14 quotes and explanations

A few people rightly asked for a bit more information on the quotes in the “13 quotes that show the customer isn’t ready for a good website” post.
So here it is.

1. “Why we want a new website? We don’t like the old one anymore.”
You don’t have to like your website. Your visitors have to like it. Unless you have evidence (logfiles, user tests, ROI …) that your visitors don’t like it, don’t change it.

2. “Interactivity is very important to us.”
I meet a lot of customers who think ‘interactivity’ is the holy grail. They want a forum and a chat room and a blog… They don’t seem to realise that’s not necessarily what people want from a utilities company.

3. “We know what we want. Our web team has had a brainstorm session about it.”
No amount of brainstorming can tell you what your customers want. Never has, never will. Stop brainstorming and start gathering facts.

4. “We’d like a big visual at the top of every page.”
P-lease. Unless you’ve got a website that’s dedicated to photography or graphic design, big visuals are not what people are looking for on your website. Also, big visuals tend to push the actual content on the page down. Down below the page-fold. A dark, damp place some people simply do not like to visit.

5. “We’ve already chosen the technical system. Now all we have to do is get the content in there.”
The importance of a good information structure and quality content is still hugely underestimated. As Gerry McGovern (www.gerrymcgovern.com) said in his column of November 2008: “Content migration-and its first cousin, website “redesign”-are all about pouring sour old milk into new portal jugs.” It’s still the same old stinky milk, people.

6. “Our advertising agency has already made the lay-out. All you have to do is make the tree structure.”
Graphics never take precedence over content. Lay-out never comes before tree structure. The lay-out of a site needs to be adapted to the structure and content, not the other way around. And ‘advertising company’? Not webdesign company? Eeeek!

7. “Where in the menu is the procurement division?”
When designing a tree structutre for a big company with many divisions, especially an intranet or extranet, there’s always a point when the various departments or divisions within the company start looking for ‘their’ part on the website. “It isn’t there”, I have to tell them. Because nobody’s looking for a division, they’re looking because need to find a form or a specific procedure. And that’s a lot easier in a structure based on user needs than a structure based on a company’s internal structure.

8. “That’s a very sensitive issue in our company.”
Some companies are very, very sensitive. Don’t talk too loud in their presence or they might start to cry. Depending on the company or organisation, different things can be ’sensitive’. Product comparisons are often a sensitive issue, I find. Not even comparisons with other companies (heaven forbid!) but of a company’s own product range. Because they don’t like saying that product X, which is 2 times the price of product Y, actually does have a longer battery life and more interesting features. Because, if they don’t make it easy for the visitor to see that, he won’t find out. Right?

9. “Prices on our website? No way.”
This one is completely self-explanatory, I’m afraid.

10. “We really think we need a news section.”
Oh really? Because you have so many interesting things to share with your visitors? In that case, go ahead. Or because you want a place on your website where you want to tell people who the new marketing manager is? In that case, I’ve got some news for you: people don’t care.

11. “We’ve positioned the product like that for 10 years. We’re not going to change it.”
That might be the case if you’ve sold that product in actual shops before. But if user tests show that, online, people don’t ‘get’ your way of selling that product, you have to change it or be prepared for disappointing online sales figures. On the web, it’s adapt or die.

12. “That word doesn’t really fit our corporate image. We don’t want to use it on our website.”
I really hate it when people say this. Probably because I’m not a big fan of the words ‘corporate image’. (But I’ve said them, haven’t I? Ha!) Usually it means a company doesn’t want to use a simple, down-to-earth word that regular people like you and me use but instead want to use a fancy, corporate-speak word. Like, I don’t know, ‘buying’ instead of ‘procurement’.

13. “Our web builder/ IT department says that isn’t possible.”
Okay, this one can go either way. Sometimes it really isn’t possible. But many, many, many times it totally is. It’s just not easy to do. Or fun to do. But it is possible. Boring and hard work, but possible.

Since writing the post and publishing it, I heard another one at a recent meeting. An oldie, but apparently still used by some communications agencies.

So here’s 14. “We want to turn it into a portal.”
What is that anyway, a portal? If I’d ask you all for a definition I’m sure I’d end up with many different ones. Why do so many companies want to have a ‘portal’? Does website not sound fancy enough? I’m all for websites, not portals. But hey, that’s just my opinion.

Do you have a 15? 16, 17, … Feel free to share!

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  • Johan Dermaut


    Here are some more.

    Why do you want a new website?
    - Because the competition has a new one.
    - Because we have a new manager and (s)he doesn’t like the one we have now.

    Interactivity is very important to us.
    So, you will have a forum on your website? No way, people could post links to “those special” websites.

    New technologies are very important to us.
    So, you will encourage twittering, blogging and the like? No, because the boss thinks that is a waste of time and bad for the image of the company.

    Content is very important.
    So, do you adapt the texts from your brochures, press releases and other info the public reads for your website where people rather scan than read? No, we do not have the time nor the man power to do that.

    Another problem is that a lot of people talk about “the customer”. The customer thinks …, the customer wants …, the customer would like to …. “The customer” doesn’t exist, that is why you develop personas.

    Some decisions unfortunately are based on personal stories.
    A feature is implemented or not because someone’s mother-in-law, brother, friend or colleague had a bad or good experience somewhere on the Web. Because ONE person had a good or bad story to tell, a feature is sometimes not implemented.

    Sales are important.
    We do not put contact information on the website because people might contact us with their technical questions and problems.


  • Scott Dugger

    One we just got slapped in the face with recently: “It’s too risky.”
    ?? What??

  • http://www.agconsult.be Els Aerts

    @Scott: Never heard that one myself, but hey, there’s a first time for everything. I’m sure they can come up with even weirder stuff. :)

  • Tristan Naramore

    There’s a point in EVERY project with any type of customer where issues like these crop up. As a professional consultant, I must make a call between making my client happy and sleeping well at night knowing I’ve stuck to my principles.

    When these kind of comments come up (especially coming from those in positions of authority), I usually gently push back by asking probing questions, in order to understand the situation and the underlying (often hidden) assumptions. Sometimes, this leads to a-ha! moments. Sometimes, I just need to back down and swallow my professional pride (“aren’t they paying me to be the usability expert here?!”).