Keeping it simple: Suzanne Noble, Frugl

Suzanne Noble is the founder of Frugl, an app highlighting low-cost things to do in London, and one of our Virgin StartUp ambassadors. In her latest blog  she talks about the importance of keeping things simple when it comes to starting up.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over this past year, it is to never underestimate the importance of simplicity. When you're working in ecommerce, or any retail business for that matter, what matters most is moving a potential customer through the checkout in the easiest and most timely fashion. It may appear obvious, but adding features to an ecommerce website that distract a user from wanting to make a purchase can be the difference between gaining or losing a customer. It’s like erecting a giant, free funfair in the middle of Selfridges and then wondering why there is never anyone waiting to pay at the tills!

Working in tech and with so many open source tools available now, keeping things simple is more of a challenge than ever. The temptation to add feature on top of feature is almost irresistible, especially with so many ‘plug-ins’ to choose from available for free.  The more features you build into your product, the quicker one loses sight of what really matters. The result?  Your customer doesn’t know what they’re meant to do when they visit your site and, as a result, they click off.

Probably the best piece of advice I’ve been given recently came from a woman I know who runs a company that optimizes landing pages. (Yup, that’s all she does!) She told me, “You’ve only got 3 seconds to capture a visitor to your site. Have one clear sentence that says what you do and don’t worry too much about the rest.”

Frugl is a self-financed business, so knowing and understanding what drives sales is crucial; we simply can’t afford to make too many mistakes. Over the past year we’ve tried a variety of analytic tools.  Some are more sophisticated then others but they all help to track user behavior on our site and app so can work out what’s useful and what’s not.  For example, if we can see that the average Frugl user rarely looks for an event beyond four days in advance, there’s no point in displaying more than seven days worth of content. If they rarely click certain buttons on the page, we remove them. All the time we keep testing and keep trying until we find the optimal and simplest solution.

I’d advise anyone who has a website to install Google Analytics, a free tool that shows you lots of interesting information beyond just website visitor numbers. Recently they’ve added demographics and lots of insight about who’s looking at your website including age, location and interests. Using Google analytics you can discover whether your visitors have found you through organic search (they typed your actual website name in directly) or though a link on another site or search term. It’s a great way of figuring out how ‘sticky’ your site is (the amount of time people spend looking at it) or whether they are leaving straight away.

Beyond Google analytics, we’ve gained the most insight about our business from meeting customers and sector specific consultants face-to-face. It doesn’t matter whether they only give us five minutes of their time or an hour, we always come away with some gem of wisdom.  Every start-up founder knows how it feels to keep hundred balls in the air, and face-to-face meetings provide us with a clarity that we can’t find in spreadsheets and charts.

The insight we have gained from those face to face meetings is invaluable; from learning low-cost ways that we can simplify even further what we do, to thinking about future iterations that may necessitate investment but would add immense value in the long run. This, combined with our analytics, has given us a far great understanding of our business than we would have had simply sitting in our office every day working in a vacuum!

Recently I attended a workshop about prototyping, given by the head of a well-respected digital agency. One of the suggestions was to actually draw the website you envisage on a piece of paper and then ask your friends and anyone else you could rope in to navigate through the pages. I thought that was a brilliant idea and demonstrated to me, once again, the value of taking a simple approach to solving a more complex challenge.

If you find yourself struggling with building your first website or laboring under the weight of one you’ve built that may now be too complex, my advice would be to work out your top priority and focus on that. Whether it’s selling, acquiring email addresses or simply just promoting an offline business, make sure your key message is clear, uncluttered and - dare I say it again - simple!

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