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User Needs vs. Business Needs: Striking the Balance

Last Updated: September 03, 2016

In all the years of working with clients on improving their website’s usability, the most frequent question that arises is about how to strike the balance between meeting the needs of the people visiting your website, while also meeting the needs of your business. For example:

  • With navigation, do you show the pages of your website that your board or execs want you to promote? Or, do you show the pages visitors are really interested in seeing on your website, even if those aren’t the pages you’d ideally like to feature?
  • On the home page, every stakeholder has their pet project to feature. But, your visitors have their own set of expectations for what they want on your homepage too, and their expectations probably don’t align 100% with internal expectations of what to feature. How to decide what gets featured and what gets dropped?
  • With calls to action, you most likely want to push people toward a conversion–getting them to complete a lead form or submit an order. But, the people using your website may not be ready to commit to a lead or a sale just yet and would be far more interested in reading another blog post.

Good arguments can be made for promoting certain parts of your business on your homepage or in your navigation, even if people aren’t all that interested–after all, how else are people going to get to know about those parts of your business if you don’t promote them? Certainly, if you didn’t occasionally push a bit for a lead or a sale with a call to action, you’d likely miss out on business.

The downside, however, to only promoting your business when there is little interest from the people visiting your website is that conversion and engagement rates tend to be low. After all, people coming to your website were looking for one thing and you tried to push them toward something else. As a result, websites that offer seemingly irrelevant promotions and navigation items, tend to drive large numbers of people away. Worse yet, websites that only show what the company behind the website is interested in, while showing very little or none of what people visiting the website actually want to see, risk confusing and frustrating their visitors.

The best answer across all the clients I’ve worked with is to do your best to support your visitors because ultimately it is those people visiting your site who will make or break your business. But, you need to strike some kind of balance where you can also find a way to make sure your company benefits from the website too.

This sounds somewhat basic, but that is because there are no absolutes on what that balance is and how much you should favor business or visitors needs. What I know to be true is that clients who chose to completely ignore the needs of their visitors falter in the long run, even if they see some short term wins. Of course, clients I’ve worked with who choose to only favor visitor interests also tend to falter in the long run largely because they didn’t push enough for the sale or lead.

To make this more concrete, I’ll go with an obvious example of Google, simply because it is much easier to talk about a public company I’ve never worked with as opposed to calling out a specific client. Some might argue with this, but Google generally tends to favor the needs of people more than the needs of their business, and yet they have clearly found a way to make it work. Most of their search put the needs of the people first, over the needs of Google’s business. Think of all the things Google could promote on their homepage and think of all the ways Google could manipulate organic search results in exchange for cash. Are Google’s ranking algorithms perfect returning the best results all the time? No, but it is pretty close to 100%. Is Google purely interested in the needs of people searching? Of course not; they are running a business.

In general, Google tends to serve the expectations of the people visiting their website to search more than they serve other interests. Even still, Google does incorporate some of their own needs by showing ads on the search results. Google’s ads are not always what people expect to find after conducting a search, especially search results with several ads above the organic search results. This is doubly true now that Google has removed the right sidebar.

However, what is interesting to note, though, is that even though the inclusion of ads tends to favor Google’s business more than the needs of people, Google does its best to make the ads as relevant to the needs of people as possible. They encourage relevancy from their advertisers in direct ways (quality score) and indirect ways (by charging by click, advertisers are forced to ask why should they spend money on irrelevant clicks).

What this means is that Google tends to err on the side of people more often than not. Where they have to promote their own interests in ads, Google tries to make it at least somewhat beneficial to the people visiting their website to conduct a search. But, because Google does still think about whether or not the ads will be of interest to the people searching, people end up clicking on the ads. That is pretty strong indicator that the ads seem to address the needs of the person conducting a search, as well as serving Google’s needs of collecting revenue.

Back to your website, the way to strike that balance between visitor and business needs is to figure out the needs of the people visiting your website and see where those align with the needs of your company. The more you can follow Google’s example and promote your company only in such a way that it aligns with visitor interest, the better your chances of success.

So, in your website’s navigation, you want to largely show the pages people are interested in seeing. That way people are drawn into your website and actually click on the links in the navigation. Once people reach a page, the content of that page can, where it is relevant, promote some of the other pages people may not have been aware of prior to visiting your website. The more relevant the new page is, the more likely this will align with people’s needs and the more likely it is there will be clicks to that new page your exec team really wants people to see.

The same is true on the home page. You may not be able to feature every project your organization is involved in, but you can feature the projects that have the greater chance of being of interest to people visiting the website. Like Google’s selection of the ads, you can choose promotions that are the most relevant and of interest to your audience.

The same is true with choosing what calls to action to include on various pages of your website. he more relevant the call to action is to your visitors, the better the chances people will actually want to see that call to action and will take the action suggested. This requires resisting the urge to force people into a sale or completing a lead form on every page of your website. On some pages, there may be no call to action, or the call to action may simply be links to other pages. As a result, fewer people may see those calls to action, like completing a sale or submitting a lead form, but more of the people who do see those bigger calls to action will be far more likely to take the desired business action because the call to action was relevant to their interests and expectations.

Is it easy to choose supporting visitor needs and downplay the business needs? No. There is a natural desire to promote your own company’s interests above all else. Internal politics play a big role here too. But, the more you can strike a balance between the two, erring somewhat on the side of visitor expectations, the better your website will work for the people visiting the website and the more long-term success your organization is bound to see.

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