Any website built for business purposes, be it for early start ups or multi-billion dollar powerhouses, must have 4 interlocked components to drive strong business outcomes. Purpose and goals. Spillway and flow.
Everything starts with purpose. Purpose naturally leads to the setting of important goals. Then, a spillway must be constructed to ensure there are ample opportunities to hit those goals. There must be an undercurrent that guides your visitors in a certain direction – the direction of business value. In this sense, this spillway is constructed as a way to subtly pull your site visitors in the direction of business value (the flow).
Each of purpose, goals, spillway and flow are interconnected concepts that must be part of the business website’s blue print. What does a spillway have to do with optimizing business value from a website? Well, let’s dive into it…
Purpose is a natural place to start. Every endeavor should start with the question “Why are we doing this?” Whether you’re about to run an errand in town, build a shed out back, or construct a website – consciously or not – one should have processed this question before putting in the the execution and effort that goes into it.
Having a higher purpose is a strong ideal that energizes people and companies to both succeed and succeed in the right way. But purpose is also a critical ideal to process when building a business website. Is the site to exude and reinforce a brand? Is it all about content consumption? Or is it its purpose to drive leads and/or direct revenue?
If it is any one of these, then what follows is straightforward. Chances are though, that it is some combination of the above. And particularly when it is some combination, there must be upfront, strategicthinking on how to transform website activity into business value. It often comes down to striking the delicate balance between brand building, information providing and business value generation.
So it always starts with defining a purpose. And that leads to…
Similar to purpose, any endeavor should have at least one clearly laid out goal. In fact, goals should naturally cascade down from that higher purpose. For eCommerce sites, purpose is very likely to drive as much revenue as possible. Goals would therefore likely be online orders or revenue per visitor. Additional “metrics” such as Average Order Value (AOV) and engagement-oriented metrics can also be evaluated as additional data points.
For content consumption sites, purpose may be to gain subscribers and/or drive maximum engagement on site. Goals could therefore be subscriptions, time on site, downloads, page views per visit, video views, among others.
When site purpose and goals are not as straightforward as driving as many online orders as possible, then it becomes paramount to provide clear direction to those building and maintaining the website on the right balance of different site goals.
Once purpose and goals are established, the construction of a clear spillway can begin. Spillway? Aren’t we talking about websites here? Yes – so think of the lead funnel. The sales funnel. This is a similar and certainly more common term. A percentage of website visitors express an interest in making a purchase. It could be a form submission, a phone call, or an online chat. Or maybe the interest was so solid, an online order is made. These interested visitors flow into the funnel.
The spillway analogy works better because, as the image at the top of this article illustrates so well, a spillway naturally creates flow. It creates an undercurrent. If you’re in a canoe on a lake that spills into another lake, chances are you will slowly but surely be drifting towards that spillway.
Think of a large lake or reservoir that is totally enclosed with no spillway to create flow. Within the lake there can still be a lot of activity and life – algae, turtles, fish, snakes, natural springs and so on. In any large website there can be much life without the flow or spillway as well. Interactions, touch points, page views and clicks.
Spillways are where visitors convert into the purchase path. These could be checkout processes, insurance quoting engines, travel and hotel booking funnels, and subscription or lead generation forms.
Spillways, could also be opportunities to create conversations between company and prospect. “Drop us a note”, “chat with us” and “call now” These are the spillway elements of a site that have to be woven in, in a clear, consistent and tactful way.
By tactful, I mean striking the right balance of providing guides and guardrails towards the spillway – yet falling short of being so aggressive that you run the risk of sending your visitors off to competing sites with a sour feeling.
Give them ample in-page opportunities to call or chat without aggressive pop ups that obstruct the user experience. This balance creates ample opportunities for visitors to move where we want them to move without creating feelings of angst or negativity.
The effect spillways have on flow can perhaps be visualized when thinking of ocean bobbing kids drifting away from home base every 10 minutes. “Johnny, Michelle, go back to the left – we’re over there!” They’re focused on waves, fun and sun and, all the while, the current is pulling them to the right.
With business websites it’s very similar. You want to replace the waves, fun and sun, with amazing content that aligns nicely to your target audience. By combining that with prudently placed CTAs (calls-to-action), your audience will be “flowing” in the “right” direction.
When understanding the dynamic of a spillway and the effect it has on developing a consistent user flow, a site that caters to multiple purposes and goals can nail it all. On the surface, you can exude and extend a brand. Across the depths you can provide a reservoir of information. And with a spillway and related user flow, you can generate outstanding business value as well.
In sum, have a higher purpose for your site. Have clearly defined goals that support your site’s stated purpose. Create a spillway so that visitors can easily decipher how to move forward when they know they are ready to. And last but certainly not least, create a spillway so that your visitors are “flowing” in the direction of business value – whether they come with immediate purchase intent, or not.