Can Your Site Be Too Easy to Use?

image of easy buttonI’ve talked a lot about the perils of putting up barriers to your customers (Flash, logins to comment on blogs, complicated contact forms, etc.), but can a site be TOO easy to use?

I have a client who has a listing on Lexis/Nexis’s legal services directory and wanted it updated. (not my usual thing, but he’s “technologically challenged”).

He asked me to update a listing for him on Lexis/Nexis. He told me all I had to do was hit an update button and make the changes. This seemed way too easy (what, no login? no password?). Sure enough, he was right. I filled out an online form (with name, address, etc.) and uploaded the changes.

That’s when the trouble started. There was only a tiny box to put three pages of material, and no way to tell what it would look like “live.” Then, I got a message saying the changes would go live at their next update (no indication of when that would be).

I called and was told that the reason there was no password was because you had to add the name and address in the form (so that would stop fakes). Meanwhile, the name and address were all there in plain sight on the existing listing!

They also said it would take 7-10 days to go live. Why? Because they review each entry individually, retype it, and then upload it!! I asked them to send the changes so I could check that it was OK.

They wanted to fax them! I asked them to email me. They emailed the client (who doesn’t use email). The changes were sent in plain text, so I couldn’t see the formatting.

Then, they sent a second email saying the upload was too long (they had a 300 word limit, and the listing had 682 words). No sign of this on the site anywhere.

So, after three hours of talking to the client, making changes, checking them, several phone calls back and forth, reading emails, and getting strange messages, my client has the same old listing he had before (in which the typist misspelled the client’s name)!

Yes, be accessible, easy-to-use, and friendly, but don’t leave the doors unlocked with a big sign that says, “Steal my Stuff”!

Photo: civilian scrabble

Do You Make These Six Web Site Mistakes?

Does your Web site invite visitors to linger? Or drive them away? The first few seconds are critical to making a good impression. Here are six common mistakes many business owners make (and how to fix them).

1) Graphic-heavy sites that take a long time to load. If it takes 20 seconds on a fast connection, it’s too slow. Amazon loads in a second or two. Rethink the size of your images, and in most cases, ditch the Flash intro.

2) Light type on a dark background. I just saw this twice yesterday. It’s hard to read. Use contrast, and a light background with dark type for better legibility. Reading on a computer is harder than on a printed page. If you’re not sure what colors to¬† use, try color combos.

3) Fuzzy solutions to unclear problems. Be clear about who your customers are and what problem you solve. Talk about the pain they have (not yours) and what you’ll do to make it stop. One of the sites I looked at yesterday said was offering web hosting services. It said, “Want to build your Web site, we’ll do it for you.” It’s unclear who the customer is or what the benefits of using this company are. Is the site for people with technical know-how who want a reliable web host? Or, is it aimed at people who don’t know (or care) how to build a site and want someone to do it for them?

4) Asking for love, without trust. Would you ask someone to marry you after the first date? Or, as Chris Brogan vividly puts it, “put your tongue in the ear of someone who is trying to shake your hand?” Of course not. So, don’t put up big buttons asking people to follow you on Twitter, or spread your name to social bookmarking sites, unless and until you have gained their trust. Give them something worth spreading first. Be worth talking about. Then, and only then, have you earned the right to ask for something in return.

5) Unclear target customer. This same web hosting company offered bulk transfers, SSL certificates, and all sorts of complicated Web services. It was also promoting site building help and ease of use. One set of offerings seemed meant for beginners and people lacking Web expertise. The other set was targeted at network administrators with high-level technical skills. They were all lumped together and it was confusing. If you must sell to two such different customers separate the pitches. Have one page or menu button leading to information for beginners and another with information for experts.

6) Hard for new visitors to use. It may be obvious to you, but not your visitors. Have someone new try it. Watch them while they do it. See whether they can find what they want easily. Check what they read, and what they skip over. Darren Rowse has a First Time Reader Audit with more details (he’s talking about blogs, but the principles apply to Web sites too).

Photo: cogdogblog

Is Your Web Site Search Broken?

broken egg imageTwo weeks ago, I ran out of fax toner. Staples didn’t have what I wanted, so I turned to the Internet. I found a site that sold ink and toner (so far so good).

I plugged the brand and model number into their search tool… and was sent to the main page for that brand.

There were about 20 pages of toner! I couldn’t find the one I needed unless I looked through each and every one. Not good.

So, I emailed them saying I need Brand X, model Y. Do you carry toner for that? I got an automatic message thanking me for my inquiry…. and nothing since. Now, here I’d raised my hand, saying, ‘hello, I’m a prospect, I want to buy from you.” And nobody cared.

Two important marketing lessons:

1) If you build a search tool into your site, make sure it’s easy to use and delivers visitors directly to the information they’re searching for. Don’t make it hard to buy!

2) If you have a contact button (and you should), follow up on the questions. Ignoring customers (or potential customers) is costing you both money and goodwill.

Image thanks to: stevendepolo

Rate Your Web Site: 10 Ways to Tell if It’s a Wow or a Flop

check_it_1

1. _____ Is your site mostly one color?

2. _____ Is it easy to read? (What size and color is the font? Does it show up against the background color, or blend in?)

3. _____ How long does the site take to load? Do you have to wait to see the images?

4. _____ Is the copy about you? Or about your customers?

5. _____ Does the copy talk about what problems you solve?

6. _____ Is it easy to contact you? Phone? Email? Address?

7. _____ Is it easy to navigate your site?

8. _____ Do you have an ideal customer? Or do you “sell to everybody”? Hint: Selling to everyone is selling to nobody.

9. _____ If you do have an ideal customer, who are they? Can you describe them?

10. _____ Are you remarkable? Does your site explain why?

Image:lusi