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Finishing Your Web Sites With Panache

After last month's commentary (see the URL below), I was tickled to hear that so many of you shared my troubles--it's amazing how hard a Web master's life can be when a Web site gets a lot of business. Sure, the shareholders are happy, but when the site gets twice as many hits a year as it did the previous year, are they going to hire twice as many Web masters? You're right, my friends, they're not. So for those of you needing some expert advice on how to make those pesky customers go away, I'm going to pass along the rest of my tips--and not a moment too soon. I just got the Windows Vista Beta 1, and it comes with a game called Shanghai. Trust me, when you get your mitts on this baby, you won't have time to look after a bunch of Web customers.

Some of you offered some useful suggestions that I'm chagrined to say I hadn't thought of. My favorite was a real humdinger: Run a loud MIDI music file when people visit your Web site. If your visitor was foolish enough to leave her speakers on when visiting your site and got blasted by the sound of some vapid tune, you can be sure she won't be back. Others wrote me about using color. The folks at Wired magazine have for years made people read green text on orange pages. Using such color schemes on your Web page says "damn the torpedoes, full eyestrain ahead!"

As I suggested in last month's article, the real key to reducing your workload isn't to focus on Web traffic per se but to focus on the part of the Web that generates the most trouble for us Web masters--Web sales. So here are more suggestions for reducing your online sales.

First, store the user's shopping cart on a cookie, and set the cookie's settings so that it will go away after 20 minutes of inactivity or when the user closes the browser. That 20-minute limit shows those customers who's boss. How dare they take a phone call or check on the kids while browsing your Web site?

Second, force users to register before they can buy anything from your site. Many sites let you create an account that'll let you easily return to make additional purchases. But the trick is to force people to create an account even if they're visiting just once. Web users will think twice about a purchase when they realize they might pay for that purchasing decision with years of spam.

While visitors are registering, ask whether they'd like to be kept up to date about the products you offer and leave that box checked by default. You're doing those folks a favor by selling them stuff; assuming that they want to be on your junk mail list forever is small recompense to ask.

You can also disable the Back button on pages in which users enter their credit card information. That way when they make a mistake and press the Back button to correct it, you can clear the field and make them reenter all 16 digits. Looking at the logs afterward to see who set the record for unrewarded patience is a hoot.

What? People are still visiting your site? I know how annoying that can be, particularly when you lose your place in Shanghai. Can you imagine what's going to happen to office productivity when Microsoft releases Vista? Personally, I'm going to short the whole Fortune 500 the week before Vista ships--assuming that the online broker I use ever gets around to making its Web site easier to use.

Now here's the ultimate Web site killer. Let visitors finish filling in a Web form, then display a Web page order form with all their data filled in and tell users to print it out and fax it to you because you don't do online transactions. I tell you, I just about giggled my tail off the first time I saw that.

Well, that's about all the advice that I have for you this month. Thanks for joining me!

How To Reduce That Annoying Web Traffic

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