Broken Windows, Broken Web Sites

Today’s issue of flyte log, our free email newsletter, is titled Broken Windows, Broken Web Sites: Why Your Web Site is Underperforming. The title came from Michael Levine’s Broken Windows, Broken Business, an audiobook I reviewed a while back, (which in turn came from the broken windows theory on urban crime.)

The basic premise of the article is that so many business Web sites fail visitors by making small, easily-rectified mistakes, causing us lost business and lost opportunities. In the retail business peeling paint or a dirty floor might turn customers off; on the Web site it’s broken links, bad spelling and grammar, confusing navigation and similar problems. (The article details some of the most infuriating problems common to business Web sites.)

Too many site owners are overly-focused on driving more traffic to their site, but not in making it a pleasant experience for their visitors once they get there.

To illustrate this point, let me tell you a little story.

(Did I just hear some groans? You there! Did you just roll your eyes?)

Here at flyte we sometimes break out a record player on Fridays and bust out some gems from our collective LP collection. (Thanks, Robin!) In MacWorld or MacAddict last month I saw this USB powered turntable by a company called Ion Audio. The URL was http://www.ion-audio.com.

As I often do, I typed "ion-audio" into my address bar in Firefox. 95% of the time this will bring me to the correct URL; it’s the same thing as typing in a Google search and hitting the "I feel lucky" button. When the site came up I noticed that I was at http://www.ionaudio.com. Seeing the turntable on the front page, I assumed that Ion Audio owned both of these domains. However, upon further searching, it appears they don’t.

That’s the first strike. Now I don’t know that everyone would agree that not coming up first for your domain name is a broken window, especially when the first result is a company that appears to sell nothing but your products. However, what if you have a falling out with a vendor? Shouldn’t you control your own destiny? I consider it to be a broken window when you don’t take the necessary steps to be easily found for your company name, and even more so when typing in your domain name into a search box brings up someone else’s site.

When I typed in the full URL I got to the Ion Audio Web site. I can see why they didn’t come up number one: their home page title is "Ion Home Page." Not even their full company name. That also happens to be the page title of all of the Web pages on their site. The PageRank of their home page was a lowly 2, and the other pages in the site were big goose eggs.

Being the buttinsky that I am, I went to their contact page (titled "Ion Home Page") to make some helpful recommendations. Their contact page doubles as a product registration page. Amazingly, there’s no field to enter in comments or questions! Unless you’re registering a product, the contact form is completely useless.

I still tried to contact them through the form, putting some short questions in fields like "Date of Purchase" and "Place of Purchase". Sure, I could have viewed the source code and sent the email direct to their submit@ address, but is that really what most site visitors will do?

When I clicked on the submit form I got a 404 Page Not Found error. Nor did I ever hear back from this company. Did my email go through? Who knows?

Needless to say we didn’t get the turntable.

Later I did find their email address on their support page; however, their other contact info (phone, street address,) appear nowhere on the site as far as I can tell. The site seems set up to turn away prospects, not convert them into customers or clients.

For a very small investment they could develop their site into a much better tool for growing their business. The whole approach seems very head-in-the-sand to me.

So, take a look at your own Web site (after you’ve read the article on common Web site mistakes and how to fix them,) and see if it’s helping you grow your business, or your competitors’.

Rich Brooks
Broken Hearted Web Designer

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