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10 tips for making your Web site more customer-centric

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The most successful business Web sites are those created around the customers’ needs, not the company’s products and services. Here are 10 tips for creating a successful, customer- focused Web site, from Tiffany Shlain, founder of the Webby Awards, which annually honors the top Web sites:

1. Show community spirit. Increase loyalty and sales by providing customers with ways to connect and communicate with each other. Example: Café Press uses message boards, chats, offline events and vendor spotlights to build stronger relationships with customers.

2. In people we trust. Allow users to rate and review products, services and content. Examples: IgoUgo.com and Target.com let customers speak their minds and provide their thumbs up or thumbs down on products.

3. Less is more. Avoid bells and whistles that slow users down and prevent them from quickly completing what they came to do. Examples: Google and Muzak show the power of a simple interface.

4. Consider a blog. While you may use traditional marketing strategies to attract customers, integrating a blog or podcast will give your site a voice of its own.

5. Stay on course. Keep your navigation bar consistent and prominent on every page, so customers don’t get lost. Examples: Apartments.com uses guides to show users both where they are and how they can get back to where they started.

6. Make contact. Put a clear link on the home page that leads to your company’s contact information. Customers will place more trust in your company if they know you are easily accessible.

7. Set expectations. When it comes to online customer service, it’s critical that you meet your customers’ expectations. Tip: Reply to all customer queries with auto response e-mail that confirms the message was received and when customers can expect a response.

8. Keep up appearances. Your Web site is a constant work in progress. Keep visitors coming back by updating the site regularly and promoting that fact.

9. Be resourceful. Increase the value of your site and position yourself as the authority by providing information, such as surveys and industry news. Example: Jiffy Lube offers safety information, tips for road trips and more.

10. Make searching easy. Give your customers the ability to search both within your site and on the Web.

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