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Designing a More User-Friendly Web Site

From time to time, firms revamp their Web sites. You want your firm to look current, maybe even cutting-edge. Your Web site is the face you put out there in cyberspace for the world to see, particularly for your clients and your prospective clients. You want to put your best face forward.

For most firms in the A/E/C sector, the Web site is primarily an electronic brochure. You want people to see who you are and what you do. And you want them to be able to find that information quickly. If it isn’t easy for them to find their way around your Web site, chances are they will get frustrated, stop looking, and find another firm.

One of my pet peeves is the beautiful Web site that takes forever to load. If you have the time for all the flash to click in, the Web site is awesome. But if I’m looking for information, chances are somewhere between slim and none that I’ll sit for long waiting for it to load. It’s safe to assume your clients and potential clients feel the same way. They’re not looking for entertainment; they’re looking for information.

Another pet peeve is not being able to find contact information. Sometimes, I just want an address; sometimes, an e-mail address. Sometimes I just want to call someone and ask a question. That’s why on the Greyling Web site, you’ll find multiple ways to contact us all in one page: phone numbers, fax number, toll-free phone number, physical locations, and a few e-mail addresses are all on one page. (Check it out: http://www.greyling.com/contact-us.html.) I’ve actually had people say, “Bless you! I don’t know why more companies don’t do it that way!”

This doesn’t mean your Web site can’t be attractive. In fact, it should be appealing, conveying an image of your firm that will attract the kind of people with whom you want to do business. It just shouldn’t be so complicated that people can’t find what they need with just a few clicks.

In his book Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug explains the basic rules of good Web site design. If the title doesn’t make the point clearly enough, the subtitle does: “A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability.” The author has spent more than 20 years as a Web site usability consultant for such firms as Apple, Bloomberg.com, and NPR.

One of my favorite rules is “Omit needless words.” He recommends writing the text, removing half of the words, then removing half of what’s left. People don’t “read” Web sites the way they read books or even magazines. They’re looking for information. Do you design hospitals; and if so, what hospitals have you designed? Do you build bridges; and if so, what kind of bridges? An eloquent, long-winded treatise on bridge building doesn’t cut it. Click, click, click to the bridges. And they’re done.

Navigation is also important. It should be intuitive where to click to get to what you want. A one-click button called “Industry Focus” should take you to a list of the industries your firm serves. A second one-click button should take you to a few words or pictures that answer the question. Then one more one-click button should take you wherever you want to go next: the home page, the contact us page, or someplace else. It should be easy to get what you want and get out.

There are more rules than these, but the book is something you can read on a two- or three-hour airplane ride. (No, I don’t know Steve Krug, nor do I get anything out of recommending his book other than passing valuable information on to colleagues.)

If and when your firm decides to revamp its Web site, this book can help you create a more effective, more efficient Web site. And your best and uncluttered face will be there for everyone to see.

Meike Olin, CPCU, CIC, CRM
Senior Vice President
Greyling Insurance Brokerage