Want a great Web site? Take a cue from the panel of judges for the Inc. Web Awards 2000. The judges' mission: to search among Web Award applicants for superlative small-company sites.
The judging panel evaluated numerous small-business sites, and the judges' comments revealed some common themes. Read on and ask yourself if your site is guilty of one of these six classic Web site problems.
Mistake 1: Putting form before function. "My also-rans shared the same fundamental problem of allowing the bells and whistles to get in the way of the actual intent" of the sites, noted Jed Emerson, president of the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund and a judge in the Marketing category. "In virtually all [ of those] cases, getting into the site took more effort than it was worth."
Emerson wasn't alone in his complaint. "Please, no more Flash intros!" pleaded Omar Wasow, executive director of BlackPlanet.com and a judge in the Innovation category. He also bemoaned one site that "sacrifices functionality for cuteness -- a terrible mistake when trying to sell."
Mistake 2: Simply putting your company brochure online. Jordan Ayan, CEO of Create-It! Inc. and a judge in the Innovation category, was disappointed at the amount of "brochureware" among the contest entries. "Most businesses have an opportunity to be different and creative in their Web approach," he observed. "Don't count yourself out."
Mistake 3: Having features that don't work properly. Above all, make sure everything works. Randy Hinrichs, group program manager of Microsoft Corp.'s Learning Sciences and Technology Initiatives and a judge in the Community category, kept getting an error message when he tried to register for a discussion forum at one site.
Mistake 4: Making life difficult for users. Peter G.W. Keen, founder and chairman of Keen Innovations and a judge in the Community category, entered his phone number at one site, only to have the information rejected. He was told to enter a dash between the area code and local number. "That is truly dumb," he complained. "Why not just make the change automatically?"
Try to avoid features that slow your site unacceptably. "Unnecessary music played on the home page and slowed downloading" noted John Hartnett, a judge in the Customer Service category, commented on what he otherwise called a "superb e-commerce site." Hartnett is CEO and president of Hartnett Design.
Mistake 5: Making it hard for people to buy. Mark Thompson, chairman of Integration Corp. and a judge in the ROI category, put it this way: "The also-rans fell short in one critical way. They don't make it overwhelmingly clear how the customer can make an impulse purchase right on the spot!" One site, for example, required visitors to purchase over the phone. Another, he observed, allowed a user to submit a quote but not to receive an actual quote and close the sale.
Mistake 6: Inadequately measuring the bottom-line impact. Nick DiGiacomo, most recently vice president and general manager of Scient Corp. and a judge in the Return on Investment (ROI) category, concluded that many of the entrants lacked sophistication in calculating their Web sites' ROI. "'I got a lot of new business when I put up my Web site' is not the same as saying 'I measured a 23% yearly increase in my bottom-line profits after taking into account all the fixed and recurring costs of establishing my Web presence," he noted.