3 Pillars of Web Site Success


The 3 Pillars of Successful Web Sites

There are three pillars that comprise the foundation of any successful web site, including your web site.  For your web site to be effective it must perform well before the visit (at the awareness stage), during the visit (the evaluation phase) and during the finding, ordering or buying phase (the action phase).

I call these the 3 Pillars of Success, take any one of these three pillars away and your website will not perform to its full potential:

The 3 Pillars of Web Site Success

To be successful, your web site must be:

  1. Findable – SEO, paid advertising, links, quality content
  2. Trustable – Persuasion, emotion and trust
  3. Usable – Usability, web metrics

1. Findable – SEO, Paid Advertising, Links, Quality Content:

For your web site to be effective, it must be Findable.  This includes using search engine optimization best practices to ensure the site can be found and indexed by search engines.  This is a critical and often overlooked component of web site success.

“If Google can’t find your site, your site does not exist.”

SEO guru Bruce Clay and Susan Esparza wrote an excellent book detailing how to perform search engine optimization: Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.  Applying search engine optimization best practices means your web site is easy for search engines to find, index and qualify from a quality standpoint.

Being findable also includes paid advertising with tools such as email, SEM, using Pay Per Click or Pay for Performance online advertising media, impression based ads and related online marketing tools such as affiliate networks and social media conversations.  Traditional advertising also applies, including radio, TV, direct mail and more.

Another component of being Findable is using a good quality linking strategy and set of tactics.  Remember that the web (internet) is exactly like a spider web, in that spiders use interlinked threads to create the structure of their web, and to enable navigating quickly and efficiently to any area in the web they need to go.

So too the internet uses connected threads of information to link similar topics and concepts.  The links to your site on the internet is the structure and the navigation system, which in this case is used by all of your web site visitors, including the all-important search engines.  The more high-quality links to your web site, the more Findable you are.

Finally, the last, but perhaps most important element of being Findable is having high quality content on your web site.  Your site must be worthy of being found, which means it must provide high-quality information that is helpful and useful.

Don’t underestimate the power of other web sites (even competitors!) linking or pointing to your high quality content as a powerful mechanism for your web site being found.

Findable tools:

  • SEO – Easy for search engines to find & navigate
  • SEM – Advertising where your prospects are
  • Paid Media – Pay for performance including affiliates
  • Social Media – Connected conversations
  • Links – Highways to your site
  • High-quality Unique Content – Worthy of being found

2. Trustable- Using Persuasion, Emotion and Trust to Influence Behavior

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Once you have web site visitors, you must influence them to take action, this is the Trustable component.  To influence your visitor’s decisions and get them to commit (order, buy, contact you, whatever your web site success metric is) they must trust you and your web site.

By utilizing the science of persuasion to optimize the content, graphics, positioning and related elements of your web site, you will be influencing your web site visitor’s behavior.  Done well, this makes your site more Trustable, believable and will influence more of your visitors to take more actions.

Human Factors International calls this PET; for Persuasion, Emotion and Trust and offers persuasive techniques courses to teach you how to design using persuasive methods.

Trustable and the Psychology of Persuasion

A leading expert in the field of Persuasion and how to influence people is Robert Cialdini, former Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University.

Cialdini’s study of psychology and how influence is used to change human behavior resulted in a popular book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”

In essence, his research defined 6 elements of influence that can be manipulated to persuade and influence people’s behavior.  Using these elements on your web site effectively will enable you to influence your web site visitor’s behavior, resulting in more actions and thus more web site profit.

Trustable Tools – Cialdini’s 6 elements of persuasion and influence:

  1. Reciprocity – People have a tendency to return a favor.  If I scratch your back, you’ll scratch my back, or as in LinkedIn, if I give you a recommendation you’ll most likely give me one.
  2. Commitment and Consistency – When a person commits, either in written or audio form, he or she will be far more likely to follow-through with their commitment.  Once we commit, we seek to fulfill that commitment (some call it honor) because failing to do so causes us cognitive dissonance, which is when our actions do not match our desired goal.  As an example, agreeing to quit smoking is a commitment which if later broken, causes us ill feelings about ourselves (cognitive dissonance).
  3. Social Proof – All of us are to a certain extent followers, if you see people around you suddenly start running in one direction, it’s highly likely you’ll start running too.  Amazon uses social proof very effectively with their “People who bought this item also bought.”
  4. Authority – Authority figures such as police or firemen are obeyed because you have built-in authority following tendencies.  Even when you may know an order is wrong, or goes against your beliefs, you are likely to follow the order consider the disaster that was Enron as an example of following authority figures.
  5. Liking – The odds are your friends can easily influence you to do things that a stranger or acquaintance could not do.  Pyramid marketing schemes like Amway are founded on this principle; that your friend can influence you and a group of others to buy products that a stranger at your door could never do.
  6. Scarcity – Limited time offers, limited quantities or other forms of scarcity have a tendency to cause you to take action.  An example of this being the special sales that occur for only a few hours early in the morning the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S., causing large numbers of shoppers to stand in lines waiting for stores to open at unlikely times like 4 or 5 AM, something they would normally never do.

3. Usable – Applying usability and metrics analysis

Once Trust and a desire for action have been instilled in your web site visitor, the 3rd pillar, Usability comes into play.  Usability means making the tasks of finding things, ordering or buying on your web site as easy and simple as possible.

You must apply usability best practices to make it as easy and fast as possible to take action, and complete the transaction or ordering or purchasing with no errors or confusion.  Usability best practices are applied at this point to make sure task flows have minimal problems.

Usability testing of the order flow is crucial, anything that interferes or causes user confusion must be eliminated, else abandonments and lost sales.  Usability testing of the rest of the site is also important, if your web site visitors have trouble getting to the order flow, there is no order flow.

The usability author Steve Krug wrote a book that defines the goal, Dont Make Me Think.

Put simply, make it brain-dead simple for your web site visitors to accomplish their tasks, especially the tasks of ordering or buying from your web site.

Web metrics is the other tool that is required to find and address any usability issues.  Tracking critical KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) as well as funnel abandonments, time-on-task, error rates and related performance indicators will point to places of poor or under-performing  tasks.

An excellent source for information about metrics and analysis is Avinash Kaushik, Web Analytics: An Hour a Day.  But just tracking is not enough, the analysis of the metrics must lead to follow-up actions, otherwise there’s no point in tracking the metrics.  And this leads us into my next point:

A final note – Testing

In no event should you consider the above 3 pillars to be one-time only events.  It is critical that on-going testing be conducted, including methods such as A/B testing and multivariate testing to try new ways to make it easier for your web site visitors to become customers.

An excellent resource for further information about A/B and multivariate testing is Bryan Eisenberg’s Always Be Testing: The Complete Guide to Google Website Optimizer which although focused on Google’s A/B tool can be applied to any web site tool for testing purposes.

Conclusion – 3 Pillars of Successful Web sites

For your web site to be successful, it must have the 3 pillars, and must do these better than the competition.  To be successful, your web site must be:

  1. Findable – SEO, paid advertising, links, quality content
  2. Trustable – Persuasion, emotion and trust
  3. Usable – Usability, web metrics

The continuous process of evaluating, testing and optimizing these 3 pillars is what separates the successful (and profitable) web sites from the unsuccessful web sites.

For more information about the 3 pillars of web site success, or for an evaluation of your web site’s 3 pillars, just contact me.  As a consultant I’m glad to help you increase your web site profits by evaluating and recommending improvements to your 3 pillars.


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