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    BTW | In which, now and again, we comment on some stuff we've noticed

Is your website friendly?

Yesterday I experienced something we’re always banging on about to our clients and prospects: how a user-friendly website can turn a window-shopper (in this case, me) into a happily paying customer.
Armed with the names of three sites given to me by a music teacher, I went online in search of a violin, knowing absolutely nothing about them except that they’re smaller than pianos. Within thirty minutes of clicking to and fro and round the three sites, the first had me back and reaching for the plastic.
If you’d asked why, I would’ve said it was because the deal was better, but really, that wasn’t the only reason: the whole on-site experience was great and had me feeling like I was in the hands of professionals; and because the wee shopping event was so relevant to what we do, I got all excited and immediately wanted to share it. But understand, I’m not going to name names, okay?
The first thing that’s good about the good site is the layout: it’s clean and easy on the eye. There’s lots of white space; no shouty colors or equally bad, no murky colors. Nor is the type small and crammed into great blocks of tedious content.
Then the navigation’s easy to follow; very quickly I found two violin packages in my price range. Clicking round, I also found answers to my know-from-nothing questions, and thanks to succinct but informative copy and a couple of short videos, I found answers to questions I hadn’t known to ask.
It got better from there, too.
Their services are extensive. Their returns policy reassuring. And their deals sweet enough to not only benefit me on the spot but, with their trade-in upgrade offer, in a couple of years down the line. Done deal – after a quick look at their competition.
The second site’s lay-out suffered from a lack of discipline in the art department. Four different typefaces, in varying states of straight-up, italic, and bold made my eyeballs bounce round searching for something to latch on to … nothing shouts unprofessional louder than a zoo of typefaces on a page.
The nav was good but I couldn’t do side by side comparisons, so I ended up doing a lot of very annoying scrolling up and down, and anyway, the heavily out-lined grids of product and content gave me a hemmed-in feeling.
What I did like were the vid demos: they were informative and it was great to be able to listen to an instrument being played. There were of violins of similar quality and price to those on site one, but the services and deals left me cold.
On the third site, the font size in wall-to-wall paragraphs had me calling for a magnifying glass. The nav had me drilling down. Then sideways. Then scrolling for half a mile until I twigged I wasn’t in their target market anyway—not when their least expensive violin was six times what I wanted to pay. Fair enough, you cry, but I say they could’ve let me know a lot earlier. By then I’d lost the will to negotiate the navigation, never mind a good deal which may have surfaced after a massive hunt. I was out of there faster than you can say Carnegie Hall.
The thing is, while your site’s job is to sell a product or service, never forget the subtle signals inherent in your site’s design. After all, that’s why so much is spent on the décor and look of a real brick and mortar store.
Next time you shop online, notice what turns you on or off about a site. Or get a (courageous and unbiased) friend to look at your site, and tell you why they would (or wouldn’t) buy from you.

Anyhow, here’s a quickie guide on what you can do to your website to turn those prospects into buyers:
A clean and easy-on-the-eye layout
Readable font-size
Succinct but informative content
Simple, intuitive navigation
Videos – and no, they don’t have to be Oscar-worthy.

Of course, this stuff never hurts:
Good product
Good deals
Excellent service

And last, though by now, this should go without saying:
Add those well-researched keywords to your fabulous site … and you’re in business.

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