“What you talkin’ about, Website?”

[July 13, 2010]

“We have lots of information! For you!”

While that’s hardly a compelling message for consumers, it is the sum total of what they take away from many an average Web page.

Not that this message is spelled out in a headline, spouted by an expert or illustrated by a deft designer. But stripped of stock art, video, layout, functionality and by-the-numbers copy, most Web pages have little else to say to consumers.

See for yourself. Take a distance view, and total up the impact of each element on a given web page: With so many conflicting elements jostling for attention, no other unifying message emerges—regardless of topic, tone, intent or user experience.

Tagline, schmagline. What’s your site say?
The mere presence of a branded tagline is not enough. The most it can do is indicate the vague conceptual universe the brand might be traveling through on its way to your wallet. Nor are snappy headlines much help. When viewed from 30,000 feet, the cleverest sentence is no more memorable than a Webding or a Dingbat.

Because the only thing that matters in building long term relationships with your audience is your ability to deliver an overriding value message—something that sets you apart as the source of unique wisdom, entertainment, innovation or insight.

Otherwise, you’re expecting users to visit you for the same reason parents drag their kids to visit Uncle Harry or Aunt Martha—out of a sense of ritualized obligation.

“We’re the Number 1 source of information about [insert topic here]” your home page blares, “You gotta check us out!”

Yet strangely, your consumer family only stops by once or twice a year, even when Cousin Google offers to do all the driving.

Been there, ignored that—at www.clone.com
How did it come to this? Chances are you’ve neglected to consider the “content of the content” you rarely bother to refresh. Given that, there’s no unique take away, nothing audiences can’t get from another URL, including Wikipedia.org. Remember, everyone’s drinking the same theoretical Kool-aid. Is there anything about your expert video to set it apart from your competitor’s expert video? Assuming, that is, your expert isn’t working both sides of the street.

As I see it, the problem stems from the way most sites are constructed, a layering process rivaling ancient architectural practice. First there’s the content that predates the current brand manager. Next, there’s the newsfeed from 20 different sources, each with its own tone of voice and underlying message. Then there’s the leaden, branded boilerplate, offering “the solutions you need to meet the challenges of today’s competitive market.”

And the crowning glory is the new, nominally conceptual reskin of the home page, complete with obligatory slideshow marquee. “More information streams than those old-fashioned static marquees” it chirps, while simply adding another voice to the growing, discordant chorus of misaligned messages.

Of course, nothing contributes more to the background murmur than stock art pulled from a wide range of sources, each with its own lighting, perspective and color scheme. Even when a designer takes pains to select a unified photographic style, these committee-selected images leave consumers flat.

Why, in 2010, does anyone think a beautiful model of either gender has anything to do with the routine litany of everyday life each brand purports to “understand?”

Stats off? It could be that awful old Web site smell.
So if your Web presence suffers from iron-poor, tired metrics, I recommend you step away from the design studio, put down the spread sheets and listen. Listen to the cacophony of messages pouring out from each page. Then go item by item and figure out what you can do to bring the content of your content in harmony with itself—including dumping box loads of articles, video, charts, graphs and thumbnails.

When the process is finished, and at last the chorus is singing the same tune, you’ll finally know what, if anything, your Web presence says to consumers. And if the big picture takeaway is negligable, boring or inaccurate, at least you’ll know where you stand. You’ll have a basis for true, creative content development, a path to delivering a unique, motivating message to consumers. The rest is easy—like getting Aunt Martha to show you her glass menagerie.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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