At this point, we’ve covered all of the static parts of a website required to make it a successful demand generation tool: Exceptional branding reinforced by well-organized information and relevant high-quality content — all expressed in a sharp, compelling design.
However, a successful website isn’t static like a brochure or a catalog. It’s dynamic and interactive like a software application. Just like a software application, its success hinges on how easy it is to use and how well it aligns to the needs of the person using it.
Interactivity allows web developers to control and enhance the user experience. Dynamic HTML (especially Ajax), Flash and server-side database-driven functionality can greatly improve a visitor’s immersion into a web experience through personalization, engagement and multimedia. A discussion of the benefits of leveraging each of these technologies is outside the scope of this post. Suffice to say, if your ideas for a redesign rely heavily on any or all of these technologies, you’ll need a large budget for development and usability testing. If your website has a very specific functionality — like Google Maps for example — or drives revenue directly through eCommerce, this is likely well justified.
If you’re primarily using your website as a demand generation tool, however, heavy-handed interactivity can be counter-productive. In the very worst examples, usability is being sacrificed for the sake of interactivity — we’ve all experienced the frustration of waiting for a complex Flash animation to load.
Just like the other components of an optimized demand-generation-focused website, poor functionality will frustrate your website visitor, encouraging them to look elsewhere for better, more accessible content. Review the following questions and make sure that your website isn’t in need of a functionality upgrade:
- Are the interactive elements of your site such as navigation easy to use? Do they work with a single mouse movement and click?
- Do pages, images, Flash animations. or other specific elements of pages take a long time to load (>3 seconds is a long time on the Internet)? Is there a significant time delay before important interactive elements can actually be interacted with?
- Is there evidence that Search Engines aren’t indexing your entire website? When you search on your company name, does your homepage show up in search results?
- Are there display or functionality problems between different browsers (Comparing Firefox 3 and IE 7 will show 90% of problems)?
- Are your lead-capture mechanisms (such as web forms) easy to use? Do they navigate visitors away from the content they are requesting? Do they force a registration process?
The bar for excellence in interactivity is continually raised, along with our expectations for ease-of use. You may not often consider the functionality of the websites that you enjoy most. That’s precisely because those sites are coded well: Their functionality doesn’t get in the way of usability. Does your website fall into this category? It should.
In my next post, I’ll be exploring the merits of Content Management Systems and providing assessment questions to help you determine whether a CMS should be a part of your Demand-Generation-Focused website…
Note: This is post six of a nine-post series entitled, “Is Your Website Optimized for Demand Generation?” To read more of Justin’s series, just follow the links below…
For more information on website optimization, check out Nowspeed’s eight chapter eBook “Is Your Website Optimizated for Demand Generation and High ROI?”