Next Generation Trade Intelligence Portal

Your online guide

Step 4: Usability and functionalities

Learning points:

  • Key success factors for effective usability and functionalities
  • AIDAS and KISS principles
  • Good Practice videos and screen recordings
  • Basic and advanced functionalities
  • Homepage success factors
  • Opportunities of E-learning and gamification

Usability is like oxygen – you never notice it until it is missing

No matter how solid the needs assessment (Step 1), strategy design (Step 2) and content focus (Step 3), without a proper interface and interaction design your Trade Intelligence Portal will not be a success. Creating a positive customer experience, exceeding expectations is crucial. This Step therefore provides you with practical tips and guidelines on usability and recommended functionalities.


Usability is the ease through which your visitors can achieve their goals on your website effectively, efficiently and intuitively.

  • Effective – Your portal satisfies the needs and expectations of the users. They can complete tasks such as downloading a market intelligence report, conducting an online assessment or making a consultation appointment.
  • Efficient – The time required to complete a task is minimal.
  • Intuitive – Users can easily and almost automatically learn how the portal works by observing, doing and completing their tasks by following their intuition.

This sounds logical. However, according to recent research in the USA, customers cannot find what they’re looking for on government websites about 60% of the time… This leads to frustration, loss of visitors and trust.

User expectation

Your interface and interaction design has to connect seamlessly with the expectations and needs of your priority target users. Who are they, what are they looking for and how can you provide that through the portal in the shortest possible time, providing a positive user experience and customer satisfaction? In Step 3 on content and formats you can read that your priority users:

  • Focus on opportunities
  • Are less inclined to read
  • Increasingly appreciate visuals, infographics and videos
  • Scan and look for action, accelerated by the popularity of mobile devices

It is your challenge to satisfy those expectations and needs. So, your Trade Intelligence Portal has to be:

  • customer focused
  • as simple as possible
  • action-oriented

This is your point of departure for your interface and interaction design.

Connect with the daily practice

With the popularity and importance of social media in the B2C and B2B environment, the question arises how to relate the Trade Intelligence Portal to the daily social media practice of your users. If your target users are used to the interfaces of popular social media channels, to what extent should you consider features of such interfaces for your Trade Intelligence Portal?

In Step 5 on social media integration, we look into how to connect portal and social media channels effectively. Already, the InterAmerican Development Bank goes a step further and has developed an initiative, the so-called Connect Americas. It is a trade and investment portal for which the interface and interaction design is based on social media features. This new concept looks very promising and may become a model for future Trade Intelligence Portal interface design. Definitely, a concept to monitor.


Francisco Estrazulas de Souza – Inter American Development Bank on Connect Americas“With Connect Americas, we want to create a very simple website and take advantage of the social media skills that are very widespread in Latin America. In Connect Americas we therefore have a lot of features that users are familiar with through the use of Facebook and LinkedIn and put it to use for promotion of international trade and investment. In particular in three service areas: Connect, Learn and Finance.”

- Francisco Estrazulas de Souza – Inter American Development Bank on Connect Americas

The concept of Connect Americas

The concept of Connect Americas is based on three service areas: Connect, Learn and Finance. Watch the introduction video below for a quick insight. 


Connect Americas, a social media inspired trade and investment portal

Connect Americas is “the first online business community in Latin America dedicated to make international business easy”. Watch the video to get a quick insight into the concept. 


Usability key success factors

Below, you find some of the most important usability factors to take into consideration for the interface and interaction design of your Trade Intelligence Portal.


The AIDAS principle is an important concept to continuously focus on the customer and conversion to the desired action. AIDAS stands for:

AIDAS for trade intelligence portals

  • Attention: Attract the attention of visitors with an attractive design proper tagline and intuitive copy
  • Interest: Increase the interest of the visitors by emphasizing benefits and advantages
  • Desire: Create a desire for the goal you want your visitors to accomplish through testimonials and success stories
  • Action: Include calls-to-action to facilitate visitors to act and complete a conversion
  • Satisfaction: Create a positive user experience to satisfy your visitors and turn them into repeat visitor


The KISS (Keep It Short and Simple) principle is another crucial concept when it comes to usability. Less is more! Always remember, when online, people do not tend to read, they scan. So, be concise.

  • Minimize the number of words in sentences.
  • Challenge every word. Do you really need it?
  • Eliminate ALL unnecessary words.
  • Minimize the number of sentences in paragraphs (max 5 lines).
  • Use headers for every paragraph.
  • Do not put a prose text on landing pages.
  • Use list or bullet items where possible. They are easy to scan.
  • Use an active writing style (present tense).

These guidelines should be part of the procedures and laid down in operational manuals, see also Step 7 on the operational plan.

Page layout

To facilitate finding information and moving towards an action easily, quickly and intuitively, create pages that are not cluttered or overloaded with information. The page appearance should be quiet, clear and scannable. Use lots of white space for easy scanning. A few years ago, usability guidelines recommended minimal use of scrolling. Usability testing proved that the majority of users did not scroll. Today this has fundamentally changed. It is largely due to the increased use of mobile devices and the ‘swipe’ behaviour users. Therefore, pages can be designed in view of anticipated swipe behaviour, meaning longer pages. A fat footer (see below) should enable users that scroll down to continue navigation.

Homepage – 5 seconds to convince your visitor

Your homepage is likely the most important entry point for users of your portal, and you have to give it your best. Why? Because you have 5 seconds! Within these 5 seconds, your homepage should convince your visitors to continue exploring the portal. From Attention, to Interest, and Desire to Action. That means:

  • Clearly communicate the benefits of your portal: The Value Proposition.
  • Since the value proposition is different for different target groups (see Step 1 on needs assessment),  connect to different users with different propositions.
  • Pictures should support your main message and enhance the attention power and attractiveness of your value proposition.
  • News enhances the attention power, since users  always scan for news.

Good practice

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Effective homepage of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise  

A clear customer segmentation and corresponding value propositions are combined with prominent presentation of insights into potential markets to attract the attention and develop an interest. The AIDAS principle at work.



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Effective homepage of Prochile

A clear customer segmentation and respective customer interest are well combined with AIDAS and KISS principles. Minimal text and a focus on action to drill deeper into the site. In addition, the homepage features a screen-wide high quality image that enhance the attention trigger. 

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Calls to action and conversion

On the internet, users DO NOT READ! Your users are looking for action, and so are you. In line with your objectives, you want visits to convert into completed actions. Therefore,  focus on calls to action, as a kind of sales process (funnel or pipeline) based on the expectations of your exporters and international buyers. Your portal should therefore:

  • contain no dead ends
  • offer multiple interaction possibilities
  • offer content organized around your customers’ tasks, not your organization
  • trigger action through calls to action that are reflected through outstanding buttons/links. The calls to action are clearly designated (attractive design, bigger font, larger size, highlighted colour).

Examples of calls to action are:

  • Find opportunities
  • Contact us / make an appointment
  • E-mail us
  • Call me back
  • Download
  • Register
  • Subscribe
  • Check your price
  • Assess your export readiness
  • Follow us (in social channels)
  • Share (in social channels)

we advise you in person

The art of effective forms

By making your forms easy to understand, you help your visitors to get things done quickly without having to ask for assistance. This saves valuable time and can lead to better customer service. Guidelines for effective forms can be found at the Howto website, also in PDF


The navigation on the portal is the main tool for the user to find his way to complete his tasks. It is one of the key elements in usability. Some golden rules:

  • Navigation menu on every page.
  • Always offer a home.
  • Always include a keyword search.
  • The main menu has less than 9 buttons.
  • The most important service is offered after home.
  • The main menu features a mega-menu to display the site structure in a user-friendly way.
  • Every page has a fat footer with main (mega-) menu items repeated.
  • Breadcrumbs show the user where he is on the website.

Mega menu and fat footer

The mega menu is a user-friendly dropdown navigation that shows the site structure and can contain additional text and calls to action, images and even video. On top of that it is well appreciated by search engines like Google and can therefore contribute to higher rankings in the search engine result pages.

The fat footer is a user-friendly navigation, especially now that there is a trend to make pages longer. When users scroll or ‘swipe’ down to the end of a page, the fat footer is available to support continued navigation. The fat footer can replicate the mega-menu, but can also include or emphasize calls to action. On top of that, just like the mega-menu, it is well appreciated by search engines like Google and can therefore contribute to higher rankings in the search engine result pages.

Good practice

mega menu

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Mega menu by New Zealand Trade Enterprise

The mega menu offers an excellent way to navigate the site for all the different users of te website. Attractive , user-friendly and search engine friendly.  In this case, the popular pages are even indicated in the mega menu.


fat footer

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Fat footer by New Zealand Trade Enterprise

The fat footer is an excellent example of facilitating navigation for users who have scrolled down the pages. The fat footer repeats the navigation menu, but also includes calls to action to sign up for a newsletter or connect through the social media.  


Browser compatibility

Depending how your portal has been developed, it may not necessarily display equally good with all different browsers. There are various compatibility issues that may occur:

  • Flash technology that is not supported by tablets or smartphones.
  • JavaScript that may not be supported by some browsers.
  • Nested tables that create problems mobile devices.

There are multiple free tools for compatibility testing available. An example is offered though Powermapper. Also, in your website analytics, you can see which browsers your portal visitors use.

Responsive design

With the rapidly increasing use of mobile devices, it is extremely important to develop your portal using a responsive (or mobile friendly) design. The overwhelming majority of the trade promotion organization representatives in the ITC expert panel reported this as one of the main issues to address. If your portal does not respond well to tablets and smartphones, you are loosing out to a large and fast increasing community of users. Besides, you will need to consider: What makes sense to mobile users?


Tim Parkman, Director Channels, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise“We see month on month increases in mobile traffic, it is therefore extremely important to have the website responsive”

- Tim Parkman, Director Channels, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise

A responsive website layout is build up in blocks with a logical sequence. Depending on the screen size, the width and sequence of these blocks will adapt. The desktop and laptop computers will show the full website, while a tablet or smartphone may organize the content and navigation differently and show the navigation differently and stack the content in blocks underneath each other. Also make sure to read related information on mobile friendly formats in Step 3.

Good practice


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Responsive design NZTE

The New Zealand Trade and Enterprise homepage as shown on a smart phone. The navigation, content of the website and action buttons are reorganized and optimized for use on mobile devices. The navigation menu becomes accessible through a drop down menu and the access to the various section of the website according to user profiles is given priority over news and other content, for which the user will have to swipe.  

Highlights Step 4 - Usability

  • Meet and exceed user expectations effectively, efficiently and intuitively.
  • Understand who they are, what they want, and what they are used to.
  • Consistently follow the AIDAS and KISS principle.
  • Provide clean page lay outs, avoid clutter, to facilitate scanning.
  • Provide ample and clearly designated links and calls to action.
  • Apply web writing techniques, with short paragraphs, headers and list items.
  • Use a mega-menu and fat footer for easy navigation.
  • Check browser compatibility.
  • Give special attention to responsive design.


Your Trade Intelligence Portal contributes to enhanced and sustainable trade performance of different target groups. Depending on your ambition and added value (see Step 1) as well as your strategy (Step 2) your portal can have different functionalities. We propose the following functionalities, most of which we consider as basic. Others can be considered as more advanced functionalities.


Basic Advanced
  • Keyword search
  • Contact form
  • Event calendar and application function to trade shows, missions, seminars, workshops, events
  • Download reports (multiple sector select)
  • Related information
  • Registration for e-newsletter
  • Social media integration: sharing and following
  • Embedded videos
  • Blog incl. feedback option, categories, tags
  • Filter and sort news, blog, MI articles on date, category, popularity, rating
  • Print friendly
  • Google Analytics and download tracking
  • Call me back form
  • Chat functionality
  • Registration for customized e-newsletter/alerts (profile based, sector/subject preference)
  • Registration in exporters directory (self service module)
  • Statistical tool, self service trade flow analysis
  • Integration with CRM and commercial opportunities
  • Syndication and affiliation (RSS feed or database linkages) to access statistical databases, tariff databases, standards databases, business directories
  • E-learning, self assessments, compliance checkers, calculators, document generators and gamification
  • E-commerce / online payment

In Step 5 we look further into the issue of  social media integration. In Step 6  we will address the issue of  syndication.  Step 8 covers the analytics functionality.

Below we emphasize related information, e-learning, checkers and games.

Related information

You can add value to a service by providing suggestions to the user based on the actions (s)he performed online. For example, when a user is searching for market information on processed food to Japan, the same user is likely interested in information about doing business or events in Japan, and in your assistance and other support services about doing business in Japan. This functionality to offer related information should be integrated in your website.

Video: Good Practice(

Austrade providing related content to its users

Watch the video to get an impression of a good practice of adding value by providing related content in an effective way. When users select an article about market opportunities, they will automatically get recommendations and links to related articles on doing business, the latest news on that market, and more.

new zealand checkersE-learning: checkers, tools, games

In Step 3, it was already mentioned that in addition to offering content, some subjects are very suitable to be dealt with through e-learning tools and interactive checkers. At the same time, these online tools can provide a possibility to diagnose companies for further support and generate management information on explicit needs that can be relevant input for service development. A good practice can be found at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.



An interesting development in online learning is the so-called gamification, adding a game-element into the learning environment. The Connect Americas platform has integrated gamification into its community concept whereby users can earn points, badges, increase their expertise levels, as is common in digital games. In Connect Americas, users can actually exchange points for tangible benefits form the sponsors. Gamification is increasingly used in management courses and is likely to gain ground in online information and advisory services. Hence, there may be an interesting future for integration gamification in Trade Intelligence Portals as well.

Video: Good Practice(

Gamification as functionality in Connect Americas

In this video, Francisco Estrazulas de Souza explains how gamification is included in the Connect Americas portal and how users can exchange points for tangible benefits form the sponsors.

– Francisco Estrazulas de Souza,
InterAmerican Development Bank

Highlights Step 4 - Functionalities

  • Functionalities should correspond to the users needs, expectations and your objectives.
  • Search, sort, filter, download, contact and registration forms are among the basic functionalities that should be well in place.
  • Related information and social media integration are value added functionalities that have become essentials.
  • Recommended advanced functionalities include customized, profile based services, with alert systems to keep users informed on their specific interests and stimulate repeat visits, often in relation to CRM integration.
  • E-learning functionalities, ranging from self assessments to games, offer significant added value
  • Syndication with other service providers or knowledge centres can enrich the functionalities in the area of statistical analyses, report sharing and learning tools. More about syndication in Step 6.

Make use of ITC expertise

Want to know more about this step or how ITC can support you with your trade intelligence portal?

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