Web pages need a purpose

To continue on from a previous column, in which I took a look at some Web sites and commented on the obvious lack of purpose, let us look at another reason for a Web site – “Providing Product Specifications.”

A common mistake made here is that the company very often assumes that the viewer already knows the product and all that is required is a price – this is so totally WRONG that it hurts. The Web pages must provide ALL the data it can, and here is one place you cannot fall into the “data-overload” trap.

Furthermore, it is not good enough to use such cloying, eyelash-fluttering descriptions as “the highest grade possible” or “only the finest materials used” or my favourite – “space age construction.”

Construction? I found one purveyor of automotive radiator electric fans who gives only the fan blade size on its Web page. No width, no amperage and no CFM (important pieces of data for such things).

With amazing confidence they state that their model XYZ had a 14-inch blade (no picture) but alongside this pearl of wisdom was a huge “PUT IN SHOPPING CART.” Who in their right mind is going to buy this fan? So it is imperative to give as many details as you can.

For marketing purposes it is also important that there is a picture of the product. It does not matter even if it is garden gravel you are selling – show a picture!

After all isn’t that why we all want computer screens – to see the pretty pictures! A brilliant example of this may be found at rpiv8.com. Pictures galore.

If you have items like garden gnomes to sell then you can be assured no picture – no sales. While in this providing-product-specifications mode please remember that prices are specifications too.

If you are playing games and do not want direct sales then for heaven’s sake give a “manufacturer’s recommended retail price.” Oh! and while you are at it, please try to avoid those insulting $999.99 prices!

Now we come to the real razzle-dazzle of Web sites and this is the new age world of online purchasing.

Despite the enormous losses by the amazon.coms et al, the online purchasing mechanism can be a handy tool for the purchaser, and a profitable endeavour for the supplier. I have bought books, car parts and even a fantastic digital camera (for a whopping $87 including shipping and taxes). So, I am a true online buyer.

But why is it some Web pages have a mechanism that is both cumbersome and unfriendly? I made a mistake in one submission and it came back with some snide remark about my not entering my credit card expiry date and demanded I re-enter the data.

To my horror the new submission form was blank – my data had not been saved.

One thing I find slightly annoying is the “Add to shopping cart” intonation – and this seems to have become the standard in online purchasing. Is there nobody prepared to break out of this grocery type mentality?

The ultimate Web site is the one that combines all of the different purposes of promoting company image, company products, product specification and online purchasing.

But this all-singing, all-dancing Web site opens up pitfalls of significant magnitude. The comparison in computer terms is a stand-alone software package as compared to a networked package.

The first step is to get the “techies” out of the major decision loop and use them as advisors only. If the “techies” design the Web site you are doomed. A “technical build” results in Web site logic that is understood and, in fact, revered by the computer-wise but will be completely foreign to the vast majority of viewers.

The Web site will be a maze of flashing buttons, massive duplication, eye crinkling graphics and pulsating curves.

All the facets should be carefully designed, reviewed, tested (by idiots), revised and retested (by different idiots) to ensure that they appeal to and are easily understood by the PUBLIC – not just the technocrats.

Despite what your manager of information services says stick to simplicity and clarity. Remember, putting up a state-of-the-art Web page is NOT what it’s all about.

Robinson has been involved with high-tech Canadian start-up companies – including Cisco, Sytek and Comten – for more than 30 years. He can be reached at barrier@bconnex.net.