Your web site either gives me the information I need easily and professionally or it devalues your brand. Period, end of story.
Is this fair? Absolutely not. You may sell a fabulous product or be an excellent service provider, but if your web site doesn't showcase that really, really well, I am likely to move on to one of your competitors. It's the old "judging a book by its cover" cliche -- we all do it to one degree or another, but in an information culture, the way you lay out that information on my screen is a huge part of how I'll judge your business. People involved in the business of laying out information -- marketing people, graphic designers, people in advertising -- are perhaps more likely than others to dismiss your brand based on how you present it online, but to a lesser degree, all people have a tendency to compare you to the best presentation of similar information they can find.
There are several things that will delegitimize your site on looks alone.
If you've been active on the web for more than ten years, you remember something called "frames." Maybe you don't know it by name, but you can visit The World's Worst Web Site to see how it looks. Essentially, separate parts of the screen can be scrolled-through using separate scroll bars, almost always grey but sometimes colored differently from the rest of the page. This was all the rage in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but it fell out of use when internet standards came into play. There's even a page dedicated to the utter hatred of frames. Along with frames, there are several other web layouts that have largely fallen out of favor:
- Rounded tabs that look like file folders at the top of your page
- Flash animations on the home page that automatically load your "real" home page
- Navigation made with "image maps" that requires users to click on different parts of an image to visit different parts of your site
All these things scream "old-school" and make me wonder if you stopped updating more than just your web site fifteen years ago. How likely is your product or service to be appropriate today if your web site is not? Show me any of these layouts, and I'll be looking more closely at your competition.
Here are two pictures of sushi that could be used to advertise your sushi restaurant.
And here's Option 2:
Both photos show sushi. One even shows a customer digging in to some other food. The difference is that the first photo is well lit, displays the sushi in detail, and looks like it might have been photographed by a professional. The second looks amateur and haphazardly planned. I'm far more attracted to the first sushi photo, and I'd be far more likely to eat at the restaurant with the professional attitude and attention to detail displayed in that photo.
Awkward Font Choices
When scientists announced the discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012, the scientific papers released from the CERN researchers to the world included diagrams annotated in a font known as Comic Sans. People made horrendous fun of this, largely because Comic Sans is a whimsical, outdated, and hard-to-take-seriously font used mostly for children's party invitations and notes on the door of your office breakroom. It's acquired the reputation of being innappropriate for business. Other fonts and font styles have taken on personalities of their own as well.
For example, unless you are a calligrapher, a florist, or the author of romance novels, you probably don't want to use swirly, curly, flowy handwriting fonts on your web site. If you're not a law firm, bank, or accountant, you probably don't need a bold, old-fashioned "serif" font. There's more about the psychology of fonts here. Don't cross genres. If your law firm uses Comic Sans, I will instantly distrust you. Sorry.
No. Just don't.
Lack of Branding
When you build a web site, you should have a logo. It doesn't have to be fancy -- even your business name in a nice, interesting font would be fine -- but JONES & SMITH CPA in Arial in a navy blue banner looks like letterhead. Your web site is not a letter and your banner is not letterhead. Some styling tells me that you have a personality, your firm has something special to offer, and you've taken the time to think about what that special something might be. If you can't show me on your web site, how else will I find out?
It's not fair that anyone would dismiss a business out of hand based on their web site, but if your market is saturated and someone is sitting on the couch, flipping through the internet on their iPad looking for a good place to take karate classes, your studio's classy, well-laid-out, professionally-photographed web site is far more likely to keep their attention than the one with outdated links and styles left over from the last decade. Don't let your site make them turn up their noses.
Next week, we'll be writing about the basic information that, if missing, leads me away from your business too.