.  As long as they feel like they are accomplishing something you will have a lot of user interaction.

Conclusion

Informational websites are great and needed but the majority of websites need to be “active” in today’s world.  Think about how you can add interactivity to your website so that the user stays stimulated and interested.  Now is the perfect time to add some “smarts” to your website.

What idea do you have for keeping the user interested and interacting?

Today, thanks mostly to cool libraries like Jquery, websites can do a lot without ever having to refresh the entire page.  Websites have really grown into full blown applications. 

Take Facebook or Twitter for example.  Both sites have tons of functionality all working at the same time (asynchronously).  The page never refreshes and for the most part it works beautifully.  Tweets get retweeted, comments get posted and friendships are made.

Unfortunately no application is perfect

But as great as both applications are, neither one is perfect.  I have clicked the follow button in Twitter several times and nothing happened.  Eventually, after wasting a minute or two I ended up hitting fresh and tried again.  I think it’s worked every single time after a refresh. 

How much time do you waste trying to use something that just doesn’t work?   As a computer consultant I found that scenario to be very common among my clients.  They would use a system that was only 50% of what they really needed.  Instead of throwing it away and trying again (mostly because they had already paid someone else a bunch of money for it)  they would painfully continue to use the old system.

Find a fresh alternative

The first thing I would do in these cases was think of an extreme alternative.   That usually lead to questions for the client which lead to more ideas for a solution.  My main goal was to simplify the job of the client.   My job wasn’t to fix what was broken with the old system.  My job was to find an alternative that worked.

Avoid overkill

For example, one client was creating forms from a database.  The text never changed and it was extremely complicated for them to use the system.  They used less than 30% of the system.   My suggestion was to simply use a PDF template and fill in the blanks instead.  They went from managing a database and application to 7 simple files that could be stored on a thumb drive if they wanted.  No bells or whistles but guess what? They didn’t need them!

Just hit refresh

The next time you feel stuck… hit the refresh button. Think of something extremely different as a solution.  Think of something extremely simple.  Make a list of what you’re trying to accomplish.  Ask yourself, ‘What is the one thing I really need on this list?”  Then, do it.