In his 2002 book The Big Red Fez, marketing author Seth Godin critiqued selected websites and how they helped or hindered their visitors. He likened the website visitor to a monkey looking for a banana. If the banana is too hard to find, then the monkey will go elsewhere. Today, are websites making it easier to find the banana or is the furry guy starving?
Godin’s Principles of Website Design and Today’s Websites
From Godin’s critique, we can derive some guiding principles for website design. Here is a brief description and thoughts on how websites today measure up:
- Use technology to convey information, not obstruct it.
In his book, Godin described a company home page that comprised a list of technological requirements for viewing. If visitors didn’t have the right browser version or software plug-in, they couldn’t view the site. They needed to either download the required software or, more likely, try somewhere else.
Thankfully, we see fewer home pages like that today, but it is still common for sites to require specific software plug-ins. Website elements built in Flash or saved as PDFs still require visitors to have the appropriate software to view them.
This continues to be a challenge for website developers. Website visitors use a vast array of different hardware and software. Building a website that works for all possible combinations is time consuming and costly. For most companies, deciding how inclusive to make a site comes down to an analysis of risk and return on investment.
- Limit each web page to one objective.
Godin argued that if a web page offers too many objectives, you risk alienating visitors. Instead of building one page to meet the objectives of all visitors, he recommends building different pages that cater to different needs.
Today, it is still standard practice to build one home page to handle multiple objectives. This practice might be partially a result of search engine preference for flat site architecture. It is also easier to manage and brand one domain name than several. However, aside from home pages, there has been a definite movement to build web pages specific to different markets. For example, Toyota segments its site into pages for prospective car buyers and pages for Toyota car owners. Webcopyplus also segments web copy solutions for designers and businesses.
Website segmentation reflects the influence of marketing on website development. Eight years ago, technology and engineers dominated website development. Today, companies apply fundamental marketing principles and target audiences’ needs and feedback to website design.
- Make it easy for visitors to share what they find on your site.
Godin liked the “send this page to a friend” functionality offered by some websites. By providing a little bit of information, such as name and email address, visitors could email pages to friends.
Since the publication of Godin’s book, the ability to share online information with friends and colleagues has grown exponentially. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter make it easy for visitors to share with their networks. Today, sharing a favourite blog post or YouTube video is as easy as a single click.
This kind of sharing has become an important marketing tool. By starting an online conversation with your customers and their networks, you can develop a stronger web presence and drive more sales.
The Best of Today’s Websites Emphasize Marketing, Not Technology
Websites have grown up, and many have adopted Godin’s ideas and recommendations. Technology has become a means, not an end. Websites are segmented to target different audiences. Sharing has become a critical marketing tactic and tool. So don’t lose too much sleep over that little monkey. He’s often getting his bananas, and some chocolate sauce too.
What do you think? Are websites doing a better job of meeting the needs of visitors? Which websites are setting new standards of excellence and which are stuck in 2002?