How often have you heard someone say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’? It sounds great, but the practice of not prejudging the worth or value of something by its outward appearance alone is far more difficult.
The reality is the majority of us are a fairly judgemental bunch. From where we get our clothes dry-cleaned, to what postcode we choose to live in (or not live in), to what cafe we spend Sunday mornings at, we all tend to be Judgy McJudgersons from time to time, make decisions on a daily basis based on a perceived value or attitude toward something.
I’m no different. I’ve chosen not to eat at a restaurant because of their tablecloths alone. They were a green, checkered pattern and looked like some sort of optical illusion.
The point is, people judge and form opinions about organisations, many of which are based on superficial perceptions.
A website has its own set of elements people evaluate. These form the basis of assumptions that influence many people’s perceptions of an organisation and their products and services, not to mention their credibility, trustworthiness, authority, and likability.
I often find myself coming to almost subconscious conclusions about organisations based on their website alone, as I am sure many people do. It tells me who the organisation is, what kind of customer they’re attempting to attract, their workplace and customer service culture, and sometimes, that their suffering from congenital cataracts and live in an online world comprising only of Internet Explorer 6.
A company’s website should guide a user in a certain manner and reflect the type of experience that company wants its audience to feel and understand. This should extend beyond the website’s homepage to every possible landing page within a site, as discussed in our blog post last month.
"But Jason!", you say, "Why does my website really matter if my product is good? People will look past it to my awesome products and services".
No. They wont.
Take this hairdressing salon in London.
When navigating through the site, it soon becomes clear the owner is very proud of his business, and I have no reason to doubt why he shouldn't be.
Unfortunately, this website is awesomely terrible. Out-dated in form and function, the site suffers from a poor navigation, distracting background and a dreadful layout. The majority of imagery throughout the site has also obviously been copied from a professional hair care company's website, with no clear indication of how the two businesses are linked, or even if they’re related at all.
This is of course not to say this salon doesn’t actually offer a very high quality professional hairdressing service. In fact, upon further investigation, they have quite a few very positive reviews across a number of noticeboard forums.
However, their own website does not communicate this in anyway, failing to arouse any great sense of trustworthiness or credibility for a consumer - something most important for any women seeking a cut, colour and blowdry. When comparing to the websites of mainstream competitors such as Tony & Guy and Rush, the difference in perceived quality and professionalism of the service provided is clear.
This is just one of many poor webistes on the web. And none of them need to be this way given how easy and inexpensive it is to setup a simple brochure website.
The point is, the web exposes organisations. Like the cover of a book, people often prejudge the contents or quality of a business, product or service by its outward appearance alone. And while many businesses spend a lot of time and money making sure their brick and mortar store or shopfront looks clean, tidy and enticing to the passing consumer, they don't give as much attention to their website despite it being, after all, their digital storefront.
As a result, business’s need to realise their website isn’t about them. Rather, a business’s website should lay the groundwork and guide a user in a certain manner that not only reflects the type of experience they want their audience to have, but also the type of experience their audience desires to have and expects to receive.
Ask yourself, does your website design encourage users to take the actions they need to on your site or does it distract them and push them away?