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Proof that your website sucks!

October 14, 2009


Ouch! Hurt? Well prove me wrong. Here are a number of reasons why your website is no good. If you can tell me how you’ve got all the issues covered, let me know. I’ll gladly eat ‘humble pie’ (and promote the hell out of your site)!

I’m not going to talk specifically about features, design, search or social media, that’s all jargon and ‘naval gazing’ if you’re not focused on the main game. What is your website doing for you, and more importantly, what is it doing for me. As someone once said “the main game, is keeping the main game the main game”. Let’s get to some hard truths …

1 – You talk to yourself – the language is yours, not mine. It’s all about you, you, you! Your brand, your features, your history and your industry jargon. How about what I want? My needs, what I am looking for, how you can help me. Do you want my money? Well do something for me to deserve it. How about some plain language, working with terms I’m likely to search on and then tell me what I need to know. If your website was a dinner party guest, would anyone invite them back again?

2 – You don’t do anything constructive – if I only wanted information, I could find better material than yours elsewhere on the Internet. So on the premise that I want to do something with you, and you want to do something with me, why isn’t your website more action based. Most of your pages contain information (see right hand column of image above) and not enough of your site is about action, or at least permission for future action, building a connection or something more than a lousy brochure.

3 – You talk too much – if I am following known web norms, I am going to look at about four or five of your pages and spend about three minutes on your site (assuming I get past the first page). Stop trying to tell me everything, get to the point. If you had the length of a song to tell me everything important, what would you say? Now if you wanted me to remember it, what would you say? Now if you wanted me to take action based upon it, what would you say? Maybe you should write a song – remember to make the chorus catchy! Maybe “you talk too much, yeah, yeah, you talk too much …” (with some subliminal “send me money now” from the backing singers).

4 – You are full of yourself – you think that the web norms in the previous paragraph don’t apply to you. You think your content is just SO important that everyone will break with their normal consumption patterns, simply because you are SO interesting. Look at your webstats, what do they say? If you are holding people for longer than 300 seconds, are they interested or just plain annoyed? While we are at it, do you really have to have so many pages? How many pages within your site have been viewed by only a dozen people this year? Did they really want that material, did it drive a beneficial action, or were they just lost? Maybe it was it your Mother, “nice work dear, I don’t really understand what you do, but it sure looked pretty – I’m so proud!”

5 – You don’t give me what I want – I need to know how you will help me, how I can believe you, and how the process will work. Maybe, but only maybe, I need or want some other information to help with the process. Get to the key stuff up front, newspaper style! I’m not interested in your aims, methods, discoveries and details, just the juicy bits. Stop writing like a scientist, social researcher or lawyer (the way you were taught at school). This is not a competition and you shouldn’t be getting paid by the word. Make your headline point, give me a supporting line if you must, delete everything else and let’s cut to the chase, how do we make something happen? I need to be able to contact you, know where you are, and transact (if a transaction is part of the story). Make these things hard for me and I won’t believe that you can back up your claims, and worse yet, I won’t trust you because you seem to be hiding something.

6 – You expect me to come and find you – of course I spend all of my time looking for you and your products, services and information – I have nothing better to do because you are so important (read point 4 again – unless you make Shiraz or coffee and then you’re right, you are THAT important). Even if somehow you are able to go ‘viral’, like other viruses, the spread won’t last very long, only until something more interesting or infectious comes along. You need to push, push and push some more, take a short break and push again. Rinse and repeat. You may not believe it, but you need customers as a collective more than individual customers need you (the customer collective is always right). For this reason, the onus is on you to push. Google Adwords are a waste, blogging is a waste, social media is a waste, well crafted messages a waste, video a waste, hell even online marketing in any form is a waste. If you hold any part of this view, you are a marketing and communication dinosaur and you are well on your way to extinction.

7 – You don’t play by the rules – web standards are boring, browser compatibility boring, porting content to mobile sites and providing syndication pointless. As for adapting your site to user patterns and listening to feedback from users and interpreting system metrics, what would they know – site visitors are idiots anyway. I know, why don’t you change the way the world navigates websites and redefine the way they consume online content. Sorry, I forgot that you were more important than the whole internet and it’s hard-won established practices (see point 4 again). Why would you want to get your message through, when instead, you could take on the whole world’s habits and teach them something new instead (I always thought a triangle for play and a square for stop was lame, not particularly creative). Three-wheel cars haven’t gotten very far either.

8 – You fail on follow through – if you can get a sufficient and impressive volume from search (top left of illustration) to take action (bottom right of illustration) then you are doing better than most. Then you let yourself down because you don’t give me online feedback or maintain a useful ongoing engagement. Most of the data that passes through your website’s ‘little computer brain’ is lost in some server log somewhere, and out of all the information that could have helped our long-term relationship, only a little bit is retained. Probably just enough information to show that you really don’t understand me, getting under my skin the minute you send me an email blast or have someone phone me during dinner. Then you actually ask me to confirm my ID and don’t understand why I am getting upset (sorry, beginning to get sidetracked here).

9 – You forget what day it is – well maybe not literally, but you write something today and guess what, a bunch of us read it just after the event you are promoting is finished, or the offer period is over. We don’t really care when you last updated the website and maybe signaling that you haven’t touched it for six-months is not the smartest idea – but isn’t it cool that you can show version control and publish dates (no, actually it’s dead boring and we don’t care). The date of the content is the day that it is consumed, not the day that it’s created, and you keep forgetting what day I am going to read it. Maybe you should stick to the past, because lets face it, at sometime it will be in the past and you won’t look like such a fool. Unless of course you can have it auto-removed once it looses it’s value and immediacy, but don’t get carried away, remember we don’t care about your cool web publishing features, only what you can do for us.

10 – You don’t love me anymore – you treat me just like every other visitor, no special treatment, no personalization, and letting me move boxes around on your site is only a gimmick, not a demonstration of doing something for me that counts. Maybe in your drive towards efficiency, you could take a moment to understand when a personal touch-point should be a truly personal touch-point and the other times, when frankly I don’t want you touching me (like that dinner and ID thing before). One day, even if you get everything else right, I’m going to get my (insert your offer here) from someone who makes me feel good, I may even pay them more for it!

Well, how did you shape up?

Told you that your website sucks. Guess what? So do all but a minuscule minority, in fact none that I can name, that’s why I want you to name the exceptions – hopefully yours. The online world is young, full of promise, but far from mature and we all need to lift our game. After ten-years of looking at websites and providing strategic advice, this is the best I can muster, so what would I know?

At least you can try to – 1 focus on the visitor, 2 – cut to the action, 3 – keep it brief, 4 – apply progressive learning, 5 – make the key point, 6 – promote aggressively, 7 – utilize standard practice, 8 – complete the processes you begin, 9 – write with tomorrow in mind, 10 – demonstrate empathy and keep some things personal. Perhaps your website will suck less than most!

Don’t shoot the messenger.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Tejas permalink
    October 21, 2009 4:32 AM

    Nice post David. In a fun and simple way you have explained the basic no-nos for a website.

    Thubs up 🙂 I am sure that it will be of value to many especially for small business owners.

  2. October 27, 2009 12:21 PM

    Boo hoo – it is all so confusing sometimes. And then when you have a simple site you are told it has to be more complex. And when it is complex you are told it needs to be simple. And then I need to track what is interesting to my visitors and what is not, and refresh content regularly. Thanks for keeping me on my toes. A good post.


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