Your Website Is Killing Me

by Heather Rast |

“Omit needless content.” —The Elements of Content Strategy, Erin Kissane.

Three words. Huge implications for online business communication. Insight from a smart woman with pink hair.

Erin is the author of a “brief book for people who make websites” published just a few months ago.  She’s the former editor of A List Apart magazine and knows a thing about information architecture, user experience, content strategy, editing, usability, and a whole bunch of other geeky web stuff that as interwebs users, we take for granted until we find ourselves staring a site that sucks.

When web things work, we don’t notice them. We focus on our intent, the task we’re on the site to perform. That thing we’re there to do.  Every page, every word, every link simply, beautifully, enables.

Conversely, when things don’t work – when a site is visually distracting or chock-full of salesy stuff before even a tenuous thread of trust has been stitched – we focus on the clutter in our path, the stuff in our way.

Not only are we detained or derailed from doing what we’re on the site to do, but now we’re irritated. Our irritation at the site has a way of glomming on to the brand by association. Hey, if such-and-such’s website makes my life difficult, then I kind of jump to the conclusion that their product/service won’t fare any better. Negative perception born, just like that.

Clickty-click, I’m headed to another site. Probably the competition.

Giant sucking sounds

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

When we land on a site that sucks, we mutter broad-stroke things like ” Why can’t I find what I’m looking for?” or “I just want to know ____.”  To these black thoughts I toss in a little mouse-against-table banging along with a squinty-eyed laser stare and throaty “Grrrrr” or two. For blog owners, this type of user frustration usually results in few page views, low time on site, and high bounce rates.  <shrugs shoulders> Little matter if the blog’s just a hobby.

But for a company in business to sell stuff, a sucky website can be a serious problem.

Cart abandonment. Few eNewsletter subscriptions. Nascent contact form submissions. Low numbers of recommendations. Infrequent white paper downloads. Low conversions.

Are you squirming uncomfortably in your chair yet?

Now that’s irritating

Stop leaving your website visitors with the impression that:

A)  No one from the company has looked at the website page-by-page in the last 27 months. (“set it and forget it” yeah, that’s a good strategy)

B)  The company is completely out of touch, clueless or uninterested, even, with what matters to prospective buyers. (try doing something with the mouldering files of customer feedback, ‘kay?)

C)  Your web team consists of the super sophisticated, MacBook-toting college-age kid of one of the vice presidents. (as if a Dreamweaver course covered usability standards)

D) Your CEO or president is a boorish blowhard who thinks we buy stuff because of his huge “trust me” smile and personal welcome message. (did you see that suit? I’m not interested in helping him buy another Armani)

E) Marketing upchukked every pamphlet, data sheet, approved message, statistic, testimonial, and standard language it could scrape together and plaster on the site (yeah, there’s this concept called a user persona? you’re supposed to strategically plan content according to a research-based assumed progression through the site?)

I could go on, but you get the point. Right now your site sucks, and it’s irritating visitors. You know it, and I know it. All the well-timed tweets in the world won’t make people happy when they land on your site. Take some tips from Erin (her powerful book is only 70ish pages and a very digestible read). Stop allowing bullshit zombie copy any presence on your company website.

  1. Your site uses internal language and writes from internal hot buttons to communicate with external audiences.  Think mission statements, vision statements, core values.
  2. Your About Us or News Room pages read like the stack of required retirement portfolio crap chucked in your mailbox each quarter.
  3. Your legal team ran amok with disclaimers and legalese, causing pages to be more than a couple of short paragraphs in length.
  4. There are pages full of feature lists with no context that don’t aid decision-making.
  5. Your CEO (or worse,  your CEO and his prize schnauzer) is front-and-central on a video set to auto play.
  6. Awards and certifications abound. From 2008.

Go forth and edit.

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About the Author

Heather Rast

Heather is Principal of a boutique Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. She develops brand positioning strategy and marketing communications plans to distinguish small businesses from the competition and attract their ideal customers. Her content planning, writing, and online community-building work helps larger businesses better serve their audiences with useful information that solves problems as it builds affinity for the brand.