One of my hobbies is messing about with cars. My current project is an MGB GT V8 and I have thus resorted to the “net” to find the bits and pieces I need.

I am in complete awe of the power of the ‘net.

For instance, I was able to find a body panel for $125 instead of the “list” price of $895. My emails flashing around the globe with like minded souls brought me incredibly useful information, superb bits manufactured in far away lands, as well as free bits sent by enthusiasts.

I cannot extol the wonders of e-mails enough. But I fear, the same cannot be said about those purveyors with Web pages. In order to find parts that would suit my project I did searches using that most useful search capability called Copernic. Up popped a whole slew of Web pages and I went through them carefully.

I came to one startling realization. Nearly every Web page was so intent on selling that it gave no assistance to someone who wants to buy.

The other finding was that it is deemed better to fill the screen with as much information as possible than streamlining the pages for easy navigation. The former ploy is obviously an extension of the old smoke and mirrors trick. Furthermore, like many of today’s programs, there were dozens of way to do the same thing.

In programmer’s terms this is “flexibility,” in a user’s term this is “confusion.”

So the screen has all sorts of thumbnails, headings and highlighted words – most of which lead to the same place. Furthermore, there is often a complete lack of information and all you get is effectively an ad.

It seems incredible that there are still companies out there that think people buy expensive computers, pay for Internet service just to look at ads . So with all this seething anger at the inability of big and small companies to look at their Web pages with the eyes of a consumer/information gatherer, I decided to produce some sort of guidelines. Sort of “Robinson’s Guide to Good Web Pages”

So here are my recommendations:

At the start it must be said that the biggest and most obvious mistake made by companies with Web page is that they obviously do not get them checked out properly. To determine the Web page’s quality they either use their own executive staff, technical bodies, or someone already familiar with them and their products.

This is a BIG mistake.

Determine what the Web page’s purpose will be: promoting company’s image; promoting company’s product; providing product specifications; online shopping or any combination of above.

Having determined the purpose of the Web page one should cover the facets of each purpose.

Promoting Company’s image

This is nothing more than an ad, and while it may interest some it does have the potential of infuriating a lot of people unless it is done properly. When the Web page pops up as a result of a search it should clearly state that this is a company information page only. This should be right up front so a viewer does not have to find out the hard way.

There is some essential information that should appear on the home page besides the declaration of the Web page’s intent. As “hits” will come from all over the world it is important to list all the Company’s addresses, phone and fax numbers as well as an email address allowing contact. The latter is often left out or hidden behind a battery of tags/buttons.

If you are using the Internet you must be expected to receive Internet messages. As this page is to promote the Company’s image then a treatise on it’s contribution to research and development, it’s ethics (environmental and political), it’s involvement with the community and such is quite acceptable.

A clear definition of its product range is a given but what is very often left out is information on how to buy the product. So a statement on where to go to buy is most appropriate. The better pages have an ability to give you your “closest” dealer WITH telephone number!

Promoting Company’s product

This is where all the problems start and this is where the worst examples of Web pages appear. It is a mine field that is regularly traversed by the Web page designer who blithely goes about using all those cute buttons and linking and animating and super stuff like that. If the page is to give potential consumers information about the company’s products then it must do exactly that.

What is the problem in putting up a clear button that says “Catalogue On Line”? And I do not mean “Catalogue.” There is tons of space, so why not say what you mean.

“Catalogue” could mean it’s online, (Catalogue Online), you can send for one (Send For Catalogue), you could buy a catalogue (Buy Catalogue), print a catalogue (Print Catalogue) or just see the highlights (Catalogue – Categories of Products). Why do the little buttons have to be so cryptic when there is all that screen space?

If the company is using the page to sell its wares then why not give complete details of the product. Time and time again I came across this highly annoying method of listing a product number with no details except price and a huge brightly coloured “BUY ME” or “ADD TO CART.”

Supposedly the viewer has already learnt all about the product before he searched for the information – uh?

There are some brilliant examples of giving really excellent information and I point to as one. They do not require you to load Adobe Acrobat either which makes it even better.

But even they have some bad faults. For some incredible reason the viewer has to see the “Technical Specifications” words up in the top right of the screen when all the previous buttons were in the bottom left. Furthermore, having once got to the specifications you have to go to ANOTHER screen to get the price!

My next column will continue to take a look at the components of a successful Web page.

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 [email protected].

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