Special Report-Rating the Web

June 1, 2001       Todd Baker      

Everyone has a favorite Web site, and it’s for reasons as diverse as the people going online. For some, graphics are paramount. These individuals return day after day to see what dazzling new pictures, informative charts, and colorful, moving symbols await them. For others it’s content, flow of information, color palette, or simply the “feel” of the site itself.

Some say it’s the beautiful, soft pastels, so pleasing to the eye. Others will tell you it’s the bold, explosive layout, or the careful attention given to the size of the fonts, or the economy of words and predominance of pictures. Still others will applaud the creative use of ear-splitting sound or, conversely, a pastoral homepage that unfolds like the gentle opening of a rose.

To some degree, everyone is probably correct about any one or more of these subjective responses. The problem is that if you were to design your Web site based on every conceivably possible approach, you could end up having more of an edgy Salvador Dali or Andy Warhol appearance than the crispness of an engaging and inviting presentation that draws users to your cause, mission and message-and keeps them there. (Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with the wild works of artists Dali or Warhol; they just shouldn’t be your design models.)

Rather than try to appeal to all those users who faithfully labor on the world’s 16 million computers, which are linked to some 50,000 worldwide networks, you will have more success in Web site design when you remain sensitive to the demo- and psychographics of your audience, use appropriate colors, stay with the kind of layout/branding and content that complements your vision and mission and attracts people to your cause.

When people are asked about the Internet, they always seem to be most interested in design. That’s because they tend to see design as the one place where they can be most creative and have the most enjoyment.

Here’s what happens when you put forth a professional image on your Web site: your visitors will assume at least three things:

1) Your organization knows what it’s doing;

2) you are worthy of being taken seriously;

3) you’ve taken the time to think through the needs of the user to ensure that a visit to your site is a pleasure.

However, if you simply throw some brochureware on your site, pay little or no attention to proper navigation, and seldom update your content or graphics, guess what? Opposite effect. Users will click on, click through and click out.

That’s why excellence in site design is vital. Be mindful of your organization’s endeavors to communicate its message long-term to an increasingly impatient group of Internet users — those often nameless men, women and children who instinctively know good design because they surf the Web often and know what appeals to them.

What about you? What makes you return to a Web site-any Web site? Are there specific qualities you look for, and when, if you don’t find them, you simply move on? Do you actually know what you like?

Here’s a practical research tool to help you to recognize immediately what you enjoy, or don’t enjoy, and why you like it or not. It’s a Web rating exercise, and the following “rating system” will help you evaluate any Web site on the Internet — including your own.

The exercise

Since there are many Web sites in the accompanying assessment chart, you could go blind trying to evaluate them all at once. That’s why it will be most productive if you work with only seven or eight sites at one sitting.

Quickly rate each Web site, using the criteria listed. Then, when you have time, do seven or eight more. Take good notes. As you view each homepage, indicate your rating in the appropriate box as 1, 2 or 3.

You will be amazed at how much you will learn about what you like and do not like. Tally your numbers until you have cumulative score for all of the Web sites.

Close your eyes, visualize

Here’s a complementary exercise to help you “walk through” what would be an ideal Web site for you. It works like this. Close your eyes and begin to “see” a site that doesn’t really exist — except in your mind’s eye. When you do this, you will intuitively see what you like best as you find yourself a visitor to the best site on the Web. That’s because you will only visualize what is the best — just as a professional golfer, tennis player or any other athlete “sees” the result of his or her shot before it takes place. This exercise works because when we visualize objects or objectives in our mind, we, too, generally see them in their best light.

Everyone has the capacity to visualize, but some need to strengthen their visualization abilities to gain the effects for which they are working. The following technique has proved highly effective in intensifying one’s power of visualization.

Now, as you visualize your ideal Web site, you are about to see the most creative, best designed, best flow of content of any site on the Web. Sounds crazy? Well, give it a try, and you be the judge. With you eyes closed, begin to see a template for the homepage that appeals most to you. You’ll have to peek at the questions every once in a while, but as you read each one, close your eyes, and see what you see.

  1. What primary colors do you see on the homepage?
  2. What secondary colors do you see?
  3. How much white space do you see? Is it 30 percent, 50 percent or 70 percent.
  4. What color is the font?
  5. How is the text broken up? a. Is the color headline different from the other colors? b. Is the reverse type from a color background? If so what is the color of type or background?
  6. What font do you see? Are there different kinds of fonts used?
  7. If so, do you know the names or categories? a. Times Roman b. San-Serif c. Rounded letter forms d. Wide lettering e. Decorative f. Script
  8. What kinds of shapes do you see (rectangles, circles, triangles, combinations)?
  9. What kinds of images and pictures do you see?
  10. Are there icons? If so, how are they being used?
  11. What is at the top of the homepage?
  12. What is on the left-hand side?
  13. What is on the right-hand side?
  14. What is in the middle of the page?
  15. Where do you see the navigation for the Web site? Are they on the right, left, middle, bottom, of a combination?

How did you do? Any surprises? Did you come up with your ideal Web site? How close was it to your own? What about color, for instance? How important was the palette on your ideal Web site? Research shows, for example, that color is a powerful tool to modify behavior. Some researchers have found that pink has a calming effect; green tends to tranquilize and produce equilibrium; violet has an intense electrochemical power, and when a person is under strong cardiovascular and nervous tension, violet helps to harmonize and synchronize different functions of the organism. Blue produces serenity and can even create a cold sensation, producing the most tranquilizing effect next to pink. Orange tends to raise the blood pressure and the activity of certain cerebral waves. You may not have realized you had any or all of these sensations, but you probably did. So consider yourself just having completed your own personal research project.

Now, the bigger question: Is what you visualized something you are prepared to offer to those who visit your Web site? Are you willing to work with new fonts, new shapes, and a new flow of information? After all, you are your best focus group. Because if you simply let go and let your mind wander in this exercise, you undoubtedly emerged with some positive, clear impressions on your ideal Web site–because it all starts in the mind. After all, even Einstein, throughout his life, continued to remind us that Imagination is everything.

This story is an except from the ebook Nonprofit Web sites by Todd Baker who is a vice president with Grizzard. You can contact him at: Todd.Baker@grizzard.com