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30 May 2006

What does your website say about you?

By Andrew Clifford

Simple, direct websites work. Complicated, vague websites fail.

The web is indispensable to Metrici. Many IT specialists see their web presence as an optional extra – the thing to do – somewhere to publish a brochure. We are different. We have captured our specialist knowledge in our product Metrici Advisor. We deliver Metrici Advisor as a service over the web. The web-based service costs much less than traditional consultancy. Our website is our product. It is our competitive advantage.

We needed to think hard about our web presence. We looked at other businesses, to see what they do.

  • We looked at the websites of two leading suppliers of testing tools. The home page of the self-proclaimed "Leader in IT value" took over 50 seconds (on dial-up) to load. What for? To show an animated hand. The other one took 25 seconds to ask what country I was from, and show me a picture of skyscrapers. 25 seconds later, I got a moving graph with the name of their product on it. Both sites took around 360k of network traffic, just to enter the site. Would you buy performance tuning tools from these people?
  • We looked at the website of a company that provides IT management tools over the web. They proudly explain how much cheaper a hosted service is than an in-house solution. But they don’t actually tell you their prices.
  • We looked at a local IT consultancy. Their home page says, "To see how we can help you deliver your business vision more effectively, please take some time to explore this site." Evidently they have no idea what they would like to tell me about themselves. But they considerately warn me that finding out for myself might take some time. And they do have a nice picture of a motorway.

These sites are typical. None of them get their message across simply and directly. Perhaps they are not sure of their message. Perhaps they can't explain it. Perhaps they're trying to hide something. Maybe they believe they can entice readers to their site with pictures of skyscrapers, and then bewilder them into buying.

To stand out, we needed to be different. We adopted two rules:

  • Be simple. Use a straightforward text-based layout. Don't have irrelevant pictures of skyscrapers, motorways, or hands. Don't have anything that moves.
  • Be direct. Explain how we deliver value, and what our products are. Publish our prices. Give the reader a call to action.

It is a high-risk strategy. We may look amateurish – as if we lacked the skill or money to build a proper "professional" website. It is true that we are not visual design experts. It is true that we don't like to spend money unless we understand what value it brings. But these are not the real reasons behind our approach. Our real reason is that we need a website that reflects our simple and direct approach to IT management.

What does your website say about you?

Next: Hard choices make good websites

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