Return to: GROK Dot Com 6/1/2000

Behind the Scenes:
E-commerce Secrets from Hollywood?

Ever watch one of those "Making of..." shows where you get to see behind the scenes of your favorite movie? I love them. Do you remember the bit about how people sit down and cover the wall with pictures of what they want the viewer to know, feel and see, and in what order? They call it "storyboarding." Before a single scene gets filmed, the key folks have a complete image of the end product. Nothing is left to chance

The same sort of process goes into designing your website - or it ought to! Because if your site can't lead your customers successfully through the process of shopping and buying, it is going to wind up as the Internet equivalent of excess film on the cutting room floor.

Before you upload a single page to the Internet, your key folks ideally have gotten together, thoroughly considered your website from the shopper's point of view and created your storyboard. It looks a lot like a flow chart, with paper pages representing each individual web page. Each sheet describes the page and contains a summary of its content, layout, graphics and objectives. Objectives? Yes. And the two main objectives of every page are to motivate your customer to keep at it and to make it easy for them to do so.

The sheets representing web pages then can be arranged in the logical order of the buying process, with arrows between the pages. These arrows will become the links you provide to help your customers navigate your site, find what they want quickly and buy it easily. There should be different arrows representing differing outcomes based on how your customer might move through the site (primary trajectories, secondary ones and so on). This is critical planning! Every page! It helps you figure out and understand the nuances of your site. Most important, it ensures your customer sees, understands and does exactly what you intend, but in a way that feels totally natural to them.

Pssst. Take note, graphic design gurus and latest-tech-gadget fans. Studies consistently prove shoppers find ease-of-process far more delightful than glitz and gloss. Never forget that the ultimate purpose of your site is not to dazzle, but to sell.

There isn't a set way to create a storyboard. You've got a number of options depending on how you like to solve problems.

· The "top-down" approach: a sheet representing the index, splash or home page is placed at the top and all the other sheets branch off below, converging on the checkout page.

· The "build-out" approach: begin with the pages that are certain (an order page, a 'thank you' or confirmation page, an 'about us' page, an e-zine description page, a product page, a special promotions page, a security and privacy policy page, etc.).

· The "bottom-up" or reverse approach: start with your order confirmation page and work backward through each step.

Every layer in the storyboard either precedes or supports specific choices the customer makes. It has to make sense - to them.

Whichever method you choose, the essential question to keep in mind always is: what's the plot? With that firmly in mind, each and every element in your storyboard must address these critical questions:

· What do I want my visitors to know here?

· What do I want my visitors to do at this point?

· What do I want my visitors to feel right now?

· Where do I want my visitors to go next?

· How do I make it easy for them to do that?

· How do I "reinforce" them after they've done it?

Consider all contingencies. Sometimes customers miss the first scenes and arrive mid-movie (landing on one of your interior pages). Will they know where they are … where they might go … what they are supposed to do? The final storyboard should allow a customer to enter your site anywhere, know where she is and quickly understand how she can get to where she wants to be. "Keep 'em guessing" only works in mysteries.

Storyboarding helps not only to improve site navigability, but also to develop content and web copy. Best of all, for every day you spend planning and getting all the details right, you save yourself the cost and time of three days’ remedial tinkering and development. Three to one!

Making a blockbuster movie, designing a successful website -- doing either requires detailed planning. After all, how the heck is Indiana Jones going to be able to open the Ark of the Covenant if he can't find it in the first place?!

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Return to: GROK Dot Com 6/1/2000

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