Is your website sacrificing effectiveness for coolness?

The problem with having so many simultaneous online business discussions going on is the ever present temptation to get involved in them. 

And lose many hours in the process.

I’d love to say I’m immune but that would be far from the truth.

Take for example the gongs given to a regional café website by a well-known online publication for being so creative and innovative.

Cool but unusable

The website in question was certainly creative. From memory – and it has to be from memory because it is no longer live, it had a colourful and intriguing ‘splash page’ before you made your way into the website.

But instead of a standard ‘magazine front cover’ style home page with the kind of menus and ‘eye-leaders’ you would expect, the page was devoid of verbal cues and menus and instead made you hunt for pages by clicking on a wine bottle, or a dinner plate and so on.

In other words, you had to hunt for the content you were after instead of being guided to it.

The critic in question described it thus:

No world-changing apps or game-changing widgets here. This site is clever, simple, oozing with the personality of the cafe and its owners, without forgetting important things, like a mailing list sign-up form and map (all-too-often forgotten) – just the stuff that makes you want to leave work early, jump in the car and head straight for their version of the good life.

And this is where I took exception. And became engaged in a lengthy and time consuming debate.

Clever but ineffective

Because whilst it was undoubtedly clever and oozing with personality, it completely ignored the fundamental purpose of best practice navigation and usability:

To provide the user with as much control over the website and its content as possible so as to enable them to achieve the purpose of their visit easily and seamlessly.

No website visitor likes to be held to ransom by an award-seeking creative. They like to be able to satisfy their specific goal – whether that’s find its opening hours, location, menu or dietary catering as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

This is because, on most occasions, they are on an information-finding mission. They want to find out some information to satisfy their query about your business with a view to doing business with you.

Better still the website will then provide a logical ‘next step’ – in this case perhaps a real time booking capability or even a live chat capability – something to take the customer closer to the sale.

When cool is OK

The exception to this rule is when the goal of the user is to actually ‘play’ on the website. That is, they are not seeking information or a transaction but are at the website to be amused and tantalised. An example of this might be a gaming or other fun site.

Another exception is where the visitor is already so invested with your brand that they will enjoy the fun and mystery created by an unorthodox navigation structure.

However, few smaller businesses fit either of these descriptions.

 This homepage for a social commerce provider may be mysterious and even enticing, but is it effective?

Not to say a business website can’t be fun or creative. In fact I’d be the first to applaud and endorse a website with these attributes.

It’s just that fundamental usability shouldn’t be sacrificed in doing so.

But usability wasn’t this website’s only issue. As many commented afterwards, its sins also included being inaccessible (due to using since-discredited ‘Flash’ technology) and poorly optimised for search engines.

Reasons for cool

So why do cool but unusable websites occur?

The reason can be traced to an oft-visited theme in this blog and that is a business operator’s fundamental lack of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t online.

Sure the site may be creative and attract the sort of attention described above, but it will ultimately let your customer down, causing inconvenience and frustration instead of clearing their path of obstacles that will lead to an enquiry, and in this case, booking and sale.

It’s important that you don’t fall for this time and money-wasting but common mistake.

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.



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