Canadian firms missing bullseye with Web sites

Many Canadian firms spend tens of thousands of dollars on modifications that enhance the “look” rather than the functionality of their Web sites, according to Toronto-based Web strategy firm, Bonasource Inc.

Such so-called improvements are cosmetic as they improve the apperance rather than the quality of information, said Bonasource president Dmitri Buterin.

He said comapanies often repeat common mistakes that make their Web sites inconvenient or irrelevant for visitors.

“Lots of people jump on Web projects but don’t think (about) how the content will be updated,” he said, adding that many companies don’t have the right content-management tools and the right staff of writers and editors to ensure quality, consistent content.

According to Buterin, if the content is outdated or the format and style are inconsistent it sends a message to potential customers that they can’t trust the information on the site.

Another common mistake, he said, is the use of marketing cliches. “No one wants to read ‘we are leading-edge’..”

Yet another blunder is making the site hard to navigate, Buterin said. “A lot of Web sites use fancy labels instead of using plain language.” For example, he said, instead of using “Jobs” to indicate where users can link to information about employment at the company, Buterin has seen Web sites that use “HR strategy”.

“The user has become used to doing things in a certain way,” Buterin said. “It’s nice to break the mould but there are places to do it and places not to do it.”

For example, he said it would make more sense from a usability perspective to put menus along the right hand side of the page because that is where the scroll bar is. However, because most sites have menus on the left, it makes sense to follow the crowd because it’s something users are already comfortable with. Buterin said building a Web site on Flash or using it too much is a surefire way to annoy users.

“I love it but it’s so misused on the Web,” he said. If a firm has several Flash animations in a sequence of about 10 pages then Flash is definitely being misused. He said watching long Flash introductions to Web sites is irritating and the first thing users do is look for the “Skip Intro” button.

And, if a Web site is built on Flash, visitors can’t use regular scroll bars; they have to use a little scroll bar in a little window. “It’s like viewing it through a telescope,” he said. Also, users can cut and paste information from Flash sites, he added.

Another way to repel traffic from your Web site is to make it slow by using too many graphics, or requiring users to fill out too many forms. He said users should be able to access the site and find the information they need quickly or they will simply go elsewhere.

Also, companies often use content-management systems that don’t allow engines like Google to search their Web sites. Buterin said this hinders the amount of potential traffic companies can get.

Additionally, he said companies should make sure all their sites work with numerous types of Web browsers, not just Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Explorer. He said companies should build sites that can also work in other browsers like Firefox and Safari.

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