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The Goal of Every Web Site Should be to Find a Win-Win Solution

Key facts to help you find win-wins

1) Your visitors are not your enemies

Don’t assume that your site visitors are completely opposed to your goals. Consumers understand that web sites sometimes need to make money, and don’t expect everything good to come for free.

You have a (limited) amount of goodwill available. What will annoy your visitors is when your priorities get in the way of what they want.

2) The ‘Scent’ factor

Don’t assume that you must design exclusively to get your visitors to their goal as quickly as possible, with no compromises along the way. Good win-win solutions find creative ways to get the publisher’s needs met without getting in the visitors’ way too much.

Studies have shown that , as long as visitors remain confident that they’re on track to their goals, the experience will feel successful and smooth. This is often referred to as giving visitors the ‘scent’ of the goal, and it allows additional scope for the site to meet its objectives.

3) Trade-off

We’re willing to put up with some pain or confusion, if we perceive the reward to be worth it. We can rely on the trade-off effect to some degree – at least until someone finds a way to deliver the same benefit with less pain!

“It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting on a bed of nails if you’re sitting next to the most beautiful woman in the world” (>>quote?)

Win-win theory case study: Supermarkets

Consider a real-world supermarket. They’re great examples of balancing consumer’s goals (to be home in good time with your shopping, getting good value, and not spending too much) with the owner’s goal (to maximise profits by gaining customer loyalty and cross-selling alternative products). They’re also a goldmine of insight into how to influence the behaviour patterns in a highly competitive market space.

Supermarkets are laid out in order to give everyone the impression that they are proceeding directly towards their goal (of having completed their shop ready for the evening/day/week ahead), when in fact they’re doing lots of other clever things.

Supermarkets could be designed to make your weekly shop even quicker: for example by putting all the most common items (milk, bread, beer, nappies) together near the entrance. But there are loads of ways they attempt to get shoppers to buy more than they came in for (thus hitting the goal of maximising profits).

  • Arranging items by category promotes choice. If they arranged all products by price, many people would go down the ‘cheap’ aisle and proceed to the checkout with a smile on their face. Placing regular beans next to premium beans makes the cheap beans appear less attractive, and some people will buy the beans they didn’t come in for.
  • Promotions on aisle-ends and special offers are designed to get you to purchase more than you intended (e.g. “buy one, get one free”).
  • Placing milk and bread at the far corner of the store makes you wander right through. A typical family grocery shop will take you down most of the aisles.
  • Piping air from the bakery to vents over the store entrance stimulate customers’ appetite, which influences us to buy more food (the ‘Scent’ factor again).

Examples of online win-win solutions

Messages at “rest points” in transactional services

Download.com puts big adverts on the page where you download software, and also features other downloads on home page & section pages. In this way, visitors see adverts at rest points, while waiting for something else to finish.

Inline advertising on content of value

Many sites put big adverts inline within articles, which the reader has to read round, like a newspaper ad. This is okay, because you think you can ignore the ad (but you might just sneak a look).

Subtle promotional tags

Hotmail promotes its service by simply adding a couple of lines to the bottom of each email message sent.


Everyone has seen funny cartoons or advertisements, which promote a brand while providing amusement. These are often created specifically for the web, or for viral promotion via email.


Another familiar mechanism from offline media. Consumers may decide to part with a small amount of time or information in return for the chance to win something. These are often impulse decisions.

Giving to get

Lots of sites give away a limited amount of free content, or free service within an acceptable boundary. The intention is that, by letting visitors use the service free of charge, more people have the opportunity to realise how this particular offering helps them get where they want to be, and in order to do that more easily or more effectively, they may consider paying for the full service.

Timing the “call to action” is critical to this approach. You want to give your customers enough for free that they get a good idea of the value of your offering, and still feel they want more, at the point you offer a call to purchase or subscribe.


Newsletters provide rich examples of giving to get. They can achieve a number of goals while delivering worthwhile information to people’s inboxes:

  • They provide people with information they’re interested in without their having to go and get it, when it becomes available
  • They can provide information aggregation, selecting the most interesting content in a topic, which is becoming more valuable as the amount of information people have to deal with increases. I think this will be the biggest area of growth and development in publishing over the next 10 years.
  • They gather visitors’ contact details, which gives publishers a route to communicate direct with people who they know have a particular interest (pre-targeted list)
  • They provide publishers with a cost-effective channel to promote their/others’ services and products.
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