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

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

“We’ve just had our website re–launched” 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 that 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 focussed 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.

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 Paris Hilton. They are fairly easy on the eye but leave you asking “why”?

The best performing websites are like 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.

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 twenty–first 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.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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