It’s easy to do a great website for a company or organization. Here’s how:
Have a homepage with these 6 attributes:
- Your organization’s name, clearly identifiable
- A picture of one of your typical products or services with a call-to-action tagline or a benefits statement.
- Simple, clearly labeled top or side navigation with one- or two-word links to key pages on the site — and a link that gets you back to the homepage from anywhere on the site.
- Icon links to your related social media pages or channels (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.)
- Brevity. On a multi-page website (as opposed to a blog), aim for fewer than 100 words on the homepage (about 75 is ideal) and no paragraphs at all. Think of the homepage as a lobby, and your goal is to get the customer into a showroom, a conference room, or someone’s office.
Have your home page navigation link clearly to:
- A “catalog” or products page that lists all of your products and services (or categories of products and services) with a meaningful, iconic photo for each (or each category).
- A “buy now” page where people can go to buy/order your products, find a dealer or showroom, or contact you immediately by phone to inquire about services.
- A “story” page where you tell your story, with professional, candid photos of two or three of your key people (founders, staff, or clients, etc.). You can link from there to staff, board, or other key-people lists.
You might also have links to:
- Your blog or news page
- A page for business partners
- A page for support or discussion boards, if appropriate.
Who’s doing it right?
Here’s what a great website looks like: Feel free to give behringer.com a spin. It not only looks great, it works, right down to finding me a Behringer distributor in my neighborhood. (And, wouldn’t you know, it’s a electronics shop owned by a friend of mine.)
I particularly liked their blog. Because it focuses exclusively on the recording artists who use their products, it isn’t given the deadly name “Blog” in the navigation — it’s called “Artists.” Think about it: Are people visiting their site interested in artists or a “blog?”
Not as easy as it looks
OK, if it’s this easy, why don’t more companies do it?
Here where we get to the sad part of the story. Watch closely, and cringe as I review the FHE (frequently heard excuses):
1. Your organization’s name, clearly identifiable
- “We paid thousands for this incredibly clever logo that turns the letters of our name into people jumping up and down. You mean, you can’t see that they spell out “McDonald Software?”
- “We just use the acronym MSIIBG. Everyone knows that MSIIBG means ‘McDonald Software International, Inc. — Bergstrom Group.’ Don’t they?”
- “The sales director wants the tagline for the end-of-year campaign up at the top of the page and there wasn’t room for that and the company name.”
- “Oh, everyone knows us by our logo; we don’t need to spell out the name.”
- “We’re going through rebranding and might change the company name, so we don’t want to feature it until we’re sure.”
2. A clearly identifiable picture of one of your products or services with a call-to-action tagline or a benefits statement that mentions your product or service.
- “We don’t use a product photo because we keep updating our product, and don’t want to pay the web designer to update the page. So we use this nice photo of our headquarters at the office park.”
- “We can’t afford professional photography.”
- “What do you mean, hundreds of other organizations are using the tagline “Software Solutions”?
- “No, we don’t sell software, we help small businesses configure it. Isn’t that clear from the pile of software boxes in our homepage picture?”
3. Simple, clearly labeled top or side navigation with one- or two-word links in “customer language” to key pages on the site — and a link that gets you back to the homepage from anywhere on the site.
- “But we can’t call it ‘Our Story!’ We call it our ‘Organizational Mission and Vision Directive,’ and we want the link to be consistent.”
- “We have 24 links because want people to be able to reach everything on the site directly from the front page.”
- “Yes, I know all those pull-down menus with multiple hierarchies are a little difficult to use, but we had to get everything up there. What do you mean, the hierarchical menus break on ‘other browsers’? I thought everybody used Internet Explorer.”
- “Oh, you can just click on the logo to get back to the home page.”
4. Icon links to your related social media pages or channels (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.)
- “Oh, we don’t believe in that social media stuff.”
- “Oh, we don’t have time for that social media stuff.”
- “Actually, we don’t know how to use all that social media stuff.”
- “I doubt our customers use Facebook/Twitter/YouTube.”
- “We put them up in the top navigation. I guess that’s why it’s so crowded.”
- “Oh, nobody needs a Site Map anymore.”
6. Brevity. On a multi-page website (as opposed to a blog), aim for fewer than 100 words on the homepage (about 75 is ideal) and no paragraphs at all. Think of the homepage as a lobby, and your goal is to get the customer into a showroom, a conference room, or someone’s office.
- “If we don’t put it on the homepage, nobody will read it.”
- “People can just scroll down two or three screens.”
- “We didn’t want to add more pages to the website, so we put it on the homepage.”
- “I guess four different embedded videos in four different formats probably is too much.”
- “HR, Marketing, Sales, and the Board Office all insisted that their stuff go on the homepage.”
- “We had new stuff to put up, but no one would authorize us to take the stuff that was already up there off the site.”
Have your home page navigation link clearly to:
1. A “catalog” or products page that lists all of your products and services (or categories of products and services) with a meaningful, iconic photo for each (or each category).
- “We don’t have/can’t afford good photos.”
- “Our different in-house groups can’t agree on which categories should be featured, or in what order.”
- “Oh, we don’t have time to keep something like that updated. People should just email us and ask us what we have.”
- “Our services can’t be illustrated by photos.”
- “Our marketing team insisted on a separate section of the website for each product/service, all linked from the top-level navigation.”
2. A “buy” page where people can go to buy/order your products, find a dealer or store, or contact you immediately by phone to inquire about services.
- “Oh, they can just fill out this web form and someone from our sales team will get back to them…in a week or so.”
- “If people want to contact us they can click on the “Contact Us” link and fill out the web form.”
- “We really don’t want people calling us.”
- “That would mean we’d have to keep our distributor list up to date, wouldn’t it? We don’t have time.”
3. A “story” page where you tell your story, with professional, candid photos of your key people (founders, staff, or clients, etc.)
- “I don’t think we want to feature one or two people at the exclusion of others. We have 200 people, and we’re a team!”
- “We have our Mission and Vision Statement on the website, so that tells people what we do.”
- “I think we have a studio picture of the Executive Director around here…it’s 8 years old, though. He doesn’t like having his picture taken.”
- “The founder doesn’t usually talk about how he was inspired to form the company after he installed Internet technology for two provincial governments in the aftermath of the tsunami in Southeast Asia. Gee, do you really think our customers would be interested in that?”
You get the idea. Many organizations have resource and communications issues that are barriers to effective website communication (and, often, barriers to business success — but that’s a different blog post). You can bring in top-level designers and still not get a great website if a company isn’t ready for website greatness.
NOTE: The tsunami story (details slightly tweaked to protect confidentiality) has to be my favorite FHE ever. A software company had asked my PR team to make their website more interesting to print and broadcast media reporters so they could get media coverage (including interviews with the founder) during the roll out of a new product. But the founder (an extremely handsome, outdoorsy-type dude) didn’t want to talk about anything except the relatively technical product and didn’t want a photo of himself on the website.