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July 16, 2002
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Spice up your site
By Amy Alexander
Business Report staff

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 and EATEL.

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

www.businessreport.com

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 at www.davidgarfinkel.com

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

www.allstarautomotive.com

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)

www.wafb.com

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

www.eatel.com

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

www.lsu.edu

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."


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