by Jimmy Marks
In September of 2013, it was decided that our website was due for a makeover. I sat down, brainstormed a few changes to be made and started doing a rough sketch of the layout. One thing led to another and I put the refresh in my “to-do” pile.
In October, I was in Nashville for a conference and I got an email from Greg Crandell, our EVP of Sales and Marketing with the subject line “Focus.”
“I want to talk about creating FOCUS,” the email read. “We have three, maybe four, service focuses but we show 25 services on our site. You and I are going to define focus.”
When I got back from my business trip, I sat in a conference room with Greg and Ron and we started drilling down on what really mattered to us.
I was slowly but surely realizing that this latest update was going to mean more than a change in style – it was going to mean a change of makeup. Not like lipstick and rouge, mind you — “makeup” as in the DNA of the website itself.
First Thing’s First: Focusing
Greg’s email was right. We had too much “stuff” – pages for services that were sub-sections of other services and sub-sets of sub-sections of blah blah blah…it was just overstuffed with information.
In our meeting, we took a hatchet to the current content. We were brutal. “Dump, dump, roll up into EDMS, dump, roll up into ARB Plus, dump. Moving on to the second section…”
It took me by surprise how quickly we moved through every section of the website and cleaned house. It also surprised me how little certain pages were being visited in a twelve month span and how much more efficient it would be to combine certain sections and cut others loose.
The biggest, boldest change: the addition of the “Virtual Branch” section. We wanted to show our visitors what happens when you take your “small data” (customer basics – name, date-of-origination, credit scores, etc.) and combine it with our various communication and e-document products. The results: more loans offered and taken; more engagement with key demographics; operational efficiencies that save money and energy and replace complex processes with simple, down-to-earth solutions.
Lighter, Brighter, Travel-Ready
As we move into a new era, mobile-friendly web experiences are going to mean more to your average user. The site was built from a responsive boilerplate and then modified to suit our needs. I gathered my stock images and worked them into our theme to show shiny, happy people using technology and managing their money. I then decided to set up color schemes for each “service section” – crimson for marketing, hunter green for documents, a nice rich purple for virtual branch, etc. I tested and retested and pushed and pulled until I found the perfect mix.
Why bother with all the lightening, brightening and tightening? Because there are all kinds of users and all kinds of learners. Some folks (like me) need images. Some folks (like…well, not me) need words. We had to try to find the right balance between the “lookers” and the “readers” in a way that would encourage both types to keep reading, looking, and learning.
Testing and Being Okay with the “Leave-Behinds”
I took a little time to test against a variety of browsers. It looked okay in all of them, with one big-ugly set of exceptions. Yep, you guessed it – Internet Explorer, versions 7 and 6. Believe it or not, we have a handful of visitors that use IE7 and IE6 for their day-to-day browsing experience. I thought about digging in on how to make those changes when the following thought occurred to me: keep moving. IE 6 has been cut-off by Microsoft . It will never be updated again. If people don’t get the “full-experience” with an IE6 browser, it’s not my concern. It can’t be. I have to keep moving. They need to upgrade their browser to get the “full effect.” And even then, the information’s the same – it’s just not going to look as beautiful as it does in IE 9 or IE 10.
But “leave-behinds” doesn’t just pertain to the user – it also pertains to me, as the site designer and administrator. If I find out a few months from now that a certain new addition isn’t working, I’ll make a change. I’m not going to sit around pouting about how my perfect little spider-web got ruined – I’m going to roll up my sleeves, make a smart change and move on to the next issue.
So, what have we learned?
The new site’s been getting great buzz and people are really enjoying it. Our viewers are getting information and, when they need more, they’re seeking out our white-papers, webinars and info sessions. And they’re getting all this information more quickly, with less clutter.
As you move forward into 2014, start asking these three questions about your own web experience:
- Is it easy to figure out what we’re doing here, and how what we do can help our target audience?
- What could we cut loose that our audience would never miss? Would this section work better if merged with another section?
- Does this site travel well, and does it suit our ideal audience in their ideal reading environment (mobile, desktop, tablet, etc.)?
- Most Important: When something isn’t working, how long am I going to wait to make a sensible change?
When you can answer all those questions succinctly as a group, you and your web team can start making the changes that will bring your website forward. And you can give your site a very nice makeover, knowing your makeup is much improved.
Image: Flickr ( by _Frankenstein_, some rights reserved)