Web Site Users as Patrons
06 Nov 2006

Web Site Users as Patrons

06 Nov 2006

At Boom Factor, we often think of ‘users’ as ‘patrons’ to stress the fact that users of most web sites are either active or prospective customers or contribute to the web site’s financial state in some way. It is critical to acknowledge this fact, because unlike users of desktop applications or physical products, web site users tend to be more immediately tied to revenue and costs, and as such, optimizing web sites means much more than making them usable; it also means increasing their value through optimizing things such as marketing strategy, acquisition and retention rates, and user participation as well as reducing costs.

A ‘patron’ is defined as ‘a person who is a customer, client, or paying guest,’ particularly a regular or ‘a person who supports with money, gifts, efforts, or endorsement [of a] cause, charity, institution.*

Most web sites produce revenue through direct sales of products or services, advertising, membership dues, or donations or incur costs due to support or other factors. It follows, therefore, that the web site’s visitors also affect its revenue and expenditures through direct sales or other revenue-generating actions.

In some cases considering users to be patrons is a very straightforward notion. It is clear that those users that go to a commerce web site and buy products are customers and thus patrons. However, that also extends to those individuals that visit a web site in the broader buying process. This means that if a person visits our client’s web site to learn more about their products or services or just to get a sense of the company before making the decisions to purchase, they are also patrons because they are prospective customers. Some web sites depend on paid memberships for revenue, so their users are obviously patrons as well.

We can take this notion even further. Any visitor to a web site that clicks on advertising found on that site is a patron. Perhaps that visitor does not purchase a product or service that the owner of that site offers, but the user still generates revenue for our client’s web site by clicking on those ads. The overall interaction that the user has with the web site may be different, but our aim is still to encourage that visitor to carry out an action that has a direct financial consequence for the web site owner.

In fact, any visitor that sees an advertisement found on the client’s web site is a patron. Advertising based on a cost-per-impression model implies that every visitor to a web site displaying cost-per-impression ads inherently affects the web site owner’s revenue. Even if the client’s web site is highly functional, like web-based email, but relies on advertising for some kind of revenue, it is critical to consider that web site’s user experience affects their revenue-generating actions.

One would be very hard pressed to find examples of web sites whose visitors do not affect the owner financially in some noteworthy way. (Some examples of web sites whose users do not significantly affect the web site owners finances or whose goals do not include financial considerations are government-owned informational sites like www.usability.org). Conversely, one would be equally hard pressed to find web site owners that are not concerned how their users affect them financially and how to optimize this dynamic and benefit from it. Some kinds of web sites obviously have customers and other revenue-generating patrons, but even web sites that we do not typically consider as having a strong financial aspect do in fact have one and thus have users that affect it.

For example, we worked with a not-for-profit organization to optimize the user experience of its web site. Not surprisingly, when we started calling their users ‘patrons’ they were a little taken aback. But when we starting talking about users donating to the organization and paying membership dues, the clients were more eager to think of their visitors as patrons because it was clear that their web site was an unsurpassable tool for driving greater membership and dues as well as higher total donations. Not only that, we found out that the organization was burdened with providing customer support that could be alleviated with a more effective user experience design thereby saving human resources and ultimately money.

Creating User Experiences that Are Valuable to Patrons and Owners

Thinking of ‘users’ as ‘patrons’ gets to the heart of what they truly mean for the web site owner. It aids in finding novel, effective ways to increase revenue through acquisition, conversion, participation, and retention as well as to reduce costs. Because patrons of most web sites are more than just users or visitors, one must consider ways in which their interactions with the web site have financial implications:

  • Are the patrons active customers or prospective customers trying to purchase goods or services? How to optimize the user experience in a way that will encourage them to make purchases or make it easier for them to complete purchases?
  • Do the patrons use the web site as a tool in their purchasing decisions? How to improve the marketing strategy aspect of the user interaction in a way that will better convince them to buy the owner’s goods or services?
  • Does the web site rely on paid memberships? How to make meaningful user experiences that will extend the lifetime of the patron members or that will allow the web site to charge higher membership dues?
  • Will the web site’s patrons generate revenue by clicking on advertising? How to ensure that they click on more ads?
  • Do the patrons support the web site by driving impressions that result in revenue from cost-per-impression advertising? How to optimize the user experience to keep the coming back in generating more revenues?
  • In what other direct or indirect ways do the web site’s patrons affect the owner’s financial state? How can the user experience be optimized to capitalize on these?
  • In what ways do the web site’s patrons generate costs for the owner? How can the user experience be improved to reduce those costs?

Considering a web site’s visitors and users as patrons and answering these fundamental questions to inform the user experience design will ensure that the resulting user experience will add value to both the web site’s patrons and to the owners.

To learn more about specific methods that can be used in user experience design to drive greater revenue and reduce costs for web site owners check back weekly for new articles or contact us with questions and to learn how we can help you.

* “patron.” Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1). Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006. 31 Oct. 2006.

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