Batman is scary looking.  To say he’s intimidating would be an understatement.  He dresses in black from head to toe, he has long, pointy ears, bulging muscles and spends his time beating people up.  Don’t get me wrong; I realize he’s one of the good guys.  He’s probably the coolest looking super hero of the bunch.  That black cape and the array of gauges on his utility belt define the cutting edge of cool.  Here’s my point.  If you didn’t know who Batman was and what he stood for, you’d run as fast as you could in the other direction if you ever saw him walking toward you on the street.

Unfortunately, many companies aspire to emulate the “cool, super hero” look of the caped crusader on their home page without conveying two very important points:
1) What the company stands for.
2) How the company will attempt to rescue the web visitor in their time of need with easy to find information.

It’s an amateur mistake make your website look “too” flashy.  You may be striving for cool, but you run the risk of visitors wondering if you’re company is a start-up.  Your web visitors may be thinking, “Gee, this is really cool looking website, but I’m having trouble figuring out what this company does and I can’t find the information I’m looking for.”  “Can they help me?” “Do I really want their help at all?”

We’ve all seen the Batman websites.  (It’s not just the ones with the all black background).  Batman websites are the sites way out of the norm with too much going on and elements that seem out of place.  Company logos placed where the messaging should be, multiple moving Flash images, funky looking navigation bars that are uncontrollable, news and events sections that dominate a third of the real estate on the home page, eye catching buttons that look click-able but aren’t, too many award and accolade logos gone wild.  The list goes on.  If these websites could speak, they’d scream, and they’d be screaming, “Look here.  No, here.  Not there, over here.”

As a result, what these sites sacrifice is a web presence that could be driving business and enabling visitors to take action in the form of an e-mail, a phone call or a download of your white paper.  Fact is, with the help of a professional design team, a company can look “different from the rest of the pack” while also sticking to some proven web conventions that work to ensure the website is both interesting to click through as well as informational and action oriented.

Quick, to the Bat Pole!

Part of my job as the Director of Web Strategy is to conduct website workshops for prospective customers throughout New England.  While many of the firms I visit work in different verticals (high-tech, medical, manufacturing, etc.), what I find fascinating is the many similarities these firms face in their challenges and problems when it comes to their corporate website.  The five top issues are lack of good design, messaging, not being found in the search engines, usability and most importantly, web lead to sale conversion.

Mid-way though one my presentations, the CEO of a large international firm stopped me and asked, “What do you think of the look of our present website?”  I was not surprised by the question; I hear it all the time.  What always gives me pause is how I should answer the question when the company has a Batman website.  I pulled up the site on the projector so everyone in the conference room could look it over.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that some companies can be very sensitive about their website.  I could be stepping on a landmine here if I tear the site apart.  I heard more than a few people say, “My nephew designed that website.  We spent thousands for the website five years ago.  We took an office poll and everyone here at the company thinks it’s a very nice website!”  You get the idea.

Seeing my hesitation, the CEO upped the stakes and asked plainly, “how would you grade our website overall A, B or C.”  Holy bandwidth, how do I tell this CEO in front of his employees he has a Batman with a “D” grade?   I took a deep breath and told him the truth.  “You’re website is very cool looking,” I said.  Smiles lit up the room.  “But, all the things that make the site look cool are getting in the way of helping visitors understand who you are, what you do and why they should care,” I added.  There was silence for a moment as the CEO considered what I had said.  After the CEO studied his home page for a moment, he simply said, “Yeah, I can see that”.  Needless to say, I was happy to see there was hope for turning things around with their site.

Are You Seeing the Bat Signal Yet?

There is a balancing act between good web design with proper navigation and looking cool and different.  All flash with no substance can leave a web visitor visually impressed, but confused when it comes to doing business with your firm.  At the end of the day, your website should be the asset that generates leads and provides your prospective customers with the information they need to judge your ability to save them via your products and services.  If you can do all this and do it with finesse in a cool, interesting way; then you truly have a great website.  After all, isn’t this what your customers expect of a “super hero” company like yours?  Batman indeed…