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Has the Surfer Gone the Way of the Dinosaur? – by Kath Blackwell

New studies show that the age of the “surfer” is a thing of the past, with 9 out of 10 of today’s Web users claiming to go online with a specific destination already in mind. A UK-based government program conducted the survey via Tickbox.net, an Internet community service that conducts online surveys and measures ‘Net trends. The study also revealed that despite there being well over 75 million websites currently hosted on the World Wide Web, the average surfer only visits six sites on a regular basis – with top destinations visited including eBay, Amazon, Google and other popular sites.

The same survey also revealed that users felt that some of the most important elements that were required of a website in order for it to become a regularly visited site were that it be: trust-worthy, tried-and-tested, familiar and reliable. Most users claim that they use one site for banking, one site for searching, one site for shopping, one site for entertainment and one site for travel information.

What does this mean to today’s web developer? Should you just pack up shop and look for the next big thing and forget about the Internet all together? What this actually means is that more than ever before, today’s developer should be concerned with pleasing their customers. A happy customer breeds higher retention rates, recommendations to friends/family, up-sells and additional purchases. Customer service should be your number one priority – if it isn’t already – and there are a few things you can do RIGHT NOW to improve your customer relations in order to maximize your earning potential and increase customer satisfaction.
Open the Door to Communication – Most developers know that customer service is of vital importance when dealing with consumers. Processing companies require that you have some form of contact method available – and most legal counsel will recommend that you are available at least by phone or e-mail during office hours. What you can do is extend those basic requirements by creating a contact sheet that gives your users access to you and your customer service staff via e-mail, instant messaging service, on-site instant contact service, telephone and any other method that you think your users will utilize to make contact.

Being available for extended hours beyond the Monday-Friday 9-5 schedule will also keep customers happy and show new customers that you are there to help. If you are unable to be available during those hours consider hiring support staff or finding support staff services to help you on a 24/7 basis.

Keep Your Site Fresh and Give Them More – This is especially important on membership sites, but is also vital on product or service oriented sites as well. Today’s surfers are looking for one-site-that-will-do-it-all and you’ve got to be creative to find new ways to provide it. Think “outside the box” and let your mind roam on all of the other possible types of content you could provide to keep your customers on your site.

RSS feeds of news or related text/image content, fresh galleries, interactive tools and other types of plug-ins that can be programmed to update automatically will save you time and keep your site constantly fresh. Use of content management systems or other pre-datable programs will definitely make the job easier.

Consider Building a “Super Site” – A lot of businesses have many small to mid-size websites within their network in order to better target their specific niche audiences and increase their site’s value. But in order to retain those customers and keep them busy on your site for the long run, it is a good idea to create your own “Super Site” that provides anything and everything your customers might want or need in their online experience.

Think of it as a GIANT FOYAY that your customers could merge into once they move through your doorway sites… a site that encompasses links to and an easy map of your entire network of offerings. That way, if your members grow bored of the content in your membership site, they can upgrade or change their membership to another program within your network instead of moving on and changing to a competitor’s site.

Say it Again, “Retention, Retention, Retention” – I’ve written several features on the importance of retaining your current members, keeping them happy and of course ultimately, recurring. Back then the focus was due to the credit card companies’ new 1% chargeback rule – but today there are even more reasons to keep your current customers happy than ever before.

Just think – it’s so much easier to think about the “bird in the hand” rather than the “two in the bush” as the old saying goes, and keeping your customers satisfied can give you guaranteed monthly recurring income with actually costs you less in the long run. Less time – in searching for NEW customers – less money – in spending to attract NEW traffic – and less effort overall. The act of selling or re-selling to someone who has already made a happy purchase on your site is easier than trying to make someone new trust your site and make that initial purchase. Plus – now knowing that today’s ‘Netizens are creatures of habit and that they choose a small handful of sites to surf daily and shop – creating a comfy safe-zone home-base for these folks is definitely a goal you should add to your top priorities list.

Internet businesses will always be changing, evolving and growing – this latest development is just another part of the process. Part of being a good developer and growing a successful business is in spotting and adapting to new trends – and anticipating new methods for marketing and attracting customers in the future. Be ready to make changes – even little changes – on a regular basis, and you’ll avoid the all-out-panic that some developers experience when they realize they’ve lost touch with their core audience. Don’t be that webmaster – stay smart, stay alert and accept that change happens.

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