I’m not in marketing, so I’m not going to pontificate on how companies should design the look and feel of their websites, nor on what they should say on their websites. But there are some really basic things that companies should do to make their websites more usable, at least to a first degree.
Item 1: don’t make your customers tell you where they live until they need to, nor what sort of services they’re interested in. Case study: Rogers, a purveyor of wireless phones and other telecom services. The first screen you see at rogers.com makes you choose between residential and business services. If you click business, it assumes you live in Ontario. If you click residential, you then have to tell it which province you live in. Every time I pay my wireless bill online, I have to go through the same rigmarole. Can’t they figure out some way of giving people the basic information and then letting them choose which subset of the site they want? Telus (another telco) does the same thing, you have to tell them which province you live in before being allowed into the site. Bell Canada (a competitor) does this better. Not perfect, they have this weird dialog box floating in space, but it’s better. The login for people with accounts who want to pay them quickly is right there on the first page, unlike for Telus or Rogers. Maybe they should spend five minutes some time and figure out who uses their sites? Or make their executives try to pay their own phone bills online?
Item 2: assume that some people will be lazy, and not want to type the “www.” all the time. Case study: Shoppers Drug Mart, a Canadian drugstore/pharmacy. If you go to www.shoppersdrugmart.com, you get to the site. If you type shoppersdrugmart.com into your browser, you get “Unable to connect” as the server rejects the connection. This strikes me as bizarre and lazy; it’s not that hard to set up a server to accept both types of address, and user-unfriendly to not do so.
Item 3: if you run a store, setting up a web site, advertising it, and then putting no content on it is a waste of time. If you can’t think of anything else to put on your web site, put your phone number, your location, and your opening hours. A few words about products and/or services you provide wouldn’t hurt either. Case study: too many, and they all make me wonder why they bothered.