Every time I sit next to some upstart CEO or marketing expert from a business web based company, we talk about marketing and the media and how to lower sales costs and the cost of getting a customer. When I explain to them that it depends on how much “anti-marketing” you are doing? I usually get a hard look and then we get around to talking about web expectations and why we continue to take two steps forward, and one step back. Some of the best and most expensive web sites out there are guilty of some of the little things discussed below, and it’s time guys interested in lowering sales costs, understood the web metric to get accurate results.
In an article over at Mashable, Jonathan Goldford, who is a partner at JG Visual, an Internet strategy company, shares the two main questions organizations face when developing an online presence:
1. How do we get the right people to our website?
2. Once they are on our website, how do we engage them in a meaningful way?
I challenged my design partner, Ali, to a little compare and contrast on how we look at the points Jonathan makes to see what is new and what we think may have been left out of the comparison. Maybe we can get some of our audience to share their views on the comparison, but, I warn you, Ali is the fellow who knows this stuff, and my view is based on ideas I’ve retained after nearly twenty years designing sites and marketing to IT audiences. In other words, have some sympathy with the oldtimer.
The first point Jonathan makes, “Forgetting about Conventions,” Jonathan points out that some web sites forget to follow long, and occasionally tired, conventions:
- Make the logo at the top of the page a link to your home page.
- Make the cursor reflect live links when you hover over one
- Make all blue highlighted text linkable, or ask yourself what you’re doing in this business
Sorry if I inject my own comments but I’m a recovering Facebook addict, and it’s my sand box. So here is what Ali had to say in response to Jonathan’s #1 point:
“His 3 points are actually very valid. The first point simply suggests that clickable links should change the cursor from the arrow to the pointing hand, which is actually a very common mistake designers make. The second suggests that, if text is colored blue, and is underlined, it better be a hyperlink, which in just about every scenario it absolutely should. The third is actually a personal pet peeve on mine, where the logo of the site is not linked to the home-page or worst yet, not linked at all. To add to this, I actually believe using the logo as a homepage link should replace the traditional “Home” link that so many sites still use.
We are usually veritable ships passing in the night, where I get up early and read his work and reports on our development team, he usually works late and then a day job so I yearn for our weekend chats just to look for ways to disagree with him. It’s tough, but if you can’t argue both sides of a web site controversy, you can very bored in this business. My reaction to all of this is that people who have conventional web sites who don’t follow these conventions ought to be occupying an unemployment line. These are not only conventions, they are on the brink of becoming standards, the second worst “four-letter” word, after “proprietary,” to touch the Internet cognoscenti.
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Okay, Jonathan’s point #2 says, slow web sites suck, and will not maximize your efforts, essentially. This goes back to my favorite web site of the nineties, that I tried to buy from AOL, but they decided to throw in the waste bin instead, and didn’t even move our offer to the right people. Web site garage was the coolest animation UI I’ve seen, and it was an old fashioned cartoon gas station where you “drove” your web site, represented by a cool car graphic, and gave them your URL, and they actually spidered it quickly and gave you back proper file formats so if your surly web developer didn’t pay attention to your editor, when resizing or formatting images for your site, all hell would break loose for your marketers. Jonathan give us some basics on when to resize and how different editors express input. He also provides links to good CSS practices that should be a good review for anyone as a check list. A good thing to keep handy and a good checklist for yourself as this continues to be a big problem for many sites.
Here is what else Ali had to say about #2, “It discusses some basic scripting do’s-and don’t’s, and, I for one, agree with just about all of them. For example, all the sites which I have been involved in (including NH.net, NH.tv, and the new TT/ET) actually resize images on the CMS side of the site, creating smaller versions for the blog list view, medium-sized ones for the blog post’s body, and keep the original for the lightbox, what you get when you click on an image to expand it to full size. Usually it dims the background when it pops up hence the name “lightbox”. (let’s add this definition to the glossary).”
Jonathan also addresses Java, and refers to other “OpenSource,” development applications, and if I’m still allowed to use that term, web site tools like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. These amazing programs have truly leveled the playing field for those able to exploit them, but, these guys are right, we can all be “guilty” if we don’t bother to take care of some regular housekeeping issues.
From Ali, “Loading JS in the header is something I’m actually guilty of doing sometimes (sure), but that’s because JS these days is often very light and loads within milliseconds. But for heavier JS sites, such as my employer’s site (www.gwos.com), I follow his suggestions and selectively load JS as needed, usually in the footer. Lastly, CSS in the body is just plain wrong in 2011 and any web programmer that does this needs to go back to school or start looking for a new line of work.” Ali is getting pretty stern in his demands. He’s been trained well.
If you are the CEO or owner of your site, the biggest thing to keep in mind, and, if you’re the guy paying the developer, and, if you’re assuming that these nifty little “Open” environments don’t need tending, gather some basic check lists to test for yourself, and, if you’re interested in re-developing Web Site Garage, let me know right away. If you aren’t doing your own self-tests and going over basics with your development team, your marketing budget will suffer, and your sales costs will increase steadily. These ideas are all costly to marketing, though I doubt they’re ever processed that way. The risk/reward test is something we’re sharing if you want to see how your web presence actually affects your bottom line.
The #3 point of Jonathan’s is that while these tools, like Drupal, Joomla and WordPress, often are programmed initially, but sites are dynamic, and, again, if you expand your site, as you surely will, things like CSS styles must be upgraded. Or you end up with default choices and not the really latest capabilities. Jonathan suggests keeping the Wiki’s close by, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WYSIWYG and checking to make sure that you get what you want.
Here is what Ali shared, “This is actually directly related with the state of our current TT/ET sites and is one of the primary reasons I’ve re-developed the sites from scratch. In a nutshell, developers often take shortcuts when tasked to do things/make changes to things. This results in many elements of sites being hardcoded into the actual framework, which makes modifying stuff extremely counter-productive. Sadly, 4 of 5 web programmers won’t think twice about these points, which is why a good one is so hard to find.”
A good web programmer is hard to find, like a good cowboy, but it seems the next generation of web sites will be sorted out by the mobil world, since they are far more interactive than the static world of business web sites. I can’t help but wonder why web sites are missing the basics, maybe they need to incorporate a governor to make sure you don’t publish if the basics aren’t check every time. After all, the Web Site Garage in my mind says there is a spider out there that can check this stuff quickly and we need to re-build that community.
Let us know what points you want to share, and what you think the next UI will look like and how the basics will be incorporated into them. I see a video screemcast of how each site works and how products represented on it work, to be the next big marketing bonanza. Video and screencasting are the future and they save a bundle in anti-marketing.