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Information architecture for selling websites

Posted by Baron pada Mei 22, 2007

Information architecture for selling websites

Introduction

This is not another article on how to set up a web shop; there are plenty of those already.

In this article I share a solution on information architecture for a website having the purpose of selling ideas, services or complex products. In other words, a marketing website that should create a desire to buy, to be a part of, etc. This article presents useful guiding principles to, for example companies and special interest organizations.

With information architecture I mean how required content should be structured on the web page to make the website easy and effective to use, in this case selling. So, this article doesn’t necessarily cover everything you need to make the website complete. Also, the marketing topic is enormous with tons of books on the subject – this short article can obviously not replace a comprehensive marketing guide.

The article assumes that PHP-Fusion or a similar content management system is used to setup the website, respecting license terms. Using PHP-Fusion and the advice given by this article, a selling website could be set up in just a few hours from start to finish (assuming that images and wordings have been produced already).

In the article I also elaborate on web collaboration in the development of the messages delivered.

In the following I use the word ‘customer’ to denote the website user, visitor or potential buyer or member. I use the word ‘member’ (such as in work team member, committee member) to denote the designers of the market messages. The word ‘product’ is used to denote the idea, service, product package or solution you want to sell.

Page layout

Since the article target group is so broad, it is difficult to give anything more than general guidelines regarding the page layout.

Keep it simple
It is good to try to keep a clean and minimalist view of the website. You want the customer see your messages, so don’t add or activate too many functions on the website. You should only activate the features, functions, panels and links that are required for the messages to get through to the customer. If you really need a photo gallery then do use the Photo Album feature of the PHP-Fusion. Otherwise you should deactivate or hide the feature to the customer. The same goes for commenting functions, forums, shout box, statistics, news panels, polls, clocks, etc. If possible, hide the login panel.

Use of images
Apart from the always-visible logotype in the page header, you should use one or possibly two or three relatively large but simple pictures on each page the customer can see. Use a different picture for each page, or rather: do not use a certain picture more than once on the website. For example, you may use slightly softened photographs of people in action. Try to avoid complicated product drawings or diagrams. The pictures may not necessarily need a logical connection to the messages but rather support the messages by making them more appealing. All pictures should have your own or free copyright.

Menu
Only use one menu or navigation panel. Using PHP-Fusion you can choose between the navigation panel and the top menu. Regardless which, the menu items should be the same. If you only have 1-3 products to sell you can do with the PHP-Fusion top menu.

Using the Navigation panel, it should be permanently placed to the left of the web pages of the website, with links leading directly to articles or custom pages with the selling information.

There should be no external links in the navigation panel, only links going internally within this website. The content area is to the right of the navigation panel. Required external links should be placed in a permanent panel to the right of the content area of the web pages of the website, appropriately grouped.

Using PHP-Fusion and its Internal links function you can easily control what page links in the navigation panel or menu that are visible to customers. Hide everything but links to the selected content on your website.

Contents

You need a welcome message, a presentation of the company or organization and of course the product presentations. You also need contact information.

Welcome message
Very short explanation of what kind of website this is. It should make the customer answer the question “Could there be something for me on this website?� In PHP-Fusion, use a sticky news item, a custom page or the welcome text field of the website configuration. The welcome message should be visible on the start page of the website but only there.

Presentation
Write a short introduction to the company or organization. It should generate credibility and trust by answering the customer question “Why are they capable of this?�

Product presentations
Each product should have its own menu item (link) in the menu. Name it with the product name or customer issue, depending on your product (politics, services, etc). Of course, if there are plenty of products you need to group them appropriately, or even need to use a more advanced menu logic.

The below presented product presentation structure is often said to be best practice for “what the customer want to hear (read, see) and in what order�, regardless of media.

Using PHP-Fusion, you could use the Article feature, and write an article for each product you want to sell. Each article could have six pages, using the pagination function of the PHP-Fusion Article section – the ‘new page’ button. Then, the six pages for each product presentation are as follows:

Page One – Customer issue
Here you write a description of the customer problem or customer need. Not too much or too complicated. This should create customer attention.

Page Two – Our solution
Write a description of our (the company’s, the organization’s) idea or solution to meet this need or solve this problem. Also present all required details and options. This text should create interest.

Page Three – Proof
Here you state the evidence or track record to prove that our idea or solution is the right one and that we are the right ones to deliver. This should build trust, by answering the customer question “why you and why not them?�

Page Four – Benefits
List all benefits with our idea or solution. If suitable, in a bulled list which is foreseeable. This text should create the desire, by ‘painting’ the customer value. But not too much.

Page Five – Action
Present what action(s) the customer should take if s/he is interested. Don’t make this step complicated! This page should create the action.

Page Six – Summary
Present a summary of pages One-Five.

Don’t forget the unique picture on every page.

Depending on your product; if you do not need so much text or images to describe and sell your product, six pages could be far too much. Then, just follow the same principle as above, but shorter.

Contact information
Being detailed with contact information improves credibility.

Contact persons
Appointed contact persons for the different products, functions or issues, name with telephone number.

Contact e-mail
Due to spam, e-mail addresses should not be written out or exist in links on web pages. Instead a form is used. PHP-Fusion has such a form function built in to the system.

Address
State the location of the company or organization, its postal address, telephone numbers.

Document management

If your product portfolio is complex, your customers probably wish to download more information for further offline reading. Much of the additional information can be stored in document files that should be accessible for download in the PHP-Fusion section Downloads, appropriately categorized. The suggested file format is Adobe’s PDF since not all customers have Microsoft compatible software installed.

Search function

The search function of the website should be capable of free text search both in PHP-Fusion’s database and within all document files published on the website.

Collaboration

Developing a selling website with all its is messages is usually a teamwork – a team of subject matter experts of the company or organization and perhaps also external consultants. PHP-Fusion gives the opportunity to make the development work efficient and effective.

Before the website goes live (goes public on the Internet) you may use a number of interactive functions to collaborate and co-operate in designing the market messages to be published. You may use for example commenting functions, discussion forums and custom pages specifically for this matter. Create a work group and then select this as authority level.

When you are ready, you should also test the resulting website with a selected group of ‘friendly customers’ before public marketing of the website. How to make your customers come to your website, is another story.

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Satu Tanggapan to “Information architecture for selling websites”

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