Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Workshop: Razzle really can dazzle

Workshop: Razzle really can dazzle

Good content remains core to all websites. But providing proper 'finishings' is almost as important.

Page 1 | Page 2 | All 2 Pages

Ask any web specialist what one thing will bring users back to a site and the answer will almost always be “content”.

Of course, asking web specialists for advice is exactly what the owners of most professional web sites have done. The result is a dilemma: a series of highly competent web sites, all with good content, all competing for the same people's attention, with little to separate them.

To break this stalemate, it's good to think laterally and take advice from other specialists: in this case, why not try property developers? When presented with two apparently identical properties, consumers will pick the house with the best finishings.

Similarly, finishings can convince users that a site is trustworthy and gives them what they want in the way they want it.

For example, most site owners acknowledge that content has to change regularly to keep attracting both new and existing users. But few look at exactly how often those changes have to occur. Refresh a site too often and interesting articles disappear before visitors have a chance to read them; even regular visitors can get information overload and give up trying to keep up. But refresh the site infrequently and visitors will stop returning altogether.

Rather than forcing regular visitors to gamble that the time necessary to find and scan the site for updated content won't be wasted, installing one particular web finishing can produce excellent results. A RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed lets anyone with a suitably enhanced browser or news aggregator know whenever a site changes and what the new content is. This stops loyal visitors having to guess when it's worth revisiting the site.

At the moment, RSS is largely the preserve of the technically literate, those who use Linux or Macs and the 5% to 15% or so of Windows users with alternative browsers such as Firefox.

With RSS support built into the latest beta release of Microsoft Internet Explorer 7, however, every organisation should consider adding a feed to its site soon. Even if people don't use an RSS feed, the mere fact it's there can convince them that the organisation behind the feed is big, competent and sufficiently aware of Internet changes to embrace new technologies. It also conveys an important message: we're willing to provide you with information on your terms, in the way you want it.

There are many other kinds of finishings that can help improve the image of a site: a blog for informal, marketing-free discussions can humanise an organisation and make it easier to relate to; a machine-readable (P3P) privacy policy inserted into the header of each page can prevent browsers triggering security warnings about the site and worrying users; ICRA tags will give reassurance to concerned parents; even something as simple as an attractive “favicon” (a multipurpose icon) will help establish that the site's owner has done its best to make it authorative and is concerned about even the smallest detail. It's easily worth the hour it will take to construct a favicon, although the marketing department meetings might take longer.

Just as it's possible to over-improve a house, it's possible to add too many features to a site. Many an organisation has filled up practically the entire front page of its site with links to its own chat rooms, email newsletters, weather forecasts and headline and share price grabbers. This leaves almost no room for content and defeats one of the main rules of the Internet: specialised sites are better than generalist ones.

Page 1 | Page 2 | All 2 Pages

Interested in commissioning a similar article? Please contact me to discuss details. Alternatively, return to the main gallery or search for another article: