Four top-notch Web designers from around the
country—New York City, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Austin—each looked
at one of four Baton Rouge Web sites and gave their take on what's
good and bad about it as well as how to improve it.
We've put our own Web site, BusinessReport.com , under
the knife along with Web sites for AllStar Automotive, LSU, WAFB-TV
What can your company learn from our exercise? Designers say that
when constructing or refining a site, it helps to study what works—or
misses the mark—on other sites.
Consider this a starting point.
The site: Baton Rouge Business Report
The reviewer: David Garfinkel, a San Francisco-based Web design
coach and former editor-in-chief of "What's Working Online?" a newsletter
that provided critiques of Web sites around the country. Visit him
Good: "In terms of content, I think it's great. It's got information,
and offering information for free is a great inducement to get readers.
'Past issues' is a really nice service to readers because the reality
is that they might not all be keeping copies of the Business Report
in a neat little pile or filing system."
Bad: "It's a little cluttered. There's a lot going on. Underneath
the two banner ads at the top is the masthead for the magazine.
Those ads should not be at the top. Also, the file size of your
home page is about 80,000 bytes. That is way too big. With my DSL
line, it took 28 seconds to load it."
Recommendations: "Move the masthead to the top. Also, the whole
thing should be dumbed down. It needs to be explained to the na•ve
user. The rule of thumb on the Web is this: Explain things in a
way that the least familiar user will understand it."
The site: All Star Automotive Group
The reviewers: Robert and Dion Algeri, founders of Great Jakes,
a Web development and online marketing company in New York whose
clients include Avon, Vogue magazine, Playboy magazine and the National
Council on Economic Education. Check it out at www.greatjakes.com.
Good: "As a research tool for somebody interested in buying a car,
it gave a lot of information. You could really see what was out
there from their network of cars. We also liked the live chat option.
We both tested it, and it was responded to, which can be the biggest
problem with live chat."
Bad: "The site didn't really have a mission. We weren't sure that
when they went out and started building the site that they were
really clear about what they were doing. They hadn't really thought
about the purpose of the site. It's also a bit impersonal. This
Web site feels like it could have been a company in Canada, for
all we knew. If we got here, we'd probably turn around and leave
because we got frustrated at not knowing what we were looking at."
Recommendations: "On the home page, it should be more clearly spelled
out what they do there—just three or four different things, and
a description of what each of those is."
The site: WAFB-TV (Channel 9)
The reviewer: Philippa Gamse, an e-business strategist in Santa
Cruz, Calif. She has worked with businesses around the U.S. and
abroad and is a judge for the annual Web Marketing Association awards.
Visit her at www.cyberspeaker.com.
Good: "The site has a lot of great content. For example, there's
a story under 'Editorials' about how an investigative reporter with
WAFB helped a local widow recoup funds that had been wrongly seized
by the feds when other efforts to help her had failed."
Bad: "The content is buried in inside pages that aren't well referenced
from the top level. It also suffers from excess advertising, which
sometimes gets confused with the editorial."
Recommendations: "They might want to consider cutting down on the
content of the home page. If you have good links to the inside content,
news headlines and so forth, it isn't so necessary to put it all
up front. Good content such as that mentioned above should be used
to showcase how WAFB gets involved with the community, perhaps with
a link to the reporter's biography, a picture of the grateful widow—there
are very few pictures on the site—and an invitation to send the
reporter leads for other stories."
The site: EATEL
The reviewer: Jeanette S. Cates, Austin, Texas-based author of
"Online Success Tactics: 101 Ways to Build Your Small Business."
Visit her at www.onlinesuccesstactics.com.
Good: "My favorite part of the site is 'Customer Service.' It provides
some excellent features, such as downloadable forms and easy-to-understand
ways to contact EATEL. Between the 'Frequently Asked Questions'
and 'How to Use Your EATEL Service,' you can solve a lot of your
own problems. But if you can't, it's easy to report a problem with
the online form they offer."
Bad: "The 'Shop Online' section is my least favorite. Regardless
of the option you choose, you end up back at the page that asks
for your phone number. Many people hesitate to give this information.
But you can't get any pricing information without putting in your
phone number. As an alternative, you could provide general pricing
guidelines. At a minimum, the company needs to reassure users that
it will not save their phone number or have a salesperson call based
on their entering the number on the page."
Recommendations: "All of the options on the left side of the front-page
point again to that 'Phone Number Please' page, so you can't really
get any information from the site. I recommend providing some basic
information. Otherwise, you lose a lot of visitors who can't get
past the 'Number Please' request."
The site: Louisiana State University
The reviewer: Bryan Eisenberg, chief information officer for online
marketing firm Future Now Inc. in New York City and author of "ROI
Marketing." Visit his company at www.futurenowinc.com
Good: "The site seems to do very well in terms of content and navigation
for people who are familiar with the university. The design is also
crisp and professional, with a lot of images."
Bad: "As someone who is not familiar with the university and visiting
the site for the first time, I ask myself, just like most people
will, 'What is in it for me?' I, like any other visitor, need to
know in the first eight to 10 seconds what the site is all about
and what it has to offer me. The site seems to be a collection of
numerous sites where the look, feel and navigation seem to change.
For example, when I went to the section for 'Undergraduate Admissions,'
the colors changed and the layout of the page was significantly
different. I was greeted with a huge image that did not tell me
what I needed to do to apply or what the requirements were."
Recommendations: "Add more text. The fact the home page is made
up mostly of images means that the search engines have nothing they
can read. This could make it more difficult to find the Web site.
The areas for prospective students, staff, researchers, alumni and
visitors could all be done as text instead of graphics."