Features from Meantime IT

Designing a website? Consider your customers

Our use of the internet is now so engrained in our psyche it barely registers. We wander around with phone in hand following directions on Google maps, or take part in a six-way Twitter conversation about our new favourite album while we wait for a train. Our children learn to use the Peppa Pig iPad app before they take their first steps, and we stream music through our laptops while we cook the evening meal.

But the more our lives are revolving around Tim Berners Lee's invention, the more we seem to lose sight of what it's actually for. Yes, there are the examples I've just listed, and many more. But when approached from a business point of view, how many of us can honestly say we've sat down and mapped out what we think our clients want from our website?

Are we considering their experience? Are we making it easy for them to find our site, and are we giving them what we want when we get there? What do we want our website to do? What do we want it to say about us?

At Meantime, we envisage people visit our website to find out more about our company, who we are and what we do. As well as all the technical information, we like to have a bit of personal news on there so people can get an understanding of how we work. Our strategy has never been to sell through the web and we have been lucky enough to grow through word of mouth, so we anticipate the people who come to our website will already know who we are but want to find out more.

We've put a bit of thought into it, and we think we have a site that reflects us, what we do and, above all, gives our clients what they want.

We're becoming increasingly annoyed by the number of websites that bombard us with requests for action before we can get to where we want to be. Have you ever visited a website to check out someone's service, buy a product or stream some music, only to find yourself drowning in a sea of pop-up ads, boxes asking you to complete surveys and requests to download apps? And, more importantly, are you guilty of these cyber crimes on your own website?

If you are, have you asked yourself why? Have you questioned what you're trying to do with your site? If it's to sell or find new business, expecting people to battle with your demands on their time before they can find what they want isn't going to help.

We've come up with a few of the more common irritants that turn us away from a site before we get to where we want to be, and made a few suggestions on how you can get it right.

Crazy about cookies

Until recently, most people thought cookies were something to be dunked into tea. Then those annoying little pop-ups started appearing, and suddenly they're not sweet little round biscuits, they're irritants that prevent you from entering the site you want to see.

CookiesCookies are small files that websites leave on a visitor's computer. These are generally completely harmless and serve to enhance a visitor's experience on the website. However, some cookies, including those installed by the popular Google Analytics software, are described as "tracking cookies", that trace a user's movements between websites.

An EU directive demanded that internet users must give consent to the depositing of these cookies before they could proceed onto their chosen website. The contention that arose was what form that consent should take, and many site owners got into a tizz about whether they were breaking the law or not. And so, erring on the side of caution, they began the annoying habit of displaying pop-ups informing the user of their use of cookies and asking them to confirm they agreed to said use before they could proceed.

It's really not necessary. The issue is one of informed consent and whether the user is sufficiently informed to consent to the use of the site and its cookies. The full directive and legal jargon can be found on the Information Commissioner's Office website, but in general terms if you have a section on your website referring to your use of cookies, that will give you ample protection from the arm of the law.

So pop off with your pop ups because they're turning us off.

Do you 'like' me?

Facebook like symbolPeople are so needy nowadays. Everyone wants to be liked. Or is that 'liked'? Mark Zuckerberg has a lot to answer for when it comes to internet annoyances. We're sure he'll read this and weep into his billions, but we really do need a face-to-face chat with him about this.

Facebook is a bit like the Marmite of the social media world. You either love it, and spend hours trawling through photographs of a friend of a friend of someone you met in Majorca five years ago, or you hate it and avoid it all costs. But love it or hate it, you can't not 'like' it. Note the inverted commas. 'Like'.  Those needy companies want you to 'like' them on Facebook. They don't just want you to like them, they want you to 'like' them.

Given that Facebook has more than a billion users, and everyone you're likely to do business with will know what it is, we're pretty sure you can drop the inverted commas now and people will understand. If we want to like your product, we'll like it. If we want to share our joy, we'll like it on Facebook. But please, stop being so needy. It's not attractive.

Look at this great thing I found!

"Well, I'd love to, but unfortunately I'm not one of the billion people who use Facebook so I won't bother if it's all the same with you."

That's the reaction of every single one of your customers who clicks the link you post on Twitter or send to them in an email when they realise it's only visible if they log into Facebook. Even if they have an account, they may be at work and it's blocked. Or, perhaps, they just don't want to have to go through an extra layer of logging in to look at the picture of the cute little kitty on a bicycle.

Linking to Facebook is a common habit amongst personal web users, but businesses are doing it too. Consider your customer. Where are they? What are they doing? Are they busy? Do they have time to log into their Facebook account to see what you're so excited about? Are you excluding a proportion of them because they don't use Facebook?

Linking to Facebook is the equivalent of inviting your customers to a private club to do business with them; you're expecting them to sort out their membership, make their own way there and then decide if they like the entertainment once they arrive. It's too much to ask.  If you have something you really must share, put it on your website. And if you don't have a website, then you need to take a serious look at the way you do business.

Don't do that, do this

I want to look at the price of some shoes. I'll go to the shoe website. But oh, what's this? 'We'd love to know what you think of the price of shoes on our website. Will you fill in this survey?' Well, I'd love to tell you about the price of shoes but I can't because you're bombarding me with questions before I've had chance to look at any of the content.

surveyWhen people go to a website, they have a general idea of what they're going for. Whether it's to find the price of shoes, to read the day's news or to order their shopping, they're there for a reason. The reason for their visit is highly unlikely to be to spend 15 minutes discussing their user experience giving you valuable feedback on what you can do to improve it.

You want to sell your stuff, but before you do that you want your customer to tell you how to sell it? It's a bit cheeky, isn't it? It's the cold-calling of the web world. It's the unwanted telephone calls when you sit down to eat, the market researchers knocking at your door. It's annoying.

If you want people to give you feedback, have a section on your site by all means. People who've had an exceptionally good or an exceptionally bad experience will seek it out. Honestly, if we want to give you feedback you'll get it.

Oh, you tricked me!

pointer"Oh that arrow on your site, just under the 'next page' button, was an ad! I thought it'd take me to the next page but it took me to an ad for a new phone instead! What larks! I'll rush out and buy the phone right now!"

Or, more likely, I'll get incredibly annoyed and just leave your site.

OK, so you need to earn money. But do you want to earn it from the products you sell or from the ads on your site? Because you need to make a decision. If I want to cut down my belly fat I'll go to the gym. Being tricked into clicking an ad on your site won't make me buy that product, and it won't make me buy yours.

No, I don't want your app

If you have an iPhone you're probably aware that iPhones run apps. If you're interested in installing an app, you probably know how to open the app store and make a purchase. It's a given that the majority of iPhone users will be familiar with this process. Those that aren't are probably under five or your grandma, and they're unlikely to be your target market.

So if you block my access to your site until I've told you whether I want your app or not, I probably just won't visit your site.

Now look here

You've got the reader to your site. The reader is hooked. They're engrossed in what you're offering. They're scrolling down the screen on their phone, eager to get to the information they need. But suddenly, the information they need is hidden in a link. Not a link that provides any explanation, just a link. An example:

"So, you really want to buy our great new product but want to know what widget A does? All the information is here, here and here."

What is this mysterious information of which you speak? I was just about to click 'buy now,' but you're asking me to open three more windows on my phone before I do that! Oh, I'm not sure now. I might just go to a website that makes it much easier for me to get what I want!

Web text has made copywriters lazy. It's made it too easy for them to link to something, more often than not an essential piece of information, without describing what it is. A few explanatory words will enable the reader to make an informed decision of whether they want to read further.

"So, you really want to buy our great new product but want to know what widget A does? It can turn around, it can dance up and down, and it can do a jig."

Just a few explanatory words will help your reader decide if they need to investigate further, or if they're happy with what they know and make that all important purchase.

So have a look at your website, and imagine you're the customer. Are you asking them to endure the web equivalent of a cold-calling, marketing-survey-taking, information-gathering experience before they can get to what they want? If the answer is yes, then it’s time to consider your customers.


Meantime Cookie Policy

Download this guide as a pdf