Q&A: What works for websites today?
Approximately a million web years ago, I wrote a book about web design. The Big Red Fez was an exercise in shooting fish in a barrel. There was a vast and deep inventory of bad websites, sites that were not just unattractive, but ineffective as well.
The thesis of the book is that the web is a direct marketing medium, something that can be measured and a tool that works best when the person who builds the page has a point of view. Instead of a committee deciding everything that ought to be on the page and compromising at every step, an effective website is created by someone who knows what she wants the user to do.
Josh Davis and others wanted to know if, after more than a decade, my opinion has changed. After all, we now have video, social networks, high-speed connections, mobile devices...
If anything, the quantity of bad sites has increased, and the urgency of the problem has increased as well. As the web has become more important, there's ever more pressure to have meetings, to obey the committee and to avoid alienating any person who visits (at the expense of delighting the many, or at least, the people you care about).
Without a doubt, there are far more complex elements to be worked with, more virality, more leverage available to anyone brave enough to build something online. But I stand with a series of questions that will expose the challenges of any website (and the problems of the organization that built it):
- Who is this site for?
- How did they find out about it?
- What does the design remind them of?
- What do you want them to do when they get here?
- How will they decide to do that, and what promises do you make to cause that action?
The only reason to build a website is to change someone. If you can't tell me the change and you can't tell me the someone, then you're wasting your time.
If you get all of this right, if you have a clear, concise point of view, then you get the chance to focus on virality, on social, on creating forward motion. But alas, virtually all organizational sites are narcissistic and (at the same time) afraid and incomplete.
Answer your visitor when he asks, "Why am I here?"