Is your website too creative?
Your websites effectiveness and efficiency should not be sacrificed for creativity
WARNING: This blog contains passion. Those averse to passion should exit this page immediately.
Its a battle as old as media communications itself - the battle between creativity and Return On Investment.
Typically on the one hand you have Creatives who have their heart set on coming up with a masterpiece that will win them props from their peers, industry awards and with them an accompanying salary boost. On the other, the client who wants the best possible return on investment on their communications campaign.
The problem is that many Creatives are not renowned as great businesspeople. So whilst the ensuing communications may well turn the heads of their peers, it may do nothing for the clients bottom line and hence can create a poor financial result.
The great communications agencies are the ones who manage to get the balance between creativity and ROI just right.
Effectiveness boring but essential
Which is why the more accountable advertising types came up with Advertising Effectiveness Awards (in this country the Effies).
Agency owners know that these awards for the most effective rather than the most creative are instrumental in landing new business, while many Creatives can barely stifle their yawns.
Now the same old battle has found a fresh new front the web.
But not much has changed. In the Red corner we still have the Creative who wants to wow browsers with their wonderful web work. In the blue, the client who just wants to achieve a healthy net profit.
In the past week, the battle has been raging at a prominent Australian innovation website whose reporter waxed lyrical about a hospitality website, only to be howled down by literally dozens of retorts to the contrary.
Website receives accolades
According to the poor journo concerned, this retail website 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.
Whilst the odd sympathiser concurred, the bulk of the ensuing commentary lambasted the journalist (and insodoing the poor small business operators who commissioned it!)
Whilst the site in question is undoubtedly professional-looking and creative, it fails the visitor before you get very far into the site at all.
For starters you are greeted with a slow and boring splash page.
Splash away your cash
When are Creatives going to understand that the vast bulk of web users are time poor and really cant be bothered waiting and wasting valuable time to witness their handiwork?
Web users are on a mission to solve a problem. In this case, finding a function or meal venue for their event or occasion. Chances are they have a gazillion better things to do than this task.
Splash pages do nothing to solve problems. They are usually a showpiece for the creative and an excuse for clients to spend more budget with them.
The next showstopper was that upon finally reaching the homepage, there was no information whatsoever to guide you as to what the business did and what was so good about it.
Nothing about who they did it for or what their pricepoints were. No indications of what previous customers thought or any recognition they had received. Not even a (food) menu.
Instead, a large image of the venue interior and the menu headings. Nothing else.
Show me the content
Clearly the intention is that the enthralled visitor will play hide and seek with the website, clicking on the various areas of the page until they could find what it was they were interested in.
Again, a waste of time.
Showstopper three was once you did move your mouse over the menus, instead of uncovering some of this vital information, it simply exposed an image of a (supposed) staff member pointing at the very same menu I had just rolled over.
The only purpose this achieves is perceived cleverness.
So the three immediate opportunities the venue had to provide some fundamental information to lure me further had all been wasted.
If I was in the market for such a venue, at that point I would have left the site annoyed that they were wasting my time. And according to the commentary, so would a large percentage of others.
As it turned out thats exactly what I did undoubtedly missing out on the hidden treasures the designer had in store for me.
Seems those that did go on found that apart from these usability no-nos, the Flash the site was built in was also hindering good search engine practice and accessibility on mobile phones amongst other things.
What about maintenance?
Without even looking under the hood I also have a strong suspicion that the website has neither the content management tools so as the client can change the content whenever they need to, or integration with the databases and email marketing tools (amongst other things) the client will need to manage their eMarketing.
Im tipping that instead, the client will have to pay the designer for the slightest change to their online masterpiece.
With all due respect to this undoubtedly talented designer, what s/he is failing to understand about the web is that users (particularly a business customers) arent interested in creativity for creativitys sake.
Yes creativity is important, but only when the fundamentals of usability, content, maintenance and eMarketing are firmly in place and fully operational.
What about the client?
Most of all I feel for the client involved.
Chances are they werent aware of some of the pitfalls of the working with some aspects of the web design industry, and probably just wanted a really nice website.
Instead of their chosen designer delivering a site that was truly usable, search engine friendly, maintainable and above all effective, they have indulged their own creativity to deliver a nice piece for their folio but an ROI flop.
Now the client is at risk of losing business or having to pay to have the website altered or even completely scrapped to come up with something vaguely effective.
In a confusing web industry, the best way to avoid this fate is to take three simple steps.
1. Dont look at websites, use them
First, when perusing the websites of the designer in question, dont just look through them. Take a minute to understand what the website is trying to achieve. Then mimic the behaviour of a real visitor by browsing the site with a task in mind.
That task might be to complete a briefing form, or to gain some evidence of quality, or even just send an email.
Then see how successfully the website does that in the least amount of time.
2. Maintenance and integration tools
The second thing to ask is what website management tools come with the website. If the designer responds with a blank stare, run! Quickly.
Because the fewer website management tools or features the site has, the more you will have to pay that designer to alter or enhance anything at all on that website and lining their pockets instead of yours.
These days you dont need to get a degree in computer science to maintain a website with most text and image changes easy to achieve.
3. Search the category in the location
Thirdly, conduct a fair search for the category of business in the location. In this case it would be (location) cafe. And in this case it wasnt yet on the first three pages of Google which is search (and business) suicide.
Im sure Creatives who inspect websites Ive been involved in would find them comparatively boring and basic.
In which case I just show them the money clients have either made or saved compared to the overly creative alternative.
So by all means demonstrate creativity with your web presence. Just make sure more important factors arent sacrificed in the process.