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Website Design

How many websites does your organization have? Of course there is the main site. Then there is the “old” site that includes all of the archival content. Then there are specialized microsites for various products, events, and advertising campaigns. And finally, there are  all of the landing pages that support all of the search engine pay-per-click ads. It doesn’t take more than a few years to grow a mess that is both hard to understand and difficult to manage.

Here are some guidelines that can help unwind and rationalize a web “site” strategy:

Main domain: This is your organization’s main website, (www.108ideaspace.com is an example), and doesn’t need much more explanation.   All content should be attached to this domain, to improve discoverability – and so that all search engine optimization advantages accrue to this one domain.

Landing Pages: These are designed to provide direct access to a purpose-driven page, usually to improve conversion from an advertisement, but also as shorthand to get users to a specific content page. The advantage of a Landing Page is that it contains only relevant content (and navigation, and call-to-action) – no distracting debris. A downside is that over the years, the pages begin to multiply and collect dust. They often contain no-longer-valid offers, and can be confusing if a user finds their way to one.  Recommendation: When you create landing pages use relevant – but not easily guessable names. Users may try guessing Landing Page names, thereby potentially exposing offers that they are not authorized to receive. Each year while you still remember their purpose, delete (or “un-publish”) any that are no longer valid.

Microsites: Microsites are usually smaller, special purpose websites that support a specific product, event, or marketing campaign. There are four approaches to creating a microsite:

  • Type I: A completely new URL that links to a completely independent site. This alternative is appropriate if you are looking to distance the microsite’s objectives from the sponsoring organization, or aim at a completely different audience. Advocacy sites are an example of this.  The Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores has a website aimed at it’s members – all corporate behemoths:  www.cacds.com.  Their special-purpose advocacy site is decidedly different: www.9000PointsOfCare.ca.
  • Type II: A unique  URL, but redirects to an internal section of an existing website. For example, www.108ideatrust.com redirects to www.108ideaspace/ideatrust. The user interface and branding might be completely different – the site wold be built to achieve specific objectives, no different than a Type I microsite.  An advantage of this is that the URL is far easier to remember, and far easier to promote than a URL shortener such as budurl or tinyurl. A separate advantage: all of the content helps increase the main site’s search engine ranking.
  • Type III: A subdomain (http://support.google.com) to host all of the content. This alternative is most appropriate for a permanent site that is devoted to a specific purpose or audience: the login for an intranet, a portal for external service personnel, or perhaps a customer support site. “Transient” users often get confused when the subdomain is anything except www, so using a non-“www” subdomain for a heavily-marketed site should generally be avoided.
  • Type IV: This alternative is not a traditional microsite, but rather a decision to host the microsite content on a social media site like Facebook: www.facebook.com/108ideaspace. The advantage to this approach is that the organization can develop a permanent relationship with the user, if the page is “Liked”. The downside is that Facebook now also owns the relationship.

No matter which approach is taken, a key question is the microsite’s lifespan. Whether it is finite or forever, just asking this question opens issues of ongoing microsite marketing, content updates, and support.

This Week’s Action Plan: Whether you are doing competitive analysis, researching a new prospect, or looking for your next position, reviewing the family of websites (and their history) can provide tremendous insights.  And if you want a bit more to do, consider rationalizing your site(s): while you might not be able to do it all at once, it doesn’t hurt to make an inventory.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to www.RandallCraig.com to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
www.RandallCraig.com
:  Professional credentials site
www.108ideaspace
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
www.ProfessionallySpeakingTV.com
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders

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Why are some sites just so frustrating to use?

To answer this question, we need to look through the lens of the user experience designer – and their cousin, the marketing director.  When sites are poorly put together, it is likely that the site has violated one of the five principles of web usability.  Balancing them properly means commercial success; poor balance – or ignorance – reduces the odds of success considerably.  (And frustrates users, and nibbles away at brand equity.)  Here they are:

The Principle of Multi-Navigation:  Everyone isn’t the same – they all have different needs, different knowledge levels, and different levels of urgency.  And not everyone thinks, or learns the same.  For these reasons, it makes sense to provide multiple ways to get to any internal web page: menu navigation, search, sitemaps, banners, and embedded links are but a few of the alternatives.

The Principle of The Guided Journey:  When a user gets to a website with many many links, they may immediately find what they’re looking for.  But they may also get lost in the clutter and abandon their quest.  Or they may get distracted by all of the other “interesting” content, meandering aimlessly and forgetting their original intent.  The Principle of the Guided Journey removes (or demotes) content and navigation that is secondary to the goal of the site.  A simple example: Does the Careers link really need to go on the main navigation? Or would job seekers spend the time to look for this link in the footer?  A variation of The Guided Journey is Conversion-centered Design: in this case, the Guided Journey simplifies the page down to its essence, for a specific single purpose: to encourage a sign-up.

The Principle of User-Centricity:  Some content is only relevant at a certain time, or to certain categories of users.  For example, when a user is going through the shopping cart check-out transaction, why display anything that might distract the purchaser from completing the transaction?  Nix the main navigational menus, sidebars, ad links, and extended footers.  Similarly, if you know who the user is – or the category of the user – why not strip away irrelevant content, and display a custom navigational menu?

The Principle of Commercial Art:  This principle describes the difference between a beautiful website – a piece of art – and a beautiful website that works – commercial art.  Design can create a deep emotional connection with the user, and is critical to getting the user to act; (it can also reduce support costs.)  Design that does not drive towards the commercial goal of the website gets in the way – no matter how beautiful.

The Principle of Consistent Experience:  The brand is most powerful when the entire experience – online and off – is consistent.  This means that the content, and user interface, and branding on the public site, the private account area, and social media venues are coordinated and consistent.  It means that the “culture” experienced at an event or during a one-on-one meeting is congruent with what is happening online.  When this happens, the brand promise affirmed, and the message is amplified.

This week’s action plan:  Take a look at your organization’s web site: what grade would you give it on each of these principles?  And what needs to change for your site to have more than just a passing grade?

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to www.RandallCraig.com to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
www.RandallCraig.com
:  Professional credentials site
www.108ideaspace
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
www.ProfessionallySpeakingTV.com
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders

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