Sunday, January 4, 2009

5 Reasons Why Your Company's Website Sucks

Have I got your attention? I can already see you rolling up your sleeves, spoiling for a brawl. Either that or you’re sitting there nodding your head saying tell me something I don’t know. Either way, I guarantee that your site could use improving, even if you do think that it’s God’s gift to the Interwebs.

What makes me the expert you ask? For starters, I learned how to build websites 15 years ago at a small ad agency called Bombaci + Mitchell, right after the World Wide Web was born. Second, I worked at Fidelity Investments for nearly 10 years and for a good portion of my time there, I worked closely with our 200 person Web team to make it the financial juggernaut that it is today [ranked 2,278 according to Alexa]. And finally, I’ve worked in senior level marketing roles at two “socially” focused companies over the last three years – Mzinga for a majority of that time – and now Powered. Clients of Mzinga included, Disney, John Deere, Cisco and Ford Motor Company. At Powered, we help clients like Sony, HP, Motorola, iVillage and Atkins – not just by building world class online communities, but more importantly by helping them to create engaging content that helps them generate measurable ROI [see post on Social Marketing ROI: Ignore at your Own Risk]

If you’re still not convinced I’m qualified to tell you, feel free to tell me why I’m wrong (or what I’ve missed) in the comments. Otherwise, here are the five reasons your company’s web site sucks: 
  1. You spend WAY too much time talking about yourself. If you were on a date, (s)he would be looking at their watch by now. Try listening to your customers for once. Or even better, give them a way to talk to each other. An example of a company that’s good at NOT talking about itself all the time is
  2. Remember that blog you had your intern set up for you last summer? It hasn’t been updated in over three months (right after that same intern left coincidentally). If that’s the case, it’s either time to pull the plug (bad idea IMHO) or dedicate some of your or your team’s time to update it (much better idea).
  3. What? You’ve actually been updating your blog regularly? Well, that’s a step in the right direction. However, now go back and see reason number 1. I’ll bet you $100 that you talk too much about your company and why you’re great on your blog. See BestBuy CMO, Barry Judge’s blog, as an example of one that does a good job of delivering real value.
  4. Your Website is built to generate leads but not to teach your customers anything useful. Don’t get me wrong, you MUST have ways to generate leads (don’t let the “return on conversation” wonks tell you otherwise). However, try actually providing educational information on your site that can genuinely help your customers. See one of our client’s,Sony’s Backstage 101 community or better yet, see what Hubspot has done (see my recent post on this topic).
  5. You aren’t letting your customers give you open and honest feedback where other customers can see it. Yes, it hurts when people tell you that your products stink. But if they are telling you that, don’t you think you’ve got bigger problems? Considering the fact that the number one source of information is still word of mouth, people have a hard time trusting the good if there isn’t some “bad” or at least “honest” feedback sprinkled in. 
  6. Okay, I know only mentioned “five” things in the title of this post but I couldn’t resist adding this one in. STOP including the little uber-social widgets that let people tag, Stumble, Facebook and RSS your content unless you can look yourself in the mirror and state that you are not guilty of rules 1-5.

    If you do believe me and are willing to take the time to start chipping away at the list above, PLEASE make sure you stop and benchmark your site in its current state. The last thing you want to do it make your site and more engaging and productive and not get the credit for doing so. 

    What else am I missing? I’m sure there are another 100 reasons your company’s Website sucks. I just didn’t want to pile it on! ;) 


  1. Aaron,

    Great post!

    In my experience, the reason numbers 1 - 5 occur (especially #1) is too much involvement from well-meaning folks that are excited to be part of the process (often the execs when at a small company). Unfortunately, at some point it’s easier to give in to the “art direction” and get it launched with the intent to revisit later (and repair!).

  2. Aaron does this apply to real estate? I update allow comments and try to inform. What can you say abouyt real estate sites?

  3. Aaron - love your post and chuckled while I read it. Lets add another one. You have blogs on your site and you fail to engage anyone who disagrees with your opinion, blog, or company positioning on a topic. You are missing a huge opportunity to engage a current or potential customer in a very meaningful way.

  4. How about corporate websites that are written in such ridiculously inflated marketing gobbledegook? "We offer a unique, all-powerful, best-in-class solution to cater to your every need?"

    Sometimes I read sites like this and find myself asking, "OK, [Company XYZ], what is it that you actually do?

    Use simple language, please.

    Bryan | @BryanPerson

  5. Good stuff Aaron. The place where my website falls down is in terms of providing a means for reader feedback. I guess I feel as if my blog serves that purpose, but I probably should add the forum back to my site.

  6. Aaron, I was surprised that you used that image of "The World's Worst Website" and then didn't mention the design element at all. Although, you might say #5 can be design because if they have a feedback/comments area but it's impossible to find -- that's still a fail. Usability for humans in design above all.

    I love #4 because I was once doing a marketing report on Nokia and could not figure out from their website what carriers, if only, carried their N95 and up phones in the US.

    I'd add something to #6 -- too many social widgets. You should not have "ShareThis" and on top of that social widgets that "ShareThis" covers. (Many of the "big names" in social media are guilty of this). The only exception I'd allow, is a "TweetThis" widget.

  7. @BrandieYoung great point - I couldn't agree more. Also known as the "Emperor New Clothes" syndrome.

    @ChrisShouse It applies to EVERYTHING. As someone that's going through the buying/selling process of a house right now, I'm finding the value that realtors in general deliver is pretty low. Fortunately, we have a great buying and selling agent who are both working to understand the power of social media in their businesses (and their good/non-pushy) people.

    @MarkWallace thanks my man. Good point on engaging dissenting opinions in blog comments.

    @BryanPerson yes - that one goes with Yael's point of bad design. I read some sites and say, WTF is it that you are selling? A solution to clean energy or a back scratcher? My favorite litmus test is, if I can't describe it in a way that my 85 year old grandfather can understand, I've not done my job (to that end, there's still work to be done on our site - I'm working on that).

    @LewisGreen - blogs are a great conversation starter but don't do a lot to let people talk to one another. The only downside to adding a discussion forum (which you should do btw) is that it requires more of your time to moderate. IMHO, it's worth the investment.

  8. @Yael, now here I was thinking that you were really going to let me have it. ;) Believe it or not, I completely agree with you but left of design because I figured that people understood that good design/UI for a site was table stakes nowadays. Maybe I shouldn't take that for granted though.

    Good points on the widget bullet as well. Thanks!

  9. I should mention that "TweetThis" seems to have gone the way of the dodo. We (I) need a plugin that tweets about the post.

  10. I'm glad to see you write this post, Aaron. I've been thinking a lot lately that we (marketing/PR/social media types) write too many of our blog posts as if we're speaking to our peers in the industry. We oughtta get back to blogging for the benefit of clients.

  11. You don't need to qualify anything beyond the title, Aaron.

    Companies (heck, people alone) need to stop thinking of websites as WEB SITES. There is a stereotype that when a company is online it has a web site.

    I don't know what a site is. I know what sites were. And few companies have moved on to understand that.

    Philosophical, but that's my point. Companies aren't thinking.

  12. @ScottHepburn - thanks man. I need to remind myself to do that more often too!

    @AriHerzog - great point. At the end of the day, it's a philosophical change companies need to make. Really well said!

  13. Great post Aaron. One additional component is how companies capture leads. The generic "contact us" form is very impersonal. For example, for Powered, it's clear I can contact a person, and more specifically, you, through various channels to learn about you and the company. Sometimes these company websites are like putting a "for sale" sign up on a cul-de-sac house and waiting for people to drive by.

  14. Adam - Like you, one thing I dislike about most corporate websites is the impersonal nature of their "contact us" forms. Unfortunately, Powered's "contact us" is no different. However, the good news is that we are in the process of re-tooling our website (migrating to our platform and updating/creating new content) and that is one of the things we will absolutely fix in the process. Our target is to re-launch in March so please make sure to keep us honest!