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Imagine this-Your company has just had a Website designed and it looks great! Everyone in the company who has seen it just loves it. The site is nothing short of leading-edge and you figure it should quickly become popular and start to pay back on that big initial investment.

The site is launched with great fanfare. Initially it gets an encouraging number of 'hits' and some rave reviews. Six months later you're wondering why the site gets so few visitors. And why the visitors who do come along so often don't ever come back for a second look. And above all why you've made hardly any sales and had very few enquiries for all the cost and effort. This is not such an unusual scenario. Whatever is going wrong?

One reason why so many brilliant Websites fail (apart from lack of proper promotion-see my previous article) is simply because they are so leading-edge. What do I mean?

The average personal computer connected to the Internet is around three years old, and around eight million of them are over five years old. (source: Media Metrix' semi annual Top 10 ranking of Windows PC installed base, 5th June, 1998) Often this fact is overlooked when developing a website. Other forms of successful promotion aim to appeal to as many potential customers as possible, or what is sometimes called "the lowest common denominator." Would you produce a TV ad that could only be viewed properly by people who have just purchased the very latest model of wide-screen stereophonic digital television set? Of course not. Why limit your potential audience? Put like this it's so obvious. It should be obvious. Yet, Web Sites often seem to be targeted mainly at the relatively small proportion of Internet Users who have upgraded to the very latest hardware and software.

Is it any wonder that so many brilliantly designed websites become expensive, miserable failures from a business promotion perspective?

If you are having a website designed to promote your company, bear in mind that most of your potential visitors will be accessing your pages through relatively slow dial-up connections (average 28.8k modem.) Are all those big, flashy animated graphics that look so pretty when run direct off the Web Designer's (previously cached) hard drive really necessary to get your message across? What about all that Javascript that also slows everything down for most people? If your pages take too long to download your visitors will probably hit "stop" and go elsewhere long before they get to see how great it is all supposed to look. This is costing them money after all, and if you don't respect that then you won't earn your potential customer's respect-or their business.

This is why many brilliant Web Sites fail. The Web Designers who invariably sit in the driver's seat for these sorts of Projects quite often end up designing their sites to appeal to people like themselves instead of to people like your customers.

The majority of recently designed high-profile company websites seem to suggest that the companies behind them are only interested in targeting people who have the latest computer equipment, including an extra-wide screen and an extra-high speed Internet connection. Web designers allowed to run rampant? Of course-websites are a "computer thing"- best left to computer specialists in the minds of most companies. The suggestion that this is wrong and that company websites are really about promotion, about choice and about giving customers what they want (rather than what the web designer thinks looks impressive) usually evokes blank stares. Unfortunate-because being a successful business online really is about efficiently giving people easy access to the information that they want and need to know about your company.

Computer specialists in general are not known for their great marketing skills. There are some notable exceptions. But finding a good marketing-savvy and "customer focused" website designer is not always an easy task. (I have it on good authority that criticising some web designer's work evokes a response something like that you would get from an artist or a chef if you suggested there was something "wrong" with their creations!)

These days it's not too hard for any of us web construction types to make websites brimming full of special multimedia effects and entertaining "java" animations. Why not throw in a bit of Active-X, and some auto-start audio files for good measure? It's so much fun that many web designers just can't wait to have the opportunity to throw in more and more leading-edge stuff to show how clever they are with their latest tools and toys. The bigger the budget the more gets thrown in. But as far as your average commercial site visitor (read potential customer) is concerned, such a Web Site is a total waste of time. All those extra features just slow things down and make it harder and more expensive for them to access the information they require.

Your Web Designer probably has impeccable credentials from a design point of view, seems to know exactly what s/he is talking about, and their work looks really impressive. But if the site they create falls into the category outlined above then, technically brilliant as it might be, the majority of potential customers with "old" computers and "slow" connections will not be able to properly view it. So most of the work done in trying to promote the company via the website will be wasted.

And owners of brilliant websites still wonder why on earth things didn't work out as they had intended. "Maybe this Internet thing isn't such a good promotional medium after all-had my doubts about it all along" company executives will mutter to each other in the elevators. Meanwhile, their Competitors (who perhaps have read articles such as this one) are doing it right first time and steadily gaining 'hits' online and 'market share' offline.

By all means make your website visually appealing, but also make sure it is designed to be easily viewable and quickly downloadable on the sorts of computers and connections owned by most Internet users. If you must include features that require faster connections and more sophisticated computers to appreciate, at least allow your visitors to "opt out" upfront and view a less demanding version if they prefer. Because ultimately this means more potential customers viewing and returning to your site and more sales as a result.

Hopefully you'll also save some money on expensive and often unnecessary design features which you can then put towards your website promotion budget.




WEB SITES LTD. , August 1998