By now, nearly every business and organization has a website or online presence that advances the mission of their organizations or furthers their business. Most get that.  Today’s problem is not in having a website, but it’s rooted in the ease of navigation.  We’ve seemed to have forgotten some of the basic rules.  We all want things quickly, and we want them now, but with some sites we get tangled in a “web” of clicks, scrolls and searches.  Could that be yours?

Okay, so I’ve dealt with enough organizations and marketers to appreciate the web platforms, the content management systems (CMS), branding and messaging, etc.  You’ll find my point here will be to caution you not to get so lost in these things, that the user experience suffers, and it often does.  Remember, the end goal is not only a professional website, but one that is engaging, user friendly and encourages repeat visits.

Just for the record, my company doesn’t produce websites, but we do focus on communication audits and thereby the interest in a website’s function.  The issues with site design as we see them in today’s marketplace is multi-faceted.  Here are some of the key problems:

  1. Designing for aesthetics
  2. Focusing on a single platform
  3. Targeting a single demographic
  4. Creating for everyone

While doing intensive research for a client’s whitepaper recently and simply being a consumer, all these points were glaring. I was amazed at how difficult some basic, key information was to find.  Often, it was buried in a sea of photos, graphics, clicks and scrolls.  Believe me, I understand the importance of visual content, being somewhat of a visual learner myself.  However, when it seems to be “in the way” rather than facilitating your search there may be a problem.

In our communication audits we look at a client’s website and give our “first impressions.”  The biggest surprises often come with new sites unveiled to much hoopla.  During the audit we ask, “how long does it take users to find ‘x,” and the answer is surprising.  In the nonprofit world, there’s an incongruence between the organization’s mission and its first impression.  Why is it so hard to find the list of upcoming events for the group that lives and dies by them?  That leads to the first issue.

Creating for aesthetics

It’s not unusual for us to hear a comment like, “the new site is so nice looking.”  Really?  The website is a sales piece, correct?  So perhaps the ease of navigation and locating the key elements should take priority over the sites “look.”  Sure, branding is important and there are certain minimums and consistencies that should be considered but be careful to not get lost in those and have them overpower the information. You have a certain amount of real estate to draw people in, use it wisely.

Focusing on a single platform

We’ve all seen websites that are not “mobile ready.”  Some design just doesn’t work on our phone and tablet screens the way we’d like it to, and most access it on those devices.  In fact, depending on the source, anywhere from 50% to 60% of web traffic is delivered via devices other than desktops.  So, who cares how great it looks on a desktop, if in the end it won’t adapt well?  There are certain design elements that should just be left out of the plan if it’s going to cause issues on your mobile site.  In the end, be sure to have the site reviewed on several mobile platforms.

Targeting a single demographic

I was in a meeting where a marketer mentioned their website was “old and stodgy” and it needed to be brought into the year 20+ with bright neon colors, flash aspects, and upbeat music greeting the online surfer.  Admittedly, it could appeal to a younger demographic that they served, but the key part of their business demographic was built on 55% of customers over the age of 50.  Seems obvious they didn’t need a full Gen X refresh, but something that might bridge the gap.  We often encounter these errors in design.

Designing for everyone

Admittedly, there’s a fine line with the statement above.  There’s a risk with designing for everyone.  You might not be capturing the attention of your prime demographic and frustrating the outlying prospects.  We’ve all seen the sites that seem to be a mixture of styles, fonts, photography and purpose.  In fact, you’re not sure who they are trying to target as a result.  If you’re a nonprofit, stay true to your mission and in your design appeal to those most likely to support it.  Senior citizens buying tickets?  Make it extremely easy to find.  Younger crowd the primary interest?  Give it to them fast and make it all about the mobile experience.

There are so many options in the marketplace today that there is really no excuse for not getting it right.  Template based alternatives are available from a variety of companies and they can be adapted to your brand.  There are those that are more custom and require a good deal of coding and will generally cost you more.  Just be sure you really know what you want your “storefront” and “first impressions” to be with your site.  Make sure it appeals to your typical customers and prospects and that the Level 1 information is easily found.  If you’re using a professional designer, they can help you avoid the pitfalls we often see in our audits but be certain to ask for samples of their work.  In the end, just be certain the only web your customers are in is the worldwide one.   

David J. Fry, is president and CEO of Effective Advancement Strategies in Greensburg.

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