OPINION – What’s the biggest compliment you can pay a website?

12 May 2012

Gareth Dunlop, founder and CEO, Fathom

“We’ve just had our website relaunched,” Bob boasted as he prepared to tee off towards the first hole on Saturday morning. “You guys should take a look, it’s really got the wow factor.”

Not wanting to be outdone, John quickly commented that his company’s website had won an award the previous year. Dave, feeling somewhat left out, realising that his company hadn’t redesigned their website in nearly a decade, kept his counsel to himself but committed to check things out when he got into the office on Monday morning. He wasn’t going to miss his chance to show off on future Saturdays.

When Dave spoke to his web people on the Monday he was surprised to learn they measured the success of their web activity not based on awards or the wow factor, but rather based on conversions, customer satisfaction, completed tasks, number of sales leads generated and length of time taken to respond to enquiries. He started to have a feeling of dread about the following Saturday morning.

What Dave’s initially deflating Monday morning detective work illustrates starkly is how easily a disconnect can grow between how organisations rate their websites and how their customers rate those same websites. His web people are much more connected to the needs of his customers and are contributing far more to his bottom line than Bob’s web guy or John’s web team. Why? Because they are focused on the priorities of their customers ahead of internal and external egos.

Dave did the maths and decided that holding his counsel and biting his tongue on future Saturday mornings was a small price to pay for the successful website his business operated.

Pretty websites still have to function well

Nowadays, most websites are pretty. But far too many websites are pretty ineffective. We have got much better at the art bit, but still don’t work anywhere near hard enough on the science bit.

Pretty but ineffective websites are like celebrity heiress Paris Hilton. They are fairly easy on the eye but leave you asking “why”?

The best-performing websites are like Father Ted‘s Mrs Doyle. They are always asking how they can help. They always know what their most important customers most need and make sure that they get just that.

How would you like your website to be talked about? Got the WOW factor? Award-winning? Leading edge? Web 2.0? Cool?

How would your customers like to experience your website? It seems that finding what they want is more important than the wow factor, website slipperiness (getting in and out as quickly as possible) may be preferred to website stickiness, and good navigation favoured over cool navigation.

It is great for websites to have the wow factor and it’s a great boon for organisations and their agencies when they win awards; these things are to be celebrated. But your online customers care a whole lot less about these things than you may like them to.

Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs left us with many legacies. Perhaps, as the very incarnation of the obsessive yet flawed genius, there is something in him which all of us can admire and relate to. One could summarise the many product design lessons he left with us as the confirmation that in the early part of the 21st century, design isn’t just how something looks, it’s how something works. Perhaps then, just perhaps, the phrase which Jobs used to launch many of his products remains the most apposite compliment we can pay a website.

It just works.

Gareth Dunlop is founder and CEO at Fathom, a user experience consultancy specialising in strategy, research and digital leadership. Clients include Failte Ireland, Irish Times, Irish Internet Association, SOCITM and Ogilvy.

Read more by Gareth Dunlop: 

Forget Mad Men, this is better than Madison Avenue in the 1960s

When is a blog not a blog?

Evolution and the pattern of design

When advertising is the enemy of sales

Words write a thousand pictures

Why Michael O’Leary should run your website

Websites; you used to be cool, man

Clear Facebook success trends starting to emerge

Bonnets and beeswax – your business’ reputation

Learning to say no

Enough of your patronising social media heroics, please

Online crimes of passion

New Media Opinion: Online reputation optimisation

Offline marketing isn’t dead …

The unaffordable cost of irrelevancy

Urgent need for new online metrics   

Electricity and the gold rush

The real reason the recession is good for marketing

The class of 2009 wants your job!

Firms need to be customer zealots, not technology zealots

Firms need to put aside their fears and embrace the web

Online advertising overtakes TV advertising

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.