Survey Attacks Flashy Web Sites
by Jim Bray
It turns out that, despite the current trend, adding fancy Flash
animations to web sites isn't the smartest thing a company can do.
I've been saying for years that just because you can put a whiz
bang promotional animation on the front of your Web site doesn't mean you
should but judging by the increasing number of these billboards, Web designers
and the companies they work for haven't been listening.
The point I've been trying to make is that Web sites aren't just
showcases to dazzle surfers' eyes; they're first and foremost communications
and marketing tools, and if the surfing public can't find the information it
seeks quickly and easily they'll surf over to a competitor's site quicker than
you can say "virtual reality."
And now a study by a major Canadian public relations agency backs
up my unscientific opinion with some actual science, which if nothing else
gives me a chance to say "Ha! I told you so!"
The goal of the Benchmark Porter Novelli survey was to determine
the media's view (and we all know how fair and balanced they are, don't we?) of
how effective corporate and institutional Web sites are, and to learn how
journalists would improve the Web sites they turn to on a daily basis as they
do their jobs.
It's unfortunate that the survey only asked journalists, rather
than real people, but it turns out that their complaints match ones I hear from
people who, unlike journalists, do live in the real world.
According to the survey, the vast majority of journalists say they
rely on the Internet as a key work tool, but too many of the sites they visit
merely offer titillation instead of being useful resources.
Well, duh! What they're saying is that they rely on the Internet
as a research tool the same way a company's potential customers do when they're
looking to choose a product or service. But with so many sites and only a
limited amount of time to find the information they need, they're not about to
waste time on a Web site that doesn't make things easy for them.
"Too many corporate web sites seem to be showcases rather than
usefully informative," commented one journalist in the survey proving, if
nothing else, that even journalists can get it right once in a while.
When asked to identify the specific information they are looking
for on a corporate Web site, 94 per cent of the media types said they wanted
the company put its contact information where it can be found easily. Well, Duh
again! And, in their typically self-focused manner, the journalists said they
also wanted to see a special "media area" where they could find press releases,
photos and the like.
I agree to a certain extent. There definitely should be such
information made available, but it should be freely available to anyone who's
interested in such stuff, and not just some journalistic elite class. One of
the great things about the Internet is that it can empower ordinary people; it
can allow them to access the same information as those pampered people who
pride themselves on supposedly bringing us "just the facts," yet who so often
manage to twist them to fit their own agenda or mindset. It helps people make
up their own minds.
Anyway, the survey clearly shows that while Web developers are
busy pushing nifty technology and sites that sing and dance, their creations
often end up confusing the medium with the message. In fact, while I was
surfing to research this rant, I came across a US-based Web developer's site
that used Marshall McLuhan's famous quote "The Medium is the Message" as its
I hope they go under quickly.
The medium isn't the message. The medium presents the message for
people to see, but if people have to work harder to get your company or
organization's message than your competitor's, guess whose site is better and
guess whose site will be more successful.
After all, do you sit through those interminable animated pages,
after the first couple, or do you click "skip intro" and go looking for the
Despite this study having only polled Canadians, the advice
applies to Web sites everywhere: be easy to surf and offer relevant information
and the world may beat a path to your virtual door.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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