The Web Experience

How long does it take web users to form an opinion?

They arrive at your site, scan the headlines, survey the navigation, and glance at the visuals. What kind of web experience have you created? And how does that affect what they’ll do next? (By the way, if you’re thinking about your homepage, think again. Every page of your site is a potential front door that creates the optimal experience of your brand.)

So, can users accomplish what they’ve set out to do? Are they staying — to browse, learn, call, buy? Or are they stalled, unsure about where to click next, or, worse, starting to dislike your site because it feels uncomfortable, wrong, irrelevant?

Take a minute to look at your website — with a judgmental eye. Then answer these six questions.

1. Is what you do clear and interesting to your users?

First impressions are critical. (Remember, many of your web visitors have just come from competitors’ sites.)

Visitors should grasp, within seconds, who you are and what you do.

“Welcome” won’t cut it. Far too many homepages waste valuable real estate with this friendly, but ultimately useless, greeting. Have you created a one- to three-sentence description that encapsulates why anyone should care about what it is that you do? And does the design of your site highlight this sentence?

2. Is it easy to tell how you’re better? Or different?

This one is completely obvious — and, all too often, completely overlooked. Take the time to articulate why you’re better than everyone else in your competitive space. If you’re differentiating on quality, expertise, innovation, novelty, speed, price, or any combination therein, make that abundantly clear through content and visuals. The headlines and visuals on every key landing page should communicate your competitive strength. If they don’t, rethink them.

3. Does the experience of your site feel authentic — to your people, your products, your services?

Your site should communicate your brand personality — through imagery, motion, color, typography, layout, voice, and tone. If you’re all about information and statistics, make your site crisp and efficient. If your services are creative, show them off on your site. If your brand is high end, communicate that through elegant design.

You select your audience and communicate your brand with every choice you make. Make those choices purposeful.

4. Do you help customers and prospects accomplish what they want to accomplish?

Take a look at the pages of your site. Do they contain a clear call to action?

Join now. Read related stories. View more work. Search our listings. Donate today. Sign up for our e-newsletter. Request a sample. Speak with a representative. Add to cart. Check out.

Anticipate the way users want to interact with your site, and then build in the functionality to let them do that. Web users are task oriented and goal driven. A visit to your website should leave them saying (with satisfaction), “I found what I needed.”

5. Does your site strengthen or extend the experience you’ve created in other channels?

The goal is to create a seamless experience — online and offline. If users are already familiar with you from, say, an ongoing business relationship, a retail presence, or media coverage, your site needs to deepen their understanding of your value. It should start to move them along that golden continuum — from awareness to consideration to preference to purchase.

Let’s get something straight: A consistent online-offline experience does not mean you should unceremoniously dump all your print materials into your interactive space. It does mean you should create a coordinated, consistent experience — on your site, in your literature, in your advertising, in your correspondence, throughout your organization.

Your online and offline experiences should work in tandem, reinforcing one another.

6. Does your site feel current?

This one is easy to answer — and imperative to address if the answer is no. If your site is outdated, quite frankly, so are you. What impression do you form of a business associate whose voicemail indicates he is on vacation through, say, March 31 when you’re calling on April 5? An out-of-date website creates the same negative impression, on a much grander scale. Don’t create a site you can’t manage. Do commit to monthly, weekly, even daily updates. Your website is arguably the most valuable real estate you own. Keep it current.