I’m writing from across the pond, where once-upon-a-time in the West of US, just having a website seemed the way to make bucks fast.
Things have changed, but then things always move ahead at lightning speed in the US. Here in California I’m learning some useful insights that the business-savvy can use to put them ahead of the competition on the web.
Now the biggest site that is booming in the US is Yelp, and it’s about to cause a storm in the UK, too. The reasons why might mystify you. At first glance it won't seem like anything special. It's a restaurant site, and in essence the content or functions are no different to what you’d find in the UK.
The essence of why the site is booming is because it appeals to user needs, intuition, and sense of location, by telling them exactly what their nearest restaurant is, how to get there and how good it is. It drives right to the heart of the consumer’s needs.
So the key to the site is not necessarily in the revolution of its content, but in its intuitiveness, its user-friendliness, how it can help the user find what it wants quickly. Here lies the key to the future. It’s not about fancy widgets or gimmicks, but understanding what the customer wants on their doorstep. It's about delivering on a more simple local level, not a more complicated one. When I was setting up Accommodation for Students I knew that the technology had to be simple to make the business work.
The key concerns consumers will have in future is: Is the site easy to navigate and simple to use? Will it help me find something easily without thinking too much about it? Will I have to spend too much time fussing around? In some ways the websites of the future will be a lot more like apps.
There’s a few reasons why successful websites need to be simple, not just in content but in design. As web design consultant Carolina Sotopik advises: “Once web design was all about being flashy with flash, now it’s the opposite, not just because tablets don’t support it, or because it can be irritating to have to ‘skip’ annoying graphics,” she says. “It’s because more people want to be able to search on-the-go, and want their favourite site to be dynamic. The more going that is on, the more confusing it is, but the more simply and intelligently you can take people there the better.”
The quest for usability doesn’t end there. People now want information and responses 24-hours a day. Think of some of the web success stories of the last few years, and all of them offer you the chance to get what you want at a moment’s notice, day or night, whether it’s Google maps, flight booking centres or clothes.
That’s the beauty of the net, it works for your business while you sleep. One thing I’ve learnt by being in the US is it pays to take your product one step further than the rest. Throw in a call centre or hire somebody to respond, and you’re already ahead of the competition. Because people all over the world can use the web and take control of your site, you can hire somebody in a different time zone to take care of it, while you dream of your next big idea.
William Berry is a serial entrepreneur and in 2006 was named a Young Gun by Growing Business. He is the founder-director of accommodationforstudents.com, conferencevenues.com, and Vincentbond.com. William is also CEO of the new video start up p6.com, based in California.