Forget about the snazzy color schemes. No amount of dancing doodads will make a Web site work if you haven't first thought about who is going to use it. "You're not engineering a Web site," says Mohanbir Sawhney, a marketing professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. "You're engineering a user experience." Here are Sawhney's top three rules for turning first-time visitors into repeat customers.
Cap those clicks.
When visitors cruise to your site, they should be able to get where they need to go within three mouse clicks. "Microsoft's Expedia www.expedia.com violates this rule. Just count the number of clicks it takes before you can make an airline reservation. Amazon.com www.amazon.com understands this principle. Once you've ordered your first book, you can order every other book that you find in one click. Very nicely done."
Make it usable.
Provide people with a service, and they'll keep coming back. "Biztravel.com www.biztravel.com gives people a reason to return. It keeps track of all your frequent-flier miles in one place. I can't do that on my airline site!"
Customize your gateway.
Different visitors have different needs, so you should provide several avenues for accessing material on your site. "Storyboard all of the pathways into your pages before you build the site. Cisco Systems www.cisco.com , for example, offers layered access: Visitors enter the site at different levels, depending on what they're looking for. It makes customers feel special."
Coordinates: Mohanbir Sawhney, email@example.com
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.