Sunday, 21 April 2013

Ten Reasons Why Brochureware Websites Continue to Fail to Impress

Brochureware - "websites or web pages produced by converting a company’s printed marketing or advertising material into an Internet format."  - Oxford Dictionary 2013

Do you have an organisation website? I am sure you do because everyone else does. Back in the mid 1990’s any organisation worth their salt decided to build a corporate brochure on the internet because everyone else was doing the same, hence the inevitable rise of the digital design agency. These old websites lacked any focused purpose and all too often were a mix of ubiquitous marketing messages that addressed nothing and no one in particular. Many organisations were stung with huge design costs for what were in truth rather lacklustre web brochures based on old marketing principles that were inordinately difficult for the frustrated organisation to manage alone.

That was the case back in 1997 so where do we find ourselves today? For many organisations unbelievably they find themselves in pretty much the same place as 15 years ago. Rather than commoditizing websites so that they are now highly professional and yet easy to manage and update, you only need to invest an hour of your time to run round the international partner internet ecosystem to see that things are very far from being okay.

This article summarizes ten primary reasons why so many organisational websites fail to impress, achieve their aims or sell the services of their owners. Whilst this article is aimed at the technology partner, many of the elements listed here can easily be applied to any organisational website to help you determine whether you are really on track with your web strategy.

 1. Great Websites Requite Time, Effort & Investment

“You will reap what you sow” says the old adage and this is certainly true of websites. If you put in little effort in terms of design, focus and content you will get little back. There are literally millions of websites that remain devoid of visitors and yet to the innocent eye, look great.  There are no short cuts to a rich and engaging website that fully represents your brand and reflects your full value proposition. Why then is it the case that so many websites are treated as if they are secondary issues with underwhelming budget and lack of business engagement?

Great websites do not need to cost tens of thousands of dollars to create and most of the websites I have created which have generated as much as 1.25 million visitors per month have actually cost very little in $ terms. What websites do require however is time and effort in terms of content creation and tuning, messaging, audience understanding and search engine strategy. These are things that do not happen overnight and are generally iterative.

Looking at a multitude of current technical organisation websites it is simply staggering how bad many of them are and how little investment they have gained considering the task that is being asked of them – to represent an entire organisation and its primary value propositions to a global audience of viewers. Far too many websites rely almost purely on an identity of original logo and brand colour scheme without any further thought or strategy. What is most often missing is up to date, fresh content, original and varied material and original thought. To a degree then this is why they offer little value to the visitor and simply a little investment in time and effort addressing the other points in this article would help enormously..

2. Websites Frequently Fail to Understand their Own call to Action

Brochureware websites are all too often built to tell the world that you exist, that you are here and that you have a website! To be blunt: so what? If the website isn’t offering something of specific and immediate value then do not be surprised if people exist after just a few seconds, never to return. Your value proposition should be clearly presented on the front page, immediately obvious and with a clear message or call to action.  

You must first set out exactly what you aim the website to achieve and then design it to underpin this or these objectives. If the website does not have a specific purpose then ask yourself what it is really there to achieve.

Let’s go back to basics, what are you selling and why are you selling it and what makes this thing or these things so different from your competitors and why should anyone really come to you? Maybe the fact that you are based in DC is the main thing or that you have a market differentiator that can’t be found anywhere else or that you have a packaged business solution that really does make a lot of sense to certain organisations.

Have you made the value proposition clear in the opening statement on the opening page. Have you cleared out the cluttered jargon and techno speak and useless logos and mapped out what it is you are offering and why? If you haven’t then your website just may be falling at the first hurdle.

 3. Websites Frequently Do Not Understand Who they are Talking To

Far too many websites try to be all things to all people or worse nothing to anyone in particular whilst no specific audience has been determined. It is perhaps rather harsh to suggest that many organisational websites primarily serve the ego of the executive officers of the company who commission these sites but it is certainly evidently the case that far too many websites read like CEO/Partner Owner resumes and celebrations of historical success.

An effective website should be built with a specific audience in mind to achieve a specific call to action. If a website exists to sell specific services then the site should aim to get people to pick up the phone and call to make a pre-sales appointment. If a website is selling a product then the site needs to offer a free trial or demo or other content that underlines the process of product sale.

If a website offers nothing more than general information with no call to action then why have the website at all? Included in this point is the speech being used to talk, otherwise known as the language of the website: Just cast your eye around the internet at tech firms and take a look at the phraseology in use by the majority of firms: “enterprise social”, “trusted advisor” and the plethora of single statements supposedly designed to inspire “the business of the future is today”. No one talks like that in real life so why put it on your website?!  Instead think about matching the language of your website to the audience of your website.

 4. Websites Are Failing to Scale and Render to Multiple Platforms 

Does your website work seamlessly by expanding on a 36 inch monitor and resolving on a smartphone or tablet? Or does your website simply work on your own laptop? Have you ever tested your website properly on multiple portable devices or are you hoping future potential customers will do that for you?

It comes as no surprise that over 70% of current organisational websites will not render correctly on mobile phones and yet we are seeing the largest drop in PC purchasing ever as they are replaced by portable devices so who is missing the point here?

If your website will not work whilst a potential customer views it on a train, in the airport or in the back of a cab then can you blame them for not coming back?

 5. Websites Frequently Lack any Search Engine Optimization Strategy

“Build it and they will come” states another adage rather optimistically; we all know this does not work. You can put a huge amount of effort into building a website but if no one can find it then what is the point of its existence? Whilst back in 1997 SEO may have been viewed as some form of black art, today there really is no excuse at all as all the tricks and tactics for search engine optimization have been extensively documented and are readily available and therefore require your investment and attention.

SEO isn’t a one-off task and neither is it within the normal skill range of your internal marketing team and may require planning like a military exercise. However the basics of SEO are extremely well known and easily followed and yet I would go as far as saying that 85% of websites have little if any search engine strategy in situ from the evidence of the websites visited recently.  

 6. Websites are Frequently Bland, Undistinguished, Lifeless & Dull

Actually many tech partner websites really are  some of the most dull websites you will ever visit which is why, when you look at your web stats you may be surprised to find the majority of your visitors refused to stay. There are fashions in website design and there are fashions in colour palettes (white for example) as well as (fly out) menu design and page structures but being the same as everyone else does not mean your website is original, refreshing and full of inspiration.

When was the last time you considered embedding video and audio, podcasts, blogs and animation or do you think it is better to stick to flat images and some text headlines? Are you using the very best collateral to appeal to the audience you determined in point 3? Variety is the spice of life and you can apply that cliché to your website to good effect.

 7. Websites Frequently Lack Engaging Content

It is a tough one but the reasons why blogs are starting to dominate search engine results is because websites lack engaging and useful content that is regularly refreshed. Of course one of the ways to solve the issue is to add a blog to the website but I would suggest that there is no reason why a website should not have plenty of fresh and rich information and article pages that are regularly updated.

Go one further and build the website using WordPress or similar so that it is in effect a blog at heart which then allows easy addition of new news articles and items of interest. I visit websites annually that fail to change one word year on year and most certainly do not contain informative articles.

With the easy access to YouTube there is also no reason why the website should not contain plenty of video material that adds a layer of engagement and infotainment that is still largely lacking in most sites today.  
Whilst I mention content it is also amazing how core content on website pages is badly written, lacks spell-checking and is grammatically incorrect. It may not matter to you, but it may matter to someone looking to spend tens of thousands of dollars with you.

 8. Websites are Often Guilty of Trying Too Hard

You know when you are being sold to and so do I. Therefore it should come as a surprise that many websites continue to be so unsophisticated, so overt if not clichéd in the way they overtly (over)sell their messages with over-the-top statements, outlandish claims and corny one-liners. Put simply, overt selling turns people off and audiences today are far more sophisticated than web marketers give them credit for.

It is not good enough to say we are the leading Office 365 partner, the number 1 Microsoft partner, the partner of the year or the award-winning…these statements are only minor underscore of a much larger value proposition and its sadly the larger value proposition that is rarely stated in plain English and without marketing lingo.

Go and read the jaded comments for YouTube video ads for an hour or two and digest how today’s jaded audiences actually react to cheesy one-liners and audacious statements, you will find plenty of thumbs down. If you allowed a bunch of tech savvy teenagers onto your website would you gain many thumbs up or thumbs down, be serious. Objectivity regarding web collateral is hard but you will do yourself a great favour if you do use an objective focus group to assist you in removing the worst of your web marketing sins.

 9. Websites Follow a Formulaic Structure

Do you know why Contact Us appears to the right hand side of the menu on most websites? Do you believe people work across a website menu from left to right? Have you any evidence of this yourself? Too many websites are designed using a painting-by-numbers template formula whereby everything from the home page structure to the menu wording is via a design that everyone chooses to employ.

What this really means is not that people will find your website easy to access and use but that it looks just like everyone else’s and therefore fails to distinguish and differentiate itself in those first crucial seconds. More time needs to be spent at creating a website structure that underpins your specific call to action rather than whether it contains the same elements as found on other websites.

10. Websites Lack Proactive Tuning

That’s it done, the website is built so we will come back and visit it again in a few years. That is all too often the problem with websites. In designing and building a website, it should have metrics that can be measured and monitored and tuning of page design, content, messaging and other elements to drive the call to action by the visitors. If this is employed then there is a far greater chance that the website is a valuable asset that underpins organisational growth rather than being an expensive albatross round your neck. As with point 1 in this article, investment is required and this means continuous investment by those who are skilled in web design and strategy.

If you do not know what the website is specifically there to achieve and there is nothing measurable to check success criteria against then there is no way of knowing whether any investment in a website presence is required or is gaining a return.


Of course, many organisations have become side-tracked by building a social network presence, presence in Facebook (cheap and fast), Linked-in (cheap and fast) together with other social outlets. Whilst these certainly play a part in brand expansion, most user information searches are still performed via the primary internet search engines.Therefore whilst finding your website in search is critical, once found, if your website fails any or many of the points featured above then your web presence may achieve anything from maintaining the status quo to turning potential clients away. The task is to impress your visitors but you really need to check whether you are failing.

I am sure that some readers will be reading this article feeling pretty pleased that the points raised surely cannot apply to them as they have recently launched a brand new website with lots of fresh new graphics and a glossy new look. I have only today viewed three newly launched websites from technology companies that in fact fail on most of the points above. They look expensive but they fail to impress and I won't be back.

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