How bad is your website these days?

I am doing the research for a comparative review for one of my favorite IT pubs this week. And the results so far are miserable. The ironic thing is that I haven’t yet started doing any actual testing of the products. I am talking about visiting a series of poor websites to get the basic information about the products. How do these companies stay in business?

For the most part in my review, I am looking at Web-based services that you don’t need to download anything. Some have free accounts, but you have to sign up with a credit card. Some have free accounts that you don’t need anything other than your email address, and you know that means you’ll be getting a follow-up call from their sales department asking how the trial is going. But several of the services don’t have anyway to get a free account, other than calling them (gasp) on the telephone. Some don’t even have phone numbers listed. I am not making this up.

One site even went so far as to put in phone numbers for a US and a European office. That was a nice touch I first thought, until I looked closer: The US phone wasn’t working, and was displayed with an odd spacing of digits and dashes (not 3-dash-three-dash-four pattern). That didn’t inspire confidence.

One site didn’t list any contact information. Another site had contact information of the kind info@company.com, and didn’t list their management by name. Are they afraid someone will call and try to track them down? One product is actually from a former consulting client. I thought that might be a leg up, but I still haven’t heard anything from them, days later. One firm had old info for their PR contact.

And my favorite: one site won’t reveal their prices. Sorry, no prices, no mention in the review. Let’s keep our strategy secret please. Mums the word. Fine by me.

To be kind, I have deliberately omitted the actual vendor names here.

Of course, there were some bright spots in this dismal swamp. One service is so transparent, you can try it out right there from the homepage: no credit card, no signup form, just click a link and you can use it and see for yourself how it works within seconds. And a pricing page that goes into tremendous detail. Wonderful! Too bad their competitors are still stuck in the dark ages when it comes to their services.

So I can’t believe it is 2012 and I am still writing about this. Forward this column to your boss if you need to (assuming your boss will read any emails), and then tell them to get with my program. Put individual email addresses of your key staff on your website and make sure that whomever gets these emails actually responds to them within a business day, or less. Have a way to demo your product easily online, especially if you have a Web service. Have your public relations contact listed explicitly on a page with your press releases, and keep that updated. Have your executives listed by name, and if you don’t want to publish their email address, then at the very, very least have someone who can field emails for them. Put your office postal address and phone someplace where your customers can find it, to prove that you really exist as a legit business. And don’t forget to list your prices too.

Make it easier to purchase your services, and you will get more business. Make it harder, and you won’t have any business in a few years or months. It’s that simple.

5 thoughts on “How bad is your website these days?

  1. David, interesting points. My company’s web site, http://www.mailermailer.com, does many of the positive things you mentioned (working 800 number, easy online contact, live chat, free trial without credit card or phone required).

    While there is no good excuse for a company to list a non-working phone number, there is a case for companies who prefer not to offer their trials sign up easily online. I know of several companies who find that the added hoop increases the level of prospect qualification. The ones who take the time to call for a demo are usually very qualified prospects compared to those who sign up almost anonymously for a trial account.

    This is more prominent in companies who sell products with high price points. In those cases, allowing a trial to happen online without any technical or sales guidance can frustrate or confuse the prospect., not only resulting in a lost sale but also increasing the likelihood of bad word of mouth. Just a thought.

    • True, but we are talking about products that have $25 per month or lower price points. I agree, have something to make the quals process along, but not so hard that you can’t gain access or see what you are doing with the service.

  2. Agreed. For our lower priced service, we found that reducing the trial sign-up page to just a login, email and password resulted in more trial accounts, https://www.mailermailer.com/signup.rwp. The automated follow ups are done via email so nobody has to worry about a sales person pestering them. Since most of this process is automated, the quality of leads has more to do with our marketing tactics that get people to the sign up page than anything we could put on the sign up form. Good luck with your article.

  3. I have often found that company’s website is the worst place to research a product. With text written by experts in the product, the language is typically full of sub-sub-industry buzzwords that civilians don’t understand. And, experts are always focusing on the latest features, leaving out the introduction to what the product is, does and why anyone should care. Finally, experts also focus on the feature or two that their competition doesn’t have which again is talking only to people in their sub-sub-industry and leaves out the rest of the world. This happens all the time. It’s pathetic. A high school intern could do a better job in almost every case of explaining what a product is and does.

  4. As a reseller of computing products and services, I need more resources than most. Reseller information is often non-existent on manufacturer web sites. Sometimes the manufacturers have secure logins for resellers and/or completely different web sites.

    There are many web sites that have ENORMOUS amounts of information, like Intel, Microsoft, Symantec, and Cisco. The problem is that you can get completely lost in these web sites. There may or may not be pricing information available to the public. If there is, there may be several different price lists for different groups, like those who are educators, charities, federal government, state government, small business, on a particular contract, etcetera. Having pricing available to the end user can get very confusing. The “hardest” price is MSRP, if the manufacturer even publishes one, but it may bear no resemblance to what you actually pay.

    A fairly large percentage of the time, I find that people have led themselves down a rabbit hole and picked the wrong product, wrong price, wrong company, or wrong plan for themselves. They are convinced it is correct because they “saw it on the web.”

    You have forgotten what these web sites are for. Most web sites are marketing oriented. They are there to get your attention. However, they aren’t there to SELL you anything. Very often, they cannot or will not. Manufacturers are not architected to deal with end users. They want you to call resellers who can give you the correct product, pricing and services you will need.

    Even if I am going to a manufacturer myself to find out information I need, I am often frustrated either because the information isn’t there (usually for a good reason) or because I cannot find it (because I cannot figure out how to get here from there). Unless a web site is backed by a good company and people you can call on to help you, I find it to be a very scary place. Most quality companies will have people who will help you if you pick up the phone or e mail them.

    And, yes, I’ve seen really pathetic web sites from very good companies. Remember that web sites are often the last priority of some very fine engineering companies who concentrate on the quality of the product, then the quality of the documentation, then finally think about marketing it.

    Every company has some resource limits. Sometimes you will be able to see that in their web site. I’m happy to tell you that I posted almost a year’s worth of newsletters I’d sent out to my web site yesterday. Sure, I could have done it earlier, but I had “more important” things to attend to, like researching, writing, and sending them out in the first place….

    When I invent a machine to give me all the time I need to do everything, I’m going to make BIG bucks…..

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