Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof

Site Assessments

In Work materials on April 28, 2007 at 9:02 am

As someone who tends to focus on the communications experience for clients’ customers, I’ve done my share of assessing a company’s site and outlining what I think works and fails and how I think the site could be improved. Below are a couple of examples culled from site assessments I’ve written.

Reputation management site

General (navigation): You may want to revisit the way you have your navigation set up, so that it has maximum utility across pages. I personally prefer to be able to get from any page to any other page (at least header pages) when possible. You have three different treatments: cartouche, bottom list, top right list and symbols. It could be simplified. Why is the cartouche on some pages but not others? And I understand that people interested in certain pages (say Investor Center) may have different focus than someone looking at others (FAQ say). But Press mentions are not, for instance, in About Us, though they are at the bottom of the landing page. So, in brief: It may warrant a brief tour on your part, or by your designer, to make sure that the navigation has maximum efficiency. I can do this also, once the survey and the cross-posting experiment are done. General (design): I think the design and presentation of information is, overall, good. It’s clean, bright, cheery without being overpowering, professional without being sterile. That said, I’m not crazy about the stock photo people. I’d like to see real users there.

Online services site

Sales Funnel

  1. First page: Section has a number of typos and could be made a bit clearer with some different word choices.
  2. Second page. I think you may fare better with different things bolded. “Business software has never been so easy” seems a bit blah. I think you should bold “If you have customers, you get email. If you get email, you need us.” Also, “Try it free for 30 days. Signup takes only a minute.”
  3. Second page. The second paragraph is key. You need to emphasize what I call the What (how it works) and the So What (why you should buy).
  4. General. I think the language can be tightened up (eliminate the modals, for example), proofed (question marks missing) and cut. Less is more (to a point).
  5. Second page. This is a very cool feature, “If you get an email ithat you think someone else in your company should answer, just reassign it to them. (Our product) will learn automatically who should get what email and start doing it for you.” But, it’s a little hard to envision. Could less text and a few example graphics get the point across, drawing the mind of the customer from “aha!” to “aha!”?
  6. Second page. The RSS feed into Outlook is another cool feature.
  7. Second page. To craft a better funnel, I would emphasize these features: a) (general) email management, b) smart generic emails, c) auto response, d) auto learning, e) RSS, f) tagging; as few words as possible with a couple of graphically effective examples or exemplary graphics.
  8. Third page. This bit needs to be more prominent; I missed it the first time, “You can use any plan for free for the next 30-days. No credit card is required. After your first 30 days, you can continue using Mailroom for a low monthly fee. There is no long term contract and you can cancel anytime.”
  9. Third page. The boxed chart, though informative, seems abrupt. I think you should follow through with what I suggest for the second page—a bit more simple and graphic, perhaps retaining the chart lower down. What I’m arguing for is a visual argument, a step by step, each of which gives the customer the aforementioned “aha!” feeling.
  10. General. In order to improve your sales funnel, I think you will need to make the second and third pages accord with the front page, fewer words (better written and proofed), more step-by-step example graphics, emphasis on the excellence of the features and the simple but “aha!” solutions to business problems. The whole thing has got a “why didn’t someone think of this before?” feel to it. Stress that matter-of-fact but creative simplicity and hole-plugging that you’ve created.
  11. Support General. I would not intuitively go to “Support” to find out much of the material here. I think it should be retitled and some of the material moved. I think some of it would contribute to a more effective sales funnel.
  12. Support Features. Some of this, as I say above, should be moved out to first-glance.
  13. General. One thing to consider when trying to sharpen the sales funnel is the possibility of ‘hurrying’ the customer to the buy. You want their arrival there, like to the end of a short story, to be “surprising yet inevitable.” To do that, the same thing goes online as goes in a good sales relationship: respect, curiosity, what one marketing writer called “seduction.” That being the case, you might be able to personalize these pages with any of a number of devices. For instance, large, bold, questions or complaints, “All I ever do is answer email!” and your response, “Let (our product) do it for you.” Another option, the same idea but with small embedded video. This company is you guys, and you seem professional, but agreeable and are good communicators. You could use the same bold questions/complaints and the answers could be delivered by each of you in video form.

Auto buying site

In order to critique the New Car Buying Guides and the News & Advice section I looked at six sites: Edmunds.com, KBB.com, Autotrader.com, Autobytel, Subaru and cars.com.

For the New Car Buying Guide I came to it from the point of view of a person who is uncertain what kind of car he or she wishes to buy. I factored in the issues of listings-searches and consideration-set refinement.

For the News & Advice section, I approached it as someone who needed to buy insurance, but was uncertain which kind would be best, which seemed a good standard to cover the “unique needs for car-shopping/buying information,” mentioned in the assignment.

I rated each on a scale of one to five for two criteria: easy of use (how quickly could I get to the relevant information?) and completeness of information (did I find out everything I needed to know?). I provided a table for each, below the analyses.

NEW CAR BUYING

The Edmunds home page did not have easy access to the models. It required a stab in the dark. I first looked at the Dodge Magnum. The only photo was of the car’s trunk. Looking at another car, I eventually gave up as the photo took too long to load. I wound up with the 2005 Chrysler 300. Reasonably informative, though again I had to take a moment to figure where to go to get pricing information. From there it was sensible, but each page took longer to load than was desirable. The final price quote window hung and never finished loading.

KBB was easier to navigate and loaded faster. I would have liked to have seen more options before having to choose a maker. I wound up very quickly at the 2005 Scion xA. The info page was sensibly organized, easy to understand, and the photos were well done and easy to view.

Autotrader had a very clear indication right off the bat where to go if one were undecided. “Not sure where to start?” Quickly, however, the plethora of choices would lead a nervous buyer into a morass of choices. Better to have a clear path with obviously marked side-trails on the way to the purchase. I kept expecting the various guiding-questions to be online, so that I could keep my forward momentum, but they were not linked to a forward-moving process. After searching, I wound up at “Search By Body Style.” From here things were easier. I think this site could be infinitely better if that impulse toward a conversation with the undecided buyer were conducted online and onsite, helping the customer forward.

Autobytel’s home page was clear and navigable. I elected to search by price (the search criteria are clear and complete). I went with the Mustang GT Convertible. Every step of the way, my options were clear to me. Getting a price quote was the easiest so far.

The Subaru site was lightning fast and initially easy to navigate. However, it quickly got messy. Having to discern between almost 30 tiny photographs to choose your model is not very friendly. The model highlights and 360 views were very stylish, though a bit visually noisy. I chose a basic package Impreza and wound up quickly with a price and a set of local dealers.

Like Autotrader, cars.com had an immediate place for the undecided to start, Research. I went to the New Car Buying Guide and selected, by model type, an SUV. I chose compact, and noticed the Best Bets. After looking at the offerings, I backed up to look at the Forester through the Best Bet link. The Snapshot was a nice feature. I was able to access the information quickly. I chose the XS. I would have liked to have gone forward to dealers without having to back up, but it was not difficult to get to the Quote. I was slightly disappointed as the Forester was shown in a blue color which was not available, so I chose red, and my options, and asked for a quote at which point I was given a dealer in my area.

Conclusion: It seems a little too handy, perhaps, to chose cars.com as the leader in terms of both ease of use and completeness of information, but hopefully the criteria and my selection process will be easily duplicable. The facts are: I got more information, quicker, in better organized, easily-loading pages than with the other services.

NEW CAR BUYING GUIDES – Undecided Customer

SITE

EASE OF USE

COMPLETENESS

TOTAL SCORE

Edmunds.com

2

2

4

KBB.com

3

3

6

Autotrader.com

2

3

5

Autobytel.com

4

4

8

Subaru.com

2

4

6

cars.com

4

5

9

Biotechnology research site

Site

Organization

Appearance

Content

Cambia

Good-all aspects that one could want look accessible and are rationally organized

Excellent-the color scheme and grid markings are both handsome and communicate information about the content of the site

Good-the material behind the R&D tab could go deeper

BIOS

OK-it’s a bit busy; some of the material could be placed behind tabs at a lower level; also, no informational center to navigate from; well done in terms of navigating to the different aspects of the site (tabs); also, the press could be moved off the main page (you could cull a few quotes for the front page)

Institutional-a bit on the gray side; it couldn’t hurt to add a little color and some graphical interest; the subject matter is inherently interesting and that should be communicated more clearly; the multilingual graphic is appealing, perhaps it could be made more central and tied together with a more lush graphic like Cambia has

A little dry-the language could be made a fresher without losing the exactness necessary for the science

Bioforge

Very good-best of all the sites; the center well is very effective; the margin boxes give immediate orientation

Nice-the ‘forge’ graphic communicates; still wouldn’t mind a hint more lushness

Good-love the vibrant forums; the language does slightly more “tale-telling” that creates psychological “openings” into the system – fantastic idea by the way

ALL

The only site to have clear “what is this site” language is Cambia; regardless of the level of user sophistication, every site should have this “coda”

The tabs feature is very practical, though it may be a bit outdated looking; if the same usability could be achieved with a different feature, it might be worth looking into

As with any three sites, it ranges, in this case from the dry to the welcoming; it might behoove all three to have a shared voice (acknowledging they each have different functions)

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