Admittedly, I can be a tough audience for certain things. A decade ago when I was in New York creating advertising campaigns for beer, wine and mobile phones, I was generally critical of TV commercials – especially the ones everybody loved but couldn’t remember which product was advertised. These days, I have the same experiences with websites. By day, I spend my time helping clients make sure that the experiences their visitors have online are as powerful and motivating as the ones they have in person. Outside of work, I have the same ups and downs as anybody else who spends time surfing the internet; I just happen to channel most of my frustrations into lessons learned for our work on behalf of our clients.

I’ve found that there is plenty from which to learn. For example, I’m having my house repainted, and I’m obsessing over colors and paint selection. My paint contractor recommends one particular paint manufacturer that happens to be a well-respected national brand. So I went to their site to do some planning. What a disappointment. There are several creative tools on the site I was looking forward to using, but they don’t work very well. On my iPhone, the color gallery didn’t identify the colors I was clicking on. On my laptop, I was still running into dead ends and I’d lose track of the color I was considering, nor could I find any way to save colors or create a palette. Did I mention that the colors are organized by collection? If I wanted to see every option, I had to click in a half dozen different places. After an hour or more (call me crazy, but I really like paint), I simply gave up and drove to the store and made my choices the old-fashioned way. The second store, that is. The first result returned on the company’s retailer search no longer carried the brand, which I didn’t realize until I got there.

If you’re an SAI client or you follow our blog regularly, you’ve no doubt heard us remind you that your brand lives in the minds and hearts of your target audience. And these days, no matter what business you’re in, whether you sell paint, educate students or rally people around a cause, your online presence is hugely responsible for helping your constituents form impressions and make decisions about your brand. What is your site telling them?

So you might ask, what elements have the biggest impact on a web visitor’s brand perceptions? Their relative importance depends on the category, the consumer and what they’re looking for, but you’d be off to a good start by considering the following:

  • ​Design elements, imagery, logo, typography:  Do they work well together, and do they project an image that’s consistent with and representative of your offline brand? Are they appealing? Does it look modern? Don’t underestimate the importance of visceral impact.  It takes only a fraction of a second for visitors to form an impression of your brand based on what they see.  
  • Functionality: This is where my paint example really goes off the rails. Style over substance is one of the most common mistakes we see. Do your tools work flawlessly? Does the user experience benefit from each element of your site, or are you over-promising and under-delivering?
  • Content: Is it engaging, easy to read and useful? Is it up to date and easily scanned so visitors can find what they need quickly?  And most importantly, does it give people the information they need to want to do business with you?
  • Navigation: Can visitors find what they need? Does the inter-relationship of the pages make sense, and is it easy to get around once you’re beyond the home page? The organization of information and the paths to get to it must be intuitive. If your site falls down on user-centricity, this is often where it is most evident.
  • Details: Is the content current or outdated? (Is your store finder going to send me on another wild goose chase?) If there are typos, sloppy grammar and broken links, isn’t it logical for someone to assume that certain aspects of your product or service may have been overlooked too? 
  • Mobile experience: It’s 2016. If your site doesn’t work seamlessly on a mobile device, it doesn’t work, and you’re losing customers, clients, recruits or members. To what extent you’re missing opportunities depends upon the business you’re in and who your consumer is, but rest assured it’s only going to get worse as the world goes increasingly mobile.
  • Intangibles: What feeling does your website evoke? Does your target consumer get a sense that your brand is trustworthy, valuable, expert, rewarding or any other desired trait based on a single site visit?  Does your online brand have a distinct voice or personality, and is it consistent with your offline brand? Is it also appropriate to your industry, motivating to your target audience and unique among your competitors?

Think about some of your own online experiences with other brands, good and bad, and apply those conclusions to your own site accordingly. Not every brand is fortunate enough to have contractors like my painter that push their products, so most of us have to try harder. As we’re fond of saying at SAI, if you approach the creation and maintenance of your site by putting yourself in the shoes of a new visitor, your site will inevitably become a better marketing tool. Ditto for social media, but that’s another blog post. Speaking of which, we invite you to follow our Anatomy of a Brand blog series if you’re not already doing so. We’ll be exploring some of the above elements in more depth, along with some related topics about which our clients are asking. If there is a topic you’d like to see us cover in the series, by all means let us know. We’d love to hear it.