There is nothing more valuable today than a brand’s presence online.

It is the most essential marketing component that every organization needs to get found and considered for a product or service. Yet, it’s surprising how many small and medium-sized businesses either have no website or one that is woefully outdated, does not integrate social media, a blog or search engine optimization (SEO).

As more and more businesses have to address this glaring deficiency in order to compete and succeed, they’ll have to engage a qualified resource to help them get a credible and effective website they need. Once an organization makes the investment and commits to a new website, a new set of challenges emerge.

Where’s the solution value?

Seasoned marketing executive, CMO and author of the OpenMarketing blog, Marcia Kadanoff, recently shared her valuable insights on how an organization can evaluate the recommendations and work plans that a resource prepares for a company’s website. Marcia’s “quick and dirty guide” for evaluating what is often described as “web creative” puts the focus on business value instead of on unqualified personal preferences.

So before you review any new website recommendation, look these guidelines over to learn how to make a well structured and thoughtful evaluation of any solution.

Before you comment, check this list.

The first step is to go back and re-read the Communications Brief with a highlighter in hand. If your consultant didn’t create a Brief, fire them and find a resource that’s qualified to provide one. Then highlight the communication objectives and what the brand is all about.

Next, look at the solution “comp” or static page view that is being recommended. Now, you can move on to evaluating the solution.

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10 Questions for evaluating a Home Page

1. | Can I immediately tell what this company does?

The number one complaint most end users have about a home page is that when they get there, they can’t tell what the heck the site or company is all about. Google also optimizes its search around finding text that describes the company. Take away = make it clear!

2. | Is there a strong brand impression delivered by the page or pages?

If the logo was removed, and a competitors logo was put in its place, would it feel “right” or “wrong”? A strong brand impression and unique expression of business value should make any other logo look dead wrong.

3. | Does the page have stopping power?

The average visitor to your website makes a decision to stay on your page or go elsewhere in 3 seconds or less. So your home page has to stop a visitor in their tracks, communicate clearly, and convince them in very short order what value they will receive by not clicking off the page.

4. | Is there a well-thought-out information architecture?

The information architecture should be apparent from the home page. The best way to do this is with simple, straightforward navigation. I can’t emphasize this enough. Put the pages that you want people to visit the most at the first level of navigation and pages of somewhat less importance at the next level.

5. | Are the site pages set up with SEO in mind from the get-go?

There should be news and other text-based content that changes frequently on your home page; Google and other search engines put a premium on timely content.

6. | Is there attention to the basics?

Navigation needs to be simple and straightforward and remain consistent throughout the site. There needs to be navigation on the top and bottom of the page. Your logo needs to appear in a consistent position. Ideally, you should have some branding on the bottom of the page. In most states, California included, you need a Privacy Policy.

An “About” page is expected and there should be a number of places to get to it including a footer navigation bar. Likewise, a Sitemap is an extremely important element and dismissing this can seriously impede the ability for search engines to crawl and index your site pages. The result could make your site invisible to prospects and visitors searching for you.

7. | Does the copy pull the visitor through the page?

Are there headlines and subheads to break up the copy into chunks? Are the sentences short? Are there visuals with captions? Is there enough copy with integrated page links to help search engines indexed the content and rank it?

Are you using standard HTML tags, like H1 or H3 appropriately for the different types of headlines? Google, Bing, and Yahoo all need these critical content clues to rate and rank your content.

8. | What are the main messages being communicated?

Do they align with the Communications Brief? Are they simple and clear? Are you being redundant on purpose? In today’s cluttered environment, it really helps to say the same thing the same way multiple times. Do your images include ALT tags and captions to make your messages faster to comprehend and get found by a search query?

9. | Are there a strong, benefit-oriented Call-to-Action | CTA?

A Call to Action is the primary thing that you want a visitor to do when they come to your website page—beyond clicking to go deeper into the site. For example, download a white paper, get a demo or register to receive a promotional discount or premium. Is the CTA simple and clear? Does it align with and further your business and marketing objectives?

10. | Have they avoided the kitchen sink?

Don’t try to cram everything you want to say into your home page. It rarely works. Instead, work backward from the analytics you will use to measure success.
 Most professionals measure success on the web with detailed analytics that tells them–among other things–the abandon rate (how many people jumped off their home page immediately) as well as the average number of pages viewed and time spent on the site.

The quickest way to get your abandon rate up is to make your home page a jumbled mess, packing it with every single message and visual element you have at hand. (“Everything including the kitchen sink.”) 
Likewise, if you are going to measure success by time spent on the website (the more time the better) and a number of pages viewed (the more pages, the better as this gets to the depth of engagement), a “kitchen-sink” home page can work against these objectives.

Final words of advice.

Don’t reject a creative solution out-of-hand just because its look and feel are radically different than what you were expecting to see. The difference between a good creative solution and a great creative solution is that a great solution challenges our expectations, accommodates all the requirements of the Communication Brief and delivers an emotionally engaging experience that’s different.

That said, navigation is not an area where you want to spend a lot of time pioneering new ground. The rule with navigation—as it is with other UI elements on the web—don’t make people work to get to the content that they are interested in. It should be obvious and intuitive.

Your turn.

Have you recently deployed a new web site? Or are you considering a new web site for your organization? What have you learned in evaluating the recommendations of your web consultants?

Please share your thoughts and comments.

4 thoughts on “How to evaluate creative web solutions.

  1. Excellent points, all. My favorite is “Can I immediately know what the company does?”. It’s amazing how often I visit a companies website and just stare at it, trying to figure out what the hell it is they do, I why I should care! Great post.

  2. Thanks for the comment Bret.
    It is amazing how often this essential communication objective is overlooked or lost in the site development process.

    “Less is more” has never been more true!

  3. Thanks for posting–that CTA piece is something to hammer home. 

  4. No Kidding.
    Seems to be overlooked too often. 
    Net result = leaves the reader with no idea what to do next.

    Thanks for your comment!

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