The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

Guest Post: The Quest For The Amazon-Like User Experience

Posted by Chris Bonney on Mon, Mar 08, 2010

    
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This is my first blog post for Vanguard Technology, so allow me to introduce myself. I’m an advocate for people who use Web sites. I help make sites more usable, through usability testing and user-centered design. If you don’t think people should need a secret decoder ring to understand a Web site, I agree. If you believe Web sites should give us what we want--quickly and easily--I’m with you.

I ask a lot of questions in my work. I always ask usability test participants what sites they like and what they like about them. I ask the same of clients who are planning a site redesign. I also ask associations how they think their site should serve the needs of their members, and I ask members what they want from their association’s site.

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of the same answers.

From members, I hear this:

  • “I want it to be more like Amazon.com.”
  • “I like how Amazon knows who I am and what I might want.”

From associations, I hear this:

  • “We want an Amazon-like experience, with targeted cross-selling opportunities.”
  • “We want the site to know what people have done before and recommend other content and purchases—like on Amazon.com.”

In the same way Google changed our expectations of search, Amazon has changed our expectations of the user experience. We expect a site to know us personally and make relevant suggestions.

I worked in association publishing for about a decade, and I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes right now—“Yeah, right—become Amazon.com on our budget, with our small staff?”

Sure, it may seem a bit ambitious to try to be like Amazon, but if you have an association management system (AMS) and a content management system (CMS) powering your Web site, you have the tools you need to create a more Amazon-like online experience for your members and other site users.

It all comes down to three things:

  • The information you track about your members;
  • The way you identify, or “tag,” the content and products on your Web site; and
  • Effective integration of your AMS and CMS so you can match members with the content and products they would want to see.

If you can match information from your AMS with relevant content and offerings on the Web site, you can be more like Amazon. Member data such as interest categories, specialties, purchase and registration history, subscriptions, and geographic information can be instrumental in targeting content and offerings to the people who are most apt to want them.

There are even opportunities to create a more Amazon-like experience for site users who are not members or who are not logged into your Web site. If you classify your content effectively in your CMS, identifying topics of information, file types, authors, and other useful attributes, you can create cross-references that will help expose site users to relevant information, products, and services they might not have found on their own. For instance, if I am looking at an article on green design standards, I might also want to see news articles on new green-certified buildings and hear your president’s podcast on sustainable resources. I might want to see your continuing education offerings and publications on the topic of green design, as well. These cross-references can all be accomplished within the CMS, with the right content classification system, or taxonomy.

So, if you want to provide your members and other site users with a more Amazon-like user experience, think about delivering on those “if, then” statements—if we know X about someone, then we know she might be interested in Y. This approach shows that you know your site users and can support their needs and interests. And that makes your Web site and your organization a more valuable resource.

Jacqui Olkin has 15 years of experience directing and managing electronic and print communications for international and national associations, nonprofits, technology companies, government entities, and a Big Five consulting firm. If you're interested in learning more about Web usability, you can contact Jacqui here.


This is my first blog post for Vanguard Technology, so allow me to introduce myself. I’m an advocate for people who use Web sites. I help make sites more usable, through usability testing and user-centered design. If you don’t think people should need a secret decoder ring to understand a Web site, I agree. If you believe Web sites should give us what we want--quickly and easily--I’m with you.


 


I ask a lot of questions in my work. I always ask usability test participants what sites they like and what they like about them. I ask the same of clients who are planning a site redesign. I also ask associations how they think their site should serve the needs of their members, and I ask members what they want from their association’s site.


 


Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of the same answers.


 


From members, I hear this:


“I want it to be more like Amazon.com.”


“I like how Amazon knows who I am and what I might want.”


 


From associations, I hear this:


“We want an Amazon-like experience, with targeted cross-selling opportunities.”


“We want the site to know what people have done before and recommend other content and purchases—like on Amazon.com.”


 


In the same way Google changed our expectations of search, Amazon has changed our expectations of the user experience. We expect a site to know us personally and make relevant suggestions.


 


I worked in association publishing for about a decade, and I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes right now—“Yeah, right—become Amazon.com on our budget, with our small staff?”


 


Sure, it may seem a bit ambitious to try to be like Amazon, but if you have an association management system (AMS) and a content management system (CMS) powering your Web site, you have the tools you need to create a more Amazon-like online experience for your members and other site users.


 


It all comes down to three things:


 




    1. The information you track about your members;

    1. The way you identify, or “tag,” the content and products on your Web site; and

    1. Effective integration of your AMS and CMS so you can match members with the content and products they would want to see.


 


If you can match information from your AMS with relevant content and offerings on the Web site, you can be more like Amazon. Member data such as interest categories, specialties, purchase and registration history, subscriptions, and geographic information can be instrumental in targeting content and offerings to the people who are most apt to want them.


 


There are even opportunities to create a more Amazon-like experience for site users who are not members or who are not logged into your Web site. If you classify your content effectively in your CMS, identifying topics of information, file types, authors, and other useful attributes, you can create cross-references that will help expose site users to relevant information, products, and services they might not have found on their own. For instance, if I am looking at an article on green design standards, I might also want to see news articles on new green-certified buildings and hear your president’s podcast on sustainable resources. I might want to see your continuing education offerings and publications on the topic of green design, as well. These cross-references can all be accomplished within the CMS, with the right content classification system, or taxonomy.


 


So, if you want to provide your members and other site users with a more Amazon-like user experience, think about delivering on those “if, then” statements—if we know X about someone, then we know she might be interested in Y. This approach shows that you know your site users and can support their needs and interests. And that makes your Web site and your organization a more valuable resource.



Topics: usability, Communications, Amazon, olkin communications, web strategy, associations, Websites

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