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Traveling bumpy road of bad Web sites

Web sites have been described as billboards on the information highway. Some that I have encountered while navigating down that electronic road make me wonder if I took the wrong entrance ramp.

It appears that there are three stages when it comes to businesses and Web sites. They are:

• We need to get a Web site.

• Hey, we’ve got a Web site.

• We use our Web site as an integral part of our business.

My experience is that most businesses are stuck in the second stage. In this column I’ll share with you what this active driver on the information highway likes and dislikes about those billboards. These are in no particular order, but I have stronger feelings about some things as you will easily detect.

Get in touch

First, I want to see contact information. I don’t use the telephone book or directory assistance very much anymore to look up information. I go to the Web. When I want to call someone at a business I look for the business phone number by “Googling” the name of the business so I can link to the company’s Web site.

Sometimes I want the mailing address, sometimes I want the phone number, sometimes I want a specific person and sometimes I want company information. So, please put full contact information on your site.

There should be a link to the home page on every page on the Web site. When I search the Internet and am linked to a page within a Web site, it does no good for me to click on the “back” button. Don’t assume that every visitor to your Web site starts on the home page.

The thing I detest most about Web sites is having to fill out a form so that someone can contact me. Automobile dealers used to be the worst about this, but most have gotten better. The last two cars I purchased were from dealers who gave me a price by e-mail in response to a specific model shown on their Web site.

For the bankers and other financial institutions out there, I want you to know that last night I went shopping for interest rates to replace a certificate of deposit that had expired. If you did not have your current rates on your Web site I did not even consider you. I don’t want to have to call a bank and push buttons before being allowed to talk to someone about interest rates.

I don’t need a lot of graphics that take time downloading unless graphics are an integral part of your business. If you have an online catalogue then of course I must have graphics. Just make graphics appropriate for your business.

One of my pet peeves is to go to a community or chamber of commerce Web site and encounter a stock graphic photo of workers with welding torches depicting industry, especially workers on skyscrapers when I know good and well that there is not a skyscraper within a 100 miles of that town.

Keeping it current

Up-to-date information is critical to your company’s image. I just visited a corporate Web site that had photos of some “company leaders” who had retired six months ago.

Perhaps worse in this regard are community Web sites that have photos of former politicians who have been booted out of office. If you really want to show your true colors about the importance of your Web site then list old information in your “current events” or “latest news” section. On a related matter, be careful of linking to outdated or dead Web sites.

For my real estate friends out there, I will try to be gentle, but I must say it. I’m not really interested in your sales awards, your hobbies, your family and your photo. I want a house; I don’t want you. Check your Web sites. You know who you are.

Consider who uses your site. You might want to have separate entrances for customers and members.
Don’t apologize for your site being under construction — just construct it.

Avoid useless information. It’s tempting to use those really neat Web tools, but we really don’t want a clicking clock counting down to get information.

Use consistent design on every page. Your design should reflect the look and feel of your company and/or community. Your Web site is part of your overall marketing scheme.

Now for some random observations and comments about specific billboards near my mileage marker.

Rankin County CoC • www.rankinchamber.com
It opens with “Home of America’s Junior Miss” and “Rankin County Top Ten Place To Live.” Those things are unique to the community and make me want to know more.

Jackson CVB • www.visitjackson.com
Uses consistent theme throughout, lots of easily searchable information and is always up-to-date.

City of Jackson • www.city.jackson.ms.us
Easily one of the worst city Web sites in existence. Too many useless graphics, dead links, out-of-date information, grammatical errors, etc. Someone please help them. By the way, it’s been that way for several years now.

Jackson/Hinds Library System • www.jhlibrary.com
User friendly, consistent theme, up-to-date features make this an excellent place for a rest stop.

Making an impact

Finally, you may be interested in a Stanford University study, “What Makes Web Sites Credible? A Report on a Large Quantitative Study” (captology.stanford.edu/pdf/p61-fogg.pdf).

In order of impact, the five types of elements that increased credibility perceptions were:

• real-world feel

• ease of use

• expertise

• trustworthiness

• tailoring

The two types of elements that hurt credibility were commercial implications and amateurism. These results suggest implications for designing credible Web sites.

Safe driving.

Phil Hardwick’s column on Mississippi Business appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is phil@philhardwick.com and his Web site is at exit www.philhardwick.com.

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