be the difference between success and failure for the
project. The responsibility here is twofold; Content
Content - once our home page design has captured
our user's attention, it is imperative that we have something
of substance and relevance to say. Furthermore, we must
get to the point extremely quickly. This is no time to
brush up on our novel-writing skills. Recent studies indicate
we have a maximum of 8 seconds to give our surfing visitor
a reason to stay, or they're gone. Content should be seamlessly
consistent with the design message being conveyed, and
aimed right for our target market's hot buttons. Accurate,
constant research is key, and findings must be immediately
shared with design and development. We must define our
target audience in detail, aim for the lowest common denominator
in that group, then add the cool stuff once we're sure
we are hitting the mark - while testing for audience response
every step of the way.
Navigation - Poor navigation is probably the most severe
problem web shoppers face today, and it is critical that
web designers get a handle on the problem quickly. Charlie
Morris, author of Nav
101, tells us:
matter how good a site looks, or how much useful information
it offers, if it doesn't have a sensible navigation
scheme, it will confuse visitors and chase them away.
A simple, understandable navigation scheme can increase
your number of page impressions, boost return visits,
and improve your conversion rate. It's a critical aspect
of the site design that has a direct effect on the bottom
line." (Web Developer's Virtual Library. Nav
specialists tell us there should be a maximum of 6 links
on our home page. Any more than that, and the user gets
confused as to where we want them to go. Three of those
links should probably be 1) About the Company, 2) How
to Buy, and 3) Contact Us. There is a lot of flexibility
here, as long as we keep the goal - selling - in mind.
The so-called "portal" model, with seemingly
900 links on one page, works great as a pass-through directory.
But unless we own all 900 sites and are using this one
as a site map, we're sending our own customers right out
the site like a pyramid, with each level giving more detailed
information. In no event should it take the shopper more
than three clicks to get to our order page. Repeat visitors,
especially, will appreciate not having to wade through
our navigation system in order to buy.
our site is large and complex, we should put together
a site map - a page that displays the site in strict hierarchical
order. Each line should be a link, so visitors can quickly
go where they want to.
sum it up, our navigation system should:
1) Tell people exactly what is available on our site,
2) Help them get to the sections they want to see quickly,
3) Make it easy to buy or request additional information.
The Development Stage - Our Last Chance to Get it Right
Shockwave. Java. T3 lines. DSL. Streaming video. 21"
flatscreen monitors. As developers, we naturally want
to play with every cool new toy available to us. But as
developers with a marketing mindset, our web team depends
on us to ask ourselves the following three questions -
whether they realize it or not:
Do our users possess all the hardware equipment we assume
2) Do our users have browsers equipped with the technology
and software we are depending on?
3) Does everything on our site function as advertised?
ability to use a patient, methodical approach is necessary
in order to deal with the many limitations inherent in
presenting material on the web. The Internet is literally
being built as we go along, with styles and trends changing
on the fly. To top it off, many people have begun to resist
constantly upgrading their hardware and software when
what they have seems to be working just fine. Their attitude
is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
the latest whiz-bang tools on our site means little if
our viewers can't see the results. On the other hand,
we know that not using at least some recent technology
can make a site seem dated and out of touch. Sometimes
the issue comes down to duplication of resources, or deciding
which market segment we're willing to disappoint. And
while this is never an easy decision to make, it should
at least be a conscious one that we can stand behind under
programmer's legendary attention to detail is becoming
more vital every day. Web languages like XHTML, XML, and
SMIL will have much more demanding requirements than many
so-so developers are prepared to handle, and be much less
forgiving than HTML has been. We do our customers and
ourselves a big favor when we refuse to tolerate bad code
just because "it works OK". Wireless phones,
Web TV, hand-held devices, car dashboards, and other Internet
viewscreens of the near future will not have the computing
power of our desktops. The developer who insists on good
code is the developer who will be in demand.
E-commerce economy is a virtual one, and highly dynamic.
It exists solely at the will of satisfied users, and more
of us are responding to that fact. New York-based research
Good estimates that $6 billion in Internet sales was
lost during the 1999 Christmas season because buyers either
couldn't find what they were looking for, or couldn't
figure out how to buy. By Christmas 2001, internet sales
were up a whopping 72% over 2000, although most of the
rise was from purchases transferred from traditional retail
outlets, rather than new business. And the Christmas 2002
shopping season was literally saved by Internet marketers
offering free shipping (See Alf Nucifora's Shoestring
free shipping and giveaways are not the long term answer.
For all of our sakes, improving the customer experience
on the web must start taking precedence over simply pushing
the technology envelope. James Daly, Editor in Chief of
Business 2.0 magazine, puts it this way in his article,
$6 Billion Experience Gap:
are on your site for products, not flashy technology.
The home page should load quickly. Search interfaces
should be simple. If a feature does not work well, do
not put it on the site. Online customers don't tolerate
mediocre experiences. It should be easy to find what
you are looking for and start shopping. That simple
insight alone is worth millions." (Business
2.0 magazine, December, 1999.)
fill the web developer role is to be much more than a
quiet, hard-working typist. As the front-end programmer,
you represent the last chance our team has to heed what
our boss, the customer, is telling us they want. Use your
grasp of technology to help, not confuse. You are literally
our last line of defense. Don't let us down.
SkyVault Web Design provides marketing consulting,
web development, and Internet business services to small
and medium sized businesses. They have been developing
income-producing online properties since 1998. Contact
the development team at: www.skyvaultwebdesign.com.
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